Evidence of meeting #81 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was adaptation.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Julie Gelfand  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General
Kimberley Leach  Principal, Sustainable Development Strategies, Audits and Studies, Office of the Auditor General
Matt Jones  Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment
Laniel Bateman  Acting Executive Director, Policy Development, Department of the Environment
Keith Lennon  Director, Oceans Science Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Colette Downie  Assistant Deputy Minister/Chief Financial Officer, Department of Industry
Simon Dubé  Director General, Strategic Policy and Planning, Department of Public Works and Government Services
Ellen Burack  Director General, Environmental Policy, Department of Transport
Amanda Wilson  Director General, Office of Energy Research and Development, Innovation and Energy Technology Sector, Department of Natural Resources
Marc Wickham  Director, Energy Science & Technology Programs, Office of Energy Research and Development, Innovation and Energy Technology Sector, Department of Natural Resources

October 31st, 2017 / 10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

That's very disappointing. I had assumed that with all the officials at this table, we would be able to get the information that Canadians have been asking for—that is, whatever analysis the government has done on the impact that the carbon tax or any kind of carbon pricing will have on Canadians and on Canadian industries. That information is there in government. I believe the evidence shows that those analyses have been conducted, at least in part. I would expect that your departments would allow this committee to see those analyses so that Canadians have an idea what this all will cost them.

The commissioner who appeared before us earlier made it very clear that when it came to establishing policies that would allow all the departments across Canada to adapt to the risk of climate change, there was a lack of leadership on the part of the federal government.

The framework for adaptation was established in 2011. Here we are in 2017, six years later, and the commissioner says that virtually nothing has been done. There were five departments that were able to implement policies that would allow them to adapt to the risk of climate change. Beyond that, no one else really got the job done.

Again, to Mr. Jones, why did it take so long for the government to take this mandate seriously?

10:25 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

Matt Jones

I can say a few quick remarks on adaptation, then I'll turn to my colleagues who work more specifically in that area.

I think it is important to note that the commissioner's report was very narrowly focused on departmental vulnerabilities and risks. What's not covered by that report are the significant new policies, on a national level, that have been developed as part of the pan-Canadian framework.

There are significant programs, significant funds, and significant initiatives that have occurred on the file, separate from the department's risk assessment. While this is an important bit of work that needs to be done, and it is work we are working on now, I think it's incomplete to equate this government or the department's efforts on adapting to the impacts of climate change by looking at its own departmental risk assessment. In fact, my advice last year when we were working on the pan-Canadian framework was to focus on policies that are more national in scope.

With that, I'll perhaps turn—

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

To be clear, my question was directed to the departmental responses, not to a national response on adaptation. It appears that there was a lack of leadership. I'm quoting the commissioner herself on this.

My only question is, why did it take so long for the government to actually implement adaptation policies across government in the departments themselves?

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

We have less than 10 seconds to try to wrap that up with a very short answer.

10:25 a.m.

Acting Executive Director, Policy Development, Department of the Environment

Laniel Bateman

Sure.

As my colleague mentioned, when we talk about leadership in federal departments and agencies, it is important to distinguish between internal risk assessment processes and external. Environment and Climate Change Canada undertook work in 2014. It was widely supported but was not approved by senior management in a final way. We are looking at refreshing and updating that work now. We have that process under way now and look forward to completing it shortly.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Great. Thank you very much.

Ms. Duncan is next.

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

The commissioner has credited this government with finally producing a plan to address climate change, but she is critical of the government for lacking in action.

I'm wondering, Mr. Jones, if you can tell the committee why the government continues to delay the spending under the budget, including $2 billion for the low-carbon economy fund and a plethora of additional items on pages 149-150 of the budget.

Why is the majority of spending on addressing climate change delayed until after the next election?

10:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

Matt Jones

I can speak specifically to the low-carbon economy fund, as I'm trying to oversee its implementation.

Currently I can tell you that we've engaged with, and received proposals from, the vast majority of provinces and territories. Quite a bit of work was needed in order to define the criteria, solicit proposals, and engage with the provinces and territories in an attempt to ensure that the proposals we're considering are as strong and as effective as they can possibly be.

We're in the midst of that process now, and I'm optimistic that those funds will flow in the near future.

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

What about the remaining funds? There are two pages of lists of items where dollars are committed to be spent to address climate change, yet none of those dollars have been released. Can't you speak to those?

10:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

Matt Jones

It depends on the fund. The most significant funds are held by Infrastructure Canada. There are significant funds associated with the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund and some clean technology funding that perhaps other colleagues could speak to. It does take time to seek Treasury Board approval and to develop the terms and conditions and to put everything in place in order to ensure that the money is well spent and reviewed properly.

Our intent is to make those investments as quickly as possible in order to achieve the desired results as quickly as possible.

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

That leads, sir, into my next question.

The commissioner has also raised concerns with the lack of mechanisms to measure, monitor, and report on what the provinces and territories are doing. Are you giving consideration to establishing an independent commission, similar to that in the United Kingdom, so that we will have independent, qualified people providing advice on the best way to proceed, and then doing an independent audit that is reported publicly?

10:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

Matt Jones

There are a lot of ideas that are being considered at various levels in terms of the governance of this file. With the pan-Canadian framework being so broad—I believe there are 19 federal departments and agencies responsible for some aspect of a program or other in the framework—we've been putting in place interdepartmental mechanisms and oversight mechanisms in order to govern all of this and ensure coordination. I believe the commissioner pointed out that they had been put in place.

In terms of external organizations, that's something that has been proposed. A number of think tanks and NGOs have put those ideas out. They are being considered and kicked around within the department, but I'm not in a position to tell you that this is a plan or an initiative that we're pursuing at the moment.

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Then there's still no clarity on that.

My third and final question is this. There have been recent reports out of the universities here in Ottawa that it may be that the methane emissions are twice what was forecast. Given the concerns raised by the United Nations leading into the Bonn meetings that we have an emissions gap rising, and they're calling on all nations to step up, are you giving consideration to stepping forward the compliance date on methane, and are you going to increase the requirement to capture methane, given those results?

10:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

Matt Jones

We are looking at the information that's become available recently in the various reports suggesting that methane emissions are greater than previously understood. We're working to develop our methane regulations as we had announced them previously. As the commissioner has encouraged us to move forward quickly, we're attempting to do that. We are taking those reports of potentially greater methane emissions than previously understood very seriously, and we'll be looking at that very carefully.

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I'm open to anybody here responding to this question. Environment may wish to, because they're supposed to be the lead.

The commissioner has expressed great concern that very few of the departments and agencies are providing the appropriate reports to their ministers on the sustainable development goals. I would welcome anybody telling me why they aren't providing those reports, and whether they feel they're getting sufficient direction from the Treasury Board and the PCO.

How about Environment?

10:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

Matt Jones

In terms of our cabinet materials, we prepared environmental assessments as standard practice for all of our memoranda to cabinet. My understanding is that's not the focus of this meeting. I understand we were focusing just on the first two audits on adaptation and clean technology. I don't have the right officials here to speak to this in more detail, but it is something that we do take very seriously.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

It comes as a surprise to me, because those are definitely what I anticipated we had the officials here for.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Okay. We're out of time for that.

Go ahead, Mr. Fisher.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you, Madam Chair. Thanks, folks.

I guess this question would be for either Mr. Jones or Ms. Bateman.

The commissioner found that your department worked well with federal departments, provinces, and territories. I think she was specifically speaking of the Vancouver declaration in the pan-Canadian framework. She found that you made advancements in reporting on projected greenhouse gas emissions, although she was concerned with monitoring and reporting and thought it could be improved further.

Could you discuss what steps your department is taking, or will take, to advance its emissions monitoring and reporting? I know you mentioned that you're set to release a report on the pan-Canadian framework this year. We're now in November, so I assume that's any time, and you talked about how you update your admissions publicly, annually. Has that been done for 2017 yet—

10:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

—or has it been done for 2016?

10:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Pan-Canadian Framework Implementation Office, Department of the Environment

Matt Jones

The reporting is a bit of a long story, and I'll attempt to be as brief as possible.

There is a large collection of public reports, so we do an inventory every year. We do a new emission projection—what used to be called the emissions trends reports, sometimes called the reference case—around forward projections of emissions. That's updated annually.

Every four years we do a national communication, which is an extremely comprehensive report to the United Nations. I think the view was that every four years was not often enough, so every two years there is something called the biennial report, which is a comprehensive report that we're working on now. I believe those reports are due January 1, so they're nearing completion.

Also, first ministers, as part of the pan-Canadian framework agreement at the last first ministers' meeting, agreed that we should report back annually on results. Because there are so many departments involved, a number of different FPT ministerial tables are reporting on their individual bits, and we're packaging that together. That's due, and our intention is to have that report available in December. It's slightly delayed by the fact that the many implicated ministerial meetings are yet to happen, including the meeting of the ministers of environment later this week.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you for that.

It was really encouraging to hear—and I think it was you, Mr. Jones, who said it—that GHGs are projected to reduce quite significantly. Oftentimes you hear criticisms all the time, so it's great to hear a statement like that. I think that's really encouraging.

My next question is for either Natural Resources or Transport Canada or both. The commissioner noted the progress your department has made in assessing risks of climate change and taking action to address those risks. Did you have to shift priorities or shift budgets? How did you accomplish that when others couldn't? What steps did you take to make that happen, and perhaps what kind of advice could you provide to some of the departments that haven't been as successful?

10:35 a.m.

Director General, Environmental Policy, Department of Transport

Ellen Burack

Departments have generally not received additional resources to look internally at their activities to consider adaptation. As a department, we did choose to identify a very low level of resources to create a core group that was able to begin to do some research to understand the risks to transportation and to create a bit of a framework within the department for what we needed to think about, including our regulatory activities, the assets that we manage, etc.

In terms of what advice we would offer, I think it's quite minimal: focus on the basics, identify the lines of business and how the changing climate may be able to affect them, and get expert help wherever possible to be able to do that. It is a new field, generally, but an emerging field, so there are some experts across Canada who are able to offer some assistance.

One thing we did was look closely at the decisions made throughout the department that could benefit from a consideration of adaptation-related issues. We also developed tools to build capacity across the department. We had webinars. We developed newsletters that gathered relevant information to help our people build the changing climate considerations into their own thinking.

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Congratulations, first of all, on making those steps. Transportation makes up 55% of the GHGs in the country, so it's important that your group took the initiative to do that without further, or very many further, resources. I hope other departments will take your advice.

Ms. Wilson, what would be a government department's number one obstacle to doing the things that your department and Transport Canada have done to move forward in the way that they've been directed to move forward?