Bill C-12: “The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act” and Netflix “Breaking Boundaries”

“This Act respects transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050”.

It states: “Whereas the science clearly shows that human activities are driving unprecedented changes in the Earth’s climate;Whereas climate change poses significant risks to human health and security, to the environment, including biodiversity, and to economic growth;Whereas, Canada has ratified the Paris Agreement, done in Paris on December 12, 2015, which entered into force in 2016, and under that Agreement has committed to set and communicate ambitious national objectives and undertake ambitious national measures for climate change mitigation;Whereas the Paris Agreement seeks to strengthen the global response to climate change and reaffirms the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.‍5°C;Whereas, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is key to keeping the rise in the global-mean temperature to 1.‍5°C above pre-industrial levels and minimizing climate-change related risks;Whereas the Government of Canada is committed to achieving and exceeding the target for 2030 set out in its nationally determined contribution communicated in accordance with the Paris Agreement;Whereas the Government of Canada has committed to developing a plan to set Canada on a path to achieve a prosperous net-zero-emissions future by 2050, supported by public participation and expert advice;Whereas the Government of Canada is committed to advancing the recognition-of-rights approach reflected in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to strengthening its collaboration with the Indigenous peoples of Canada with respect to measures for mitigating climate change;Whereas the Government of Canada recognizes that its plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 should contribute to making Canada’s economy more resilient, inclusive and competitive;Whereas climate change is a global problem that requires immediate action by all governments in Canada as well as by industry, non-governmental organizations and individual Canadians;And whereas the Government of Canada recognizes that significant collective and individual actions have already been taken and intends to sustain the momentum of those actions;Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:

This Act is The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

The purpose of this Act is to require the setting of national targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions based on the best scientific information available and to promote transparency and accountability in relation to achieving those targets, in support of achieving net-zero emissions in Canada by 2050 and Canada’s international commitments in respect of mitigating climate change.

Targets and Plans

The national greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050 is net-zero emissions.Targets — milestone years7(1)The Minister must set a national greenhouse gas emissions target for each milestone year with a view to achieving the target set out in section 6.Target — 2030(2)The Minister must set the national greenhouse gas emissions target for 2030 within six months of the day on which this Act comes into force.Extension(3)The Minister may, in a decision containing reasons and made available to the public, extend the time limit set out in subsection (2) by 90 days.Subsequent targets(4)The Minister must set each subsequent national greenhouse gas emissions target at least five years before the beginning of the milestone year to which it relates.Setting emissions target8When setting a greenhouse gas emissions target, the Minister must take into account the best scientific information available as well as Canada’s international commitments with respect to climate change.Emissions reduction plan9 (1)The Minister must establish a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan for achieving the target set by section 6 and each target set under section 7.Plan — 2030(2)The Minister must establish an emissions reduction plan for 2030 within six months after the day on which this Act comes into force.Extension(3)The Minister may, in a decision containing reasons and made available to the public, extend the time limit set out in subsection (2) by 90 days.Subsequent plans(4)The Minister must establish each subsequent emissions reduction plan at least five years before the beginning of the year to which it relates.Emissions reduction plan — contents10 (1)An emissions reduction plan must contain(a) the greenhouse gas emissions target for the year to which the plan relates;(b) a description of the key emissions reduction measures the Government of Canada intends to take to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions target;(c)a description of any relevant sectoral strategies; and(d)a description of emissions reduction strategies for federal government operations.Explanation(2)An emissions reduction plan must explain how the greenhouse gas emissions target set out in the plan and the key measures and the strategies that the plan describes will contribute to Canada achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.Other information(3)An emissions reduction plan may contain any other information that relates to that plan or to the purpose of this Act, including information on initiatives or other measures undertaken by the governments of the provinces, Indigenous peoples of Canada, municipal governments or the private sector that may contribute to achieving the greenhouse gas emissions target.Amendments11 The Minister may amend an emissions target set under section 7 or an emissions reduction plan in a manner that is consistent with the purpose of this Act.Other ministers12When establishing or amending an emissions reduction plan, the Minister must do so in consultation with the other federal ministers having duties and functions relating to the measures that may be taken to achieve that target.Public participation13When setting or amending a national greenhouse gas emissions target or establishing or amending an emissions reduction plan, the Minister must, in the manner the Minister considers it appropriate, provide the governments of the provinces, Indigenous peoples of Canada, the advisory body established under section 20and interested persons, including any expert the Minister considers appropriate to consult, with the opportunity to make submissions.”

Review of Bill C-12

Some will argue that in its current form Bill C-12 may not help us reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. Ongoing targets need to be set. The Suzuki Foundation states “The true test of this legislation will be in its implementation, so we will continue to work with you to advocate for strong implementation and for ever-increasing ambitious climate action. Recent and ongoing extreme weather events are putting a fine point on the need for urgent climate action.”

Breaking Boundaries Review: David Attenborough’s Netflix Documentary is a Frantic Wake-up Call

Review by Kusumita Das on June 5, 2021

“David Attenborough’s Netflix documentary, released a day ahead of World Environment Day, effectively conveys that the end is near through ‘scarily bleak figures and statistics’.

Veteran broadcaster and nature expert David Attenborough’s latest documentary Breaking Boundaries: The Science Of Our Planet is a frantic wake-up call to the fast-approaching doomsday. The end is near, appears to be the core message, conveyed effectively through scarily bleak figures and statistics – which is perhaps the only way to make us sit up and pay attention.

While Attenborough plays narrator, taking the lead in the 75-minute film is Swedish scientist Professor Johan Rockström whose lifelong research lays the focus on the concept of boundaries that human civilization has already crossed, are in the process of crossing, and will soon cross if we don’t act now – from melting ice caps, to biodiversity and the climate. “Humanity has pushed earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years since the dawn of civilization,” the film says, citing this as the “most important scientific discovery of our time”.

More than 45 minutes of this 75-minute documentary is extremely stark, bordering on depressing. But I suppose that’s the need of the hour. The planet is moving towards destruction and it’s not even a slow death. Greenland, for instance, is losing 10,000 cubic metres of ice per second and this will only continue as the earth heats up more and more. The country that is responsible for cooling the earth’s temperatures by a vast degree, is witnessing a rapid diminishing of its ice cap that threatens to raise the sea levels around the world by seven metres. As the lens shift to another corner of the world, we see Professor Terry Hughes, one of Australia’s leading coral reef scientists, tearing up while talking about the “bleaching of reefs” which is leading to an irreversible decline of the Great Barrier Reef. “Half the reef’s corals have already died,” he says. Recalling his bleach monitoring missions across the past five years, he says, “It’s a job I hoped I would never have to do because it is actually very confronting…” barely finishing his sentence before getting emotional, before Attenborough’s voiceover utters the words “coral graveyard”.

In another part of Australia, scientist Daniella Teixeira, who studies glossy black cockatoos, one of the most endangered birds of the country, has a similar emotional moment as she walks through the blackened remains of a bush-fire. “There’s nothing left”, she says as we see footage of burnt animals and dead trees.

The film talks of the time in the 1990s when UK scientists went to Sweden and actually stole hundreds of short-haired bumblebee queens, which are crucial for pollinating food crops and which had been declared extinct in the UK. We are also told that we need around 3,000 litres of fresh water per person, per day, to stay alive – 2,000 litres of which are needed to grow the plants that are consumed by both humans and animals, and also for the animals (that end up on our plate) to drink. There are several such examples of tipping points conveyed through dramatic graphics of earth on fire and an army of green featureless human figures walking over shattering red, blue, yellow and green glass – the colours indicating the degree of danger we are at.

Despite the revelation of the full scale of climate emergency we are facing, the message of the documentary appears to be a positive one – it’s not too late for us to save the future of the planet. “The window is still open and that is the beauty of where we are today,” Rockström says. The word “beauty” does sound a bit ambitious after almost an hour of grim figures and harsh visuals. However, he emphasizes that disastrous trajectories have been reversed before. Rockström recalls how in the 1980s, panic over the disappearing ozone layer spurred the political leadership around the world into action, to reverse the situation. “It was indeed fantastic to witness. Scientists raised the alarm and the world acted,” Attenborough says.

And that is the need of the hour in 2021 as we have just about a decade left to save ourselves from total destruction. “Covid 19 has made us understand for the first time that something that goes wrong somewhere else on the planet can suddenly hit the whole world economy,” Rockström says. It is a clear warning that not all is well with our planet, “but it’s also given us an opportunity to rebuild in a new direction”, as Attenborough puts it. The film moves fast and crams in a lot in a very short time. Very little is said about the depths of possible solutions aside from switching to more plant-based diets and reducing carbon emissions.

The alarm has been sounded for now. It remains to be seen whether or not it is heard.”

The Nine Planetary Boundaries: A Closer Look

The Planetary Boundaries Framework defines nine key Earth System processes and sets safe boundaries for human activities. Humanity is already existing outside the operating space for at least four of the nine boundaries: climate change, biodiversity, land-system change and biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus imbalance). The best way to prevent overshoot, researchers say, is to reshape our energy and food systems.

The nine boundaries are:

Climate change: Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are leading to increasing global temperatures. We passed the safe boundary of 350 parts per million of CO2 in 1988. By 2020, levels were 417ppm.

Novel entities: One of the more elusive planetary boundaries, novel entities refers to harmful chemicals, materials, and other new substances (such as plastics), as well as naturally-occurring substances such as heavy metals and radioactive materials released by human activities. We release tens of thousands of synthetic substances into the environment every day, often with unknown effects. These risks are exemplified by the danger posed by CFCs to the ozone layer, or of DDT to biodiversity.

Stratospheric ozone depletion:The depletion of O3 in the stratosphere as a result of chemical pollutants was first discovered in the 1980s and led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The ozone layer is now showing signs of recovery.

Atmospheric aerosols: Atmospheric aerosol pollution is a bane to human health and can also influence air and ocean circulation systems that affect the climate. For example, severe aerosol pollution over the Indian subcontinent may cause the monsoon system to abruptly switch to a drier state.

Ocean acidification: Rising atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing the acidity of the world’s oceans, posing a severe risk to marine biodiversity and particularly invertebrates whose shells dissolve in acidic waters.

Biogeochemical flows: We have profoundly altered the planet’s natural nitrogen and phosphorus cycles by applying these vital nutrients in large quantities to agricultural land, leading to runoff into neighboring ecosystems.

Freshwater use: Agriculture, industry and a growing global population are putting ever greater strain on the freshwater cycle, while climate change is altering weather patterns, causing drought in some regions and flooding in others.

Land-system change: Changes in land-use, particularly the conversion of tropical forests to farmland, have a major effect on climate because of the impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, on biodiversity, freshwater, and the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface.

Biosphere Integrity: The functional integrity of ecosystems is a core planetary boundary because of the many ecoservices they provide, from pollination to clean air and water. Scientists are concerned about rapid declines in plant and animal populations, the degradation of ecosystems, and the loss of genetic diversity which could disrupt essential biosphere services.

J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al. (2015) via Stockholm Resilience Centre.

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