Canada’s climate bill (Bill C-12) needs work – and now’s the time to fix it

In November 2020, the federal government introduced new legislation to help ensure that Canada meets its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (Bill C-12) has been stuck in Parliament for months, but it is now before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development – a crucial phase for amending and improving the bill. 

Canada desperately needs a strong, robust climate law to ensure that we fulfill our climate commitments and do our fair share to keep global warming below 1.5°C. As it stands, Canada has missed every climate target it has set – and it’s well beyond time to break that trend.

While Bill C-12 is a tentative step in the right direction, it is too weak in its current form. For example, the legislation currently has no target or accountability built in before 2030, and it only requires plans to be set five years in advance after that. The Bill is also lacking in accountability: currently, there’s no clear legal requirement for the Environment Minister to actually meet Canada’s climate targets, or even to demonstrate how the measures included in climate plans will add up to the emissions reductions needed to meet those targets.

Fortunately, with the right amendments, Bill C-12 can be strengthened into a climate accountability law that Canadians can be proud of.

What’s needed now to fix Bill C-12?

In our 2020 report, A New Canadian Climate Accountability Act: Building the legal foundation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, West Coast and our partners outlined five key pillars of a strong climate accountability law for Canada. 

With these five pillars in mind, here are some of the most important amendments we’re hoping to see in order to strengthen Bill C-12 and ensure that Canada becomes a leader in the fight against climate change. 

1. Early and ambitious action – because we cannot afford to delay climate action any longer. 

  • Require that plans show what emissions will be for each year, including where emissions should be in 2025;  
  • Ensure that there is regular progress reporting starting in 2023; and
  • Include early and ambitious climate action as a purpose of the Act.

2. Mid- and long-term certainty – because certainty and clarity about our mid- and long-term targets will let governments, businesses and the public plan accordingly.

  • Require five-year emissions targets and plans to be set ten years in advance, on a rolling basis; and
  • Enshrine a 2030 target that represents Canada’s fair share of domestic emissions reductions; 

3. Credible, effective plans and reports – because achieving climate goals requires transparent plans that demonstrate how targets will be met, and regular reporting on progress.

  • Require plans to include detailed information and modelling on the federal and provincial measures relied upon to achieve the target, when they will be implemented and how much greenhouse gas emissions reductions each will deliver;
  • Require an annual report that includes updates on both progress and whether targets will be met; and
  • Require the Minister to specify additional actions that will be taken in the event that a target may not be, or has not been, met.

4. Accountability – because achieving real climate action can be politically challenging, climate accountability laws work when they require decision-makers to put long-term economic and planetary health ahead of short-term goals and party politics. 

  • Require the Minister (or federal Cabinet) to ensure that emissions targets are met;
  • Require the Minister to demonstrate that the measures described in a plan will collectively meet the targets; 
  • Ensure that at least 90% of efforts to achieve the net-zero target occur through absolute emissions reductions rather than negative emissions technologies or related technologies; and 
  • Provide an explicit right of judicial review to the federal court where a legal duty has not been met.

5. Science and expert advice – because climate change and its implications can be complicated, and Canadians need to trust that decisions are being made on the basis of best available science and evidence, not on the basis of political trade-offs.

  • Ensure that targets and plans are based on the best available scientific information;
  • Provide that the advisory body present its advice and reports to Parliament, rather than the Minister;
  • Require the advisory body’s advice to be based on the best available science respecting credible pathways to achieving net-zero emissions and upholding Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments; and
  • Require the Minister to consider and respond publicly to the advice and reports of the advisory body with respect to targets, plans and reports.

For more detail on our recommendations for fixing Bill C-12, see our submission to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainability. 


Take action

This week, expert witnesses – including West Coast Staff Lawyer Andrew Gage – are presenting recommendations before the Parliamentary committee reviewing Bill C-12. West Coast and our partners will be advocating for these important fixes to be incorporated into the legislation, in order for the bill to deliver on its promise of meaningful climate action.

You can take action in support of a strong climate law, too. Use the form below to send a letter to federal Ministers and members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainability, urging them to make the amendments required to turn Bill C-12 into a world-class climate law.

[UPDATE: This action tool has now been closed, following the passing of Bill C-12]

West Coast Environmental Law