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2023 Reports 6 to 10 of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of Canada: Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement to the news conference

Press Release

Good morning, and thank you for joining me. I’m Jerry DeMarco, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.

I am here today to discuss 5 reports that we provided to Parliament this morning. Three of them are about reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are urgently needed to address the global climate crisis.

Emissions in Canada are higher today than when this country and the world first committed to fighting climate change, more than 30 years ago. Targets and plans have come and gone, and Canada has yet to deliver on any. Meanwhile, the need to reverse the trend on Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions has grown only more pressing. This is not my first time sounding this alarm, and I will continue to do so until Canada turns the tide.

Our first audit focuses on the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada under the new Canadian Net‑Zero Emissions Accountability Act. While we were not required to begin reporting on the implementation of this plan until the end of 2024, given the urgent need for Canada to up its game in the fight against climate change, we decided to move more quickly.

We found that the plan was insufficient to meet Canada’s target to reduce emissions by 40% to 45% below the 2005 level by 2030. In its most recent projections, Environment and Climate Change Canada disclosed that the measures detailed in the plan would reduce emissions by only 34% below the 2005 level.

Measures needed to meet the 2030 target were delayed by departments, or were not prioritized. We found a lack of reliability and transparency in economic and emission modelling, leading the government to make overly optimistic assumptions about emission reductions.

I was also concerned to find that responsibility for reducing emissions was fragmented among multiple federal entities not directly accountable to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. This means that the minister has no authority to commit other entities to meet the target.

On the positive side, measures in the plan, such as carbon pricing and regulations, have the potential for deep emission reductions if they are stringent enough and applied widely. The federal government can still reduce emissions and meet its 2030 target with drive, focus, and leadership. Implementing our recommendations would be a step in the right direction.

Let’s turn now to our report on departmental progress in implementing sustainable development strategies. We assessed the progress made by National Defence, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency in meeting the target of converting 80% of the federal fleet to zero‑emission vehicles by 2030. Together, these four organizations are responsible for most of the vehicles owned by the federal government.

We found that the percentage of zero‑emission vehicles across all 4 organizations was very low, ranging between 1% and 3% in 2022. At this pace, only 13% of federal vehicles will be zero emissions by 2030, a far cry from the 80% target. None of the organizations had a strategic approach for how they planned to meet the target.

With a target date of 2030 and given that the government typically replaces its vehicles on a 7‑year cycle, these organizations must act quickly to develop and implement realistic plans for acquiring zero‑emission vehicles so that the government fleet can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Also on the topic of zero‑emission vehicles, our audit of the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program found that Natural Resources Canada had contributed to expanding the charging infrastructure overall. The program is set to exceed its 2026 target of installing 33,500 charging ports. As of July 2023, 33,887 charging ports were either completed or under development.

However, we also found that in funding charging stations, the department had not prioritized underserved areas, including rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, and lower-income areas. The vast majority of ports were located in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

While the federal government is not solely responsible for funding charging stations for zero‑emission vehicles, it can do more to help bridge the gaps in infrastructure that are unlikely to be addressed by the private sector. We found that Natural Resources Canada did not collect data to help it identify these gaps, nor did it set targets for underserved areas.

There remains a large gap between the current number of charging stations and those needed by 2035. Natural Resources Canada needs to work with other levels of government and with the private sector to address gaps in charging infrastructure so Canadians feel confident making the switch to zero‑emission vehicles.

Turning now to our audit of monitoring commercial marine fisheries catch, we found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada was unable to collect dependable and timely fish catch data. The department did not have a full picture of the health of Canada’s fish stocks. We also noted that the department needed to improve its oversight of the information it receives from third parties.

We found that many of the weaknesses we reported when we last audited this area 7 years ago remain problematic. For example, the department created a Fishery Monitoring Policy in response to a recommendation in our 2017 report, but we found that it had not implemented this policy nor supported it with resources or an action plan.

Seven years ago, we also flagged that the department’s information management systems needed to be modernized to support the collection of dependable and timely data. We found that progress in this area has been very slow. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has spent about $31 million to implement a system to provide ready access to data and integrate information across all its regions. However, we found that the department’s rollout of this new system is incomplete and that a full launch has been delayed by 10 years.

Without dependable and timely data on fish being caught, Fisheries and Oceans Canada does not know whether commercial stocks are being overfished. The collapse of the Atlantic cod population in the 1990s—with its far‑reaching economic and social impacts—has shown that it is far more expensive and difficult to recover depleted stocks than it is to keep them healthy in the first place.

This morning, we also released the annual report on environmental petitions. Petitions are a way for Canadians to raise their concerns relating to the environment and sustainable development and receive a response from responsible ministers.

In closing, I want to emphasize again that the window to avoid catastrophic climate change is closing fast. Intense forest fires, smoke-filled skies, heat waves, violent storms, and flooding are becoming more severe and frequent and affecting people all across Canada.

Canada is the only group of 7G7 country that has not achieved any emission reductions since 1990. Taking meaningful action to reduce emissions is the most impactful thing Canada can do to play its part in addressing the global climate emergency. Solutions exist, such as renewing the government’s fleet with zero‑emission vehicles or implementing effective fiscal and regulatory measures to reduce greenhouse gases. The problem is that available solutions are being implemented much too slowly. That needs to change now.

Thank you. I am now ready to answer your questions.

ILR5

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