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Updates to Strategic Assessment of Climate Change welcome, but huge gaps remain

Thursday, July 16, 2020

OTTAWA, ON, Algonquin Anishnaabeg Territory – Environmental lawyers are welcoming improvements to the federal government’s Strategic Assessment of Climate Change (SACC), released today, but are also expressing frustration at its failure to establish an adequate “climate test” for assessing how individual projects will impact Canada’s ability to meet its climate targets.

The Strategic Assessment of Climate Change is intended to provide guidance on how federal impact assessments will consider a project’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, environmental experts say the SACC does not provide a clear or sufficient framework for reviewing the climate impacts of individual projects under Canada’s new Impact Assessment Act.

“The federal government has made welcome improvements to its climate policy that address some of our concerns, but major gaps remain,” said Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer. “Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. We need clear pathways for getting us there, and requirements that on-the-ground decisions follow those pathways.”

Following the release of the Draft Strategic Assessment of Climate Change in summer 2019, West Coast and other environmental organizations submitted a number of recommendations to strengthen Canada’s process for assessing climate impacts. Improvements to the SACC in alignment with those recommendations will help ensure that decision-makers and the public have better information about projects’ climate impacts.

However, Johnston says that much more needs to be done.

“To meet our international commitments, we need to use every tool at our disposal,” said Johnston. “Canada needs climate accountability legislation that sets clear and binding emissions reductions targets every five years to 2050, and a requirement for all projects to demonstrate alignment with those targets.”

The SACC describes the climate information proponents will need to show in impact assessments, but falls short of prescribing how that information will be considered. The federal Impact Assessment Act requires assessments to examine whether and to what extent a project will help or hinder Canada’s ability to meet its climate change commitments, but it is unclear how those determinations will be made.

This spring, West Coast, along with five other environmental organizations, released a framework for climate accountability legislation that would help Canada achieve its international commitments by, among other things, requiring Canada to establish binding five-year carbon budgets, and plans for how it will meet those budgets.

A strong climate test under the Impact Assessment Act will help ensure that decisions to approve new projects won’t exceed our carbon budgets, and that they are aligned with our broader climate goals.

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For more information, please contact:

Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
604-340-2304, ajohnston@wcel.org