Climate accountability bill must be revised to protect human rights: Amnesty’s reaction to Bill C-12

Canada’s announcement of a climate accountability bill (Bill C-12: Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act) is a step in the right direction but is insufficient to ensure human rights protection in the face of climate change.

To meet its international human rights obligations, Canada must ensure that the shift towards a zero-carbon economy and a more resilient society: addresses systemic inequalities, combats discrimination, and promotes gender, class, racial, disability and intergenerational justice; ensures a just transition for workers and communities impacted by the shift from a fossil fuel economy; and respects, protects and fulfils human rights. These principles should be clearly set out in the bill’s preamble.

The bill’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050 is inadequate to meet Canada’s human rights commitments. Under international human rights law, all states must take all feasible steps to the full extent of their abilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the shortest possible time-frame both nationally and through international cooperation, in order to keep the average global temperature rise as low as possible and no higher than 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels. A failure to take such action will make states legally responsible for serious harm to human rights.

It is true that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 to limit the average global temperature rise to no higher than 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels; however, not all countries can be expected to reduce emissions at the same rate. It would be unreasonable for example to demand that developing countries make this transition at the same pace as wealthier countries. Based on obligations under international environmental and human rights law, wealthy, industrialized countries like Canada, that have a greater responsibility for causing the climate crisis as well as greater resources and technological capacity, should move to zero carbon emissions by 2030 or as soon as possible thereafter. It is also crucial that the targets be achieved by reducing emissions, while avoiding carbon removal mechanisms and other offsetting measures that may violate people’s human rights.

According to the new bill, the Government of Canada is committed to achieving and exceeding its 2030 target. That’s good to hear as Canada is one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters and its current 2030 target falls far short of what is needed. Amnesty International urges the Canadian government to demonstrate higher ambition, not just in the long, but also the short and medium term, as the country’s current targets are highly incompatible with the imperative of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Amnesty also recommends that Canada adopt a 2025 target to ensure that sufficient progress is being made before it’s too late to adjust course.

Under the Paris Agreement, states are obliged to submit their updated 2030 targets by December 31, 2020, which Canada has not yet done, although the end of the year is quickly approaching. Amnesty urges the Government of Canada to announce an ambitious new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) before the end of this year in line with its international commitments. The enhanced NDC must be consistent with human rights obligations and set a target compatible with the 1.5°C imperative.

Amnesty was encouraged to see that Bill C-12 acknowledges the need for a rights-based approach in relation to the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The bill should ensure that climate measures fully respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and all communities and groups impacted by such measures. In particular, just transition plans should be led by Indigenous Peoples who have an obligation to care for their territories. Just transition plans must also contribute to respecting, protecting and fulfilling Indigenous Peoples’ inherent, treaty, constitutional and international rights to land, territory and resources and include the obligation to seek the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples before moving forward with any transition project that may impact their rights.

In terms of public participation, when following a rights-based approach it is essential that people are given the opportunity to meaningfully participate in decisions that affect them. Bill C-12 stipulates that the Minister will provide provincial governments, Indigenous Peoples, the advisory body, and interested persons, including any expert the Minister considers appropriate to consult, with the opportunity to make submissions. It isn’t clear who is meant by interested persons, but this should include civil society organizations and the general public, and most importantly, the people and communities most affected by climate change and by measures to address climate change. Moreover, the opportunity to make submissions does not in itself ensure meaningful participation. People and communities most impacted by climate change and measures to address climate change must have the opportunity to participate in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of climate plans. Furthermore, meaningful participation needs to be underpinned by adequate information and education. And any barriers to participation must be identified and effectively addressed, including for members of equity-seeking groups, and especially considering Canada’s obligations to consult and meaningfully engage with Indigenous Peoples, women, racialized communities, and people with disabilities.

Bill C-12 also mentions the establishment of an advisory body, whose mandate is to provide the Minister with advice with respect to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. It will be important to appoint someone to the panel with human rights expertise to ensure that a rights-based approach is adhered to.

Bill C-12 would benefit from a robust enforcement mechanism to ensure that the bill’s objectives and targets are met. To date Canada has not met any of the emissions targets that it has set for itself during the past thirty years. The world is running out of time to combat the climate crisis and we cannot afford to miss any more targets. It is imperative that Canada takes extremely seriously its responsibility to climate-vulnerable communities in Canada and around the world and future generations, to decarbonize swiftly, and in a manner consistent with human rights.

Lastly, Bill C-12 needs to be complemented by further actions to tackle the human rights implications of the climate crisis domestically and abroad. This requires the Government of Canada to put in place:

  • Adequate and human rights-consistent adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures to protect all people in Canada, and particularly groups disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, from the foreseeable and unavoidable impacts of climate change;
  • Measures to ensure access to effective remedy, including compensation, to people and communities, including Indigenous Peoples, whose rights have been negatively affected as the result of loss and damage caused by the climate crisis, including when conduct within their jurisdiction harms the rights of people outside their borders;
  • A whole-of-economy strategy to ensure every sector is transformed and equipped to best protect human rights in the face of the climate crisis.

In addition, Amnesty International urges the Canadian government to substantially increase funding and support for developing countries to be able to reduce emissions and protect people facing the impacts of the climate crisis, including through stronger adaptation measures. In climate negotiations, Canada should support the establishment of adequate mechanisms to mobilize new and additional finances to provide means, support and remedy, including compensation, to people and communities, including Indigenous peoples, whose rights have been negatively affected as the result of loss and damage caused by the climate crisis in climate-vulnerable developing countries.