From Paris to Projects: Clarifying the Implications of Canada’s Climate Change Mitigation Commitments for the Planning and Assessment of Projects and Strategic Undertakings (Full Report)
Paris to Projects, January 2019
235 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2020
Date Written: January 23, 2019
Canada has signed the Paris Agreement and made other international commitments to doing our fair share of what is needed to keep overall global warming to the Paris Agreement limit of well below 2ºC, and to aim for 1.5ºC, to avoid devastating climate change. However, we have not yet progressed far in translating these commitments into implications for decision making on proposed undertakings with significant implications for meeting those commitments.
Clarifying those implications and determining how best to incorporate them in deliberations and decision making is overdue and now imperative. The federal government’s new Impact Assessment Act, which is now proceeding through Parliament’s legislative process, stands to require that all assessments decisions be based in part on evaluation of the extent to which the effects of the designated project hinder or contribute to the Government of Canada’s ability to meet its environmental obligations and its commitments in respect of climate change. (Impact Assessment Act, section 63(e)).
In this report, we present the findings of an initial effort to delineate and address the gap between Paris and projects. We set out the needed steps and their main implications, especially for new assessment law, regulation and policy. The steps are not fully defined and many components include a range of possible options. Our intent and expectations have not been to deliver final answers but to establish a firm basis for informed conversation of a matter of pressing importance. The challenges identified in this report are numerous and demanding but reasonably clear.
Our main findings and recommendations are summarized in part 5, the concluding section of the report. The key findings about the overall implications of our commitments are as follows:
● Keeping overall global warming to the Paris Agreement limit of well below 2ºC and aiming for 1.5ºC will require immediate and sustained best efforts, especially by the most advantaged countries.
● Even under the most marginally equitable fair share option for allocating national responsibilities for GHG mitigation, Canada would exhaust its share of the global carbon budget within a decade if our GHG emissions continue at current levels.
● Research into decarbonization pathways and earliest possible achievement dates is at an early stage. The limited number of existing exploratory studies identify different routes to and timelines for decarbonization. So far, the earliest technologically feasible date identified in any of the studies for decarbonization in Canada is 2050. Given that our fair share decarbonisation deadline is most likely passed or, at best, looming in the next decade, 2050 as the earliest feasible achievement date should be adopted as Canada’s latest possible deadline for achieving decarbonisation.
● Reconsidering what is politically, culturally, and behaviorally possible could bring the feasible decarbonization deadline closer to the short term and reduce the gap between mitigation efforts in Canada and what is considered to be our fair share under the Paris Agreement.
● Any working deadline for decarbonization must be accompanied by always attempting to do better and by international assistance in support of mitigation and adaptation abroad to compensate for our past inaction and domestic lateness.
Very briefly, Canada’s domestic efforts need to set 2050 as the working deadline for decarbonisation, and adopt best efforts to do more and to make substantial contributions beyond Canada to meet international commitments.
The needed package of targets, frameworks and applied tools to facilitate planning and evaluations, including assessments, should combine
● delineation of and comparative evaluation of viable pathways to decarbonisation by the overall as well as interim deadline;
● a carbon budgeting system to clarify expectations and track accomplishments over time;
● long range energy policies;
● effective mobilization of economic and regulatory tools using both carbon pricing and the social cost of carbon, and strengthening financial motives for meeting GHG reduction and offset commitments;
● climate- and sustainability-based matrices to compare alternative policy, planning, program or project options with different GHG implications;
● advanced GHG accounting, covering specific qualities of sinks as well as emissions, fair attribution of negative and positive effects, critical evaluation of offsets, and recognition of just transition imperatives;
● enhanced public understanding, including through transparency and convenient public accessibility of climate-relevant information; and
● improved coordination among federal, provincial, territorial, Indigenous and municipal governments.
Finally, for application of the new Impact Assessment Act, extensive direction in regulations and policies will be needed to establish expectations and clarify means of compliance with the climate-related requirements of the law. The guidance must bridge the currently wide gap between the broad Paris Agreement commitments and the determination of whether project-level proposals and alternatives will hinder or contribute to meeting those commitments.
Guidance supporting the new law will need to combine identification of the key requirements for meeting the Paris commitments as outlined above, with elaboration of means of evaluating a specific options at the project level. The needed guidance includes the following:
● climate-specific criteria and trade-off rules for evaluations and decisions, tied to particular delineations of required steps, targets, deadlines for meeting the Paris commitments (such as consistency with available delineated pathways for meeting the 2050 decarbonization deadline noted above) and also integrated into a comprehensive set of other sustainability-based criteria needed for application of the broader sustainability-based public interest test established in the new Act;
● means of ensuring attention beyond immediate effects of GHG emissions and sinks through, for example methods for determining whether proposed undertakings would
o contribute to just transitions to a low-GHG future that are respectful of human rights including Indigenous rights,
o avoid or offset GHG emissions or sink impairments past the Canadian deadline for GHG neutrality,
o avoid entrenchment of climate-inappropriate structures, practices and dependencies,
o ensure “best efforts” for GHG mitigation and sink enhancement, and
o favour capacity to meet increasingly ambitious future national commitments;
● means of applying a suite of climate tests, based on the findings of this report, incorporating the range of tools identified above (see Box 5 in the report),
● associated information requirements, and standards for analyses and evaluations;
● means of ensuring that all climate-significant project and strategic level undertakings are subject to the legislated assessment requirements;
● provision of basic interim direction for reasonably consistent and effective evaluations of climate commitment compliance while the more specific guidance is being developed; and
● means of fostering public learning and inter-jurisdictional collaboration.
While none of this promises to be easy, the needed transitions likely offer as much positive opportunity as challenging disturbance. Also many climate-centered efforts would combine in mutually reinforcing ways with other initiatives to enhance prospects for lasting well-being.
Keywords: Paris Agreement, Climate Change, Impact Assessment, Canada, Projects, Pathways
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