Taking climate change seriously in federal project assessments

Monday, January 28, 2019

Building with smoke

More than 25 years after Canada made its first international commitments to address climate change, the federal government is finally in the process of requiring serious attention to it as part of the assessment of major projects. A new report outlines the implications, and proposes approaches for including a set of climate tests in new undertakings.

The new federal Impact Assessment Act is meant to re-establish the credibility of federal assessment processes. The Act, included in Bill C-69, was passed by the House of Commons and is now being reviewed by the Senate. Among other substantial changes, it will require decision makers to consider whether proposed major projects will hinder or contribute to meeting Canada’s climate commitments.

While the new assessment law has stirred concerns about near term effects on the oil and gas industry, the science is clear that transition from fossil fuel dependency is unavoidable and will be increasingly painful and difficult the longer we delay. The key question is how and how quickly, not whether or not.

The Paris to Projects report demonstrates that meeting our fair share climate change mitigation obligations under the Paris Agreement entails decarbonizing the Canadian economy by 2050 at the very latest, encouraging best efforts for deeper and faster achievements, and making substantial contributions to assist climate transitions in less advantaged countries.

For planning and assessing new projects and other important undertakings in Canada, the report details roles for:

  • delineating viable pathways to decarbonization by or before 2050;
  • adopting a carbon budgeting system;
  • applying linked regulatory and economic tools, including carbon pricing and calculation of the social costs of GHG emissions;
  • establishing best methods for GHG accounting and attribution;
  • specifying criteria for evaluating existing and proposed activities;
  • developing long range decarbonisation policies and strategies for meeting the decarbonization deadline and encouraging best efforts;
  • strengthening means of building deeper understanding and better coordination; and
  • ensuring a just transition that protects the vulnerable and respects indigenous rights.

The report integrates these components in a set of tests to be applied under the new assessment law to determine whether a proposed undertaking would contribute to meeting Canada’s international climate change mitigation commitments. The climate tests and other report recommendations are expected to set a benchmark for reviewing the federal government’s anticipated policy and regulatory guidance for applying the new law’s climate commitment requirements.

For more information, please contact:

  • Karine Péloffy, Legal Counsel, Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement, 514-840-5050 (office) or 514-746-6597 (cell) - Available in French and English at info@cqde.org
  • Robert Gibson, Professor, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo (ENG), rbgibson@uwaterloo.ca, 519-888-4567 x33407 (office) or 519-505-1801 (cell) 

Listen to a CBC Halifax interview with Professor Robert Park.

About the study and the reports:

The From Paris to Projects: Clarifying the implications of Canada’s climate change mitigation commitments for the planning and assessment of projects and strategic undertakings summary and full report are both available. The work represents the culmination of a two-year collaboration amongst a multidisciplinary group of expert practitioners and scholars. The summary and full reports were authored by a team of Canadian climate and assessment experts at the Universities of Waterloo, Dalhousie and Concordia and the Centre québécois du droit de l'environnement. Two of the lead authors serve on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s multi-interest advisory committee on federal assessment processes reform.

The Paris to Projects study was made possible by generous support from the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation.

Authors: Robert B. Gibson, Karine Péloffy, Daniel Horen Greenford, Meinhard Doelle, H. Damon Matthews, Christian Holz, Kiri Staples, Bradley Wiseman, Frédérique Grenier

A French version (PDF) of this media release is available.

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