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Opinion: We must push through the climate accountability law

The national director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada calls on voters and politicians to make Bill C-12 a law

For the first time in Canada, a government-led climate accountability bill has been introduced in the House of Commons: the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (C-12). This act would enshrine Canada’s imperative to fight climate change in law.

This would ensure the country reduces greenhouse gas pollution from the most recent tally of 729 megatonnes in 2018 to its stated goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 using “the best scientific information available”.

The United Kingdom has had a climate accountability law since 2008 and they have met their climate targets, unlike Canada.

There is much to celebrate in Bill C-12. Every five years, there will be a GHG target review starting in 2030 and it must include key measures to hit those targets. There will be a special panel to advise the minister on how to reduce emissions, an independent review with third-party scrutiny, and annual risk and opportunity reports, too.

The legislation says Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson must declare Canada’s 2030 target within six months of becoming law, though it includes a provision to extend that deadline. The Liberals have already pledged to exceed Canada’s current target, set by the previous Conservative government, to slash the country’s emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

In his speech today, Minister Wilkinson acknowledged climate accountability bill C-311 that was championed by former NDP Leader Jack Layton. Bill C-311 was passed in the democratically elected House of Commons on May 6, 2010. It was killed in the Senate with no debate or committee work by a snap vote led by Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin on Nov. 16, 2010.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada was quite familiar with Bill C-311. A core group of us met online and cut our first teeth as climate activists helping to build political will for C-311 in the spring of 2010 prior to Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada’s formation. 

When C-311 was killed in the Senate in November 2010, our colleagues at Citizens’ Climate Lobby in the USA helped us keep calm and carry on, and turn our focus to building political will for carbon fee and dividend.

At Citizens’ Climate Lobby we stand behind the politicians who stand behind the climate. There are now about 5,000 of us in 42 active chapters across Canada.

Before we get into the weeds of the details of the bill, it first needs to be acknowledged that we are in a climate emergency. The federal government and at least 500 Canadian municipalities have declared a climate emergency.

Youths across Canada in the Fridays For Future movement are asking all of us to listen to the experts, co-operate and not go back to the way the world was before COVID hit. Bill C-12 will require that our politicians do just that.

Not only must opposition parties co-operate in the creation of this bill, but so must all premiers in the Canadian confederation.

So for today, almost a decade to the day since the killing of Bill C-311, for the sake of the next generation, I call on all adults to act on the words of our young leaders: listen to the experts,  co-operate on the climate crisis and rebuild a better world post-COVID and post-climate emergency.

Cathy Orlando is the international outreach manager for Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the national director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada.