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10/30/2018 11:46 EDT | Updated 10/30/2018 11:50 EDT

Canada Should Be Legally Bound To Its Climate Promises

Passing the 2009 Climate Change Accountability Act could close the gap between our country's ambitions and its actions.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit
A demonstrator holds up a sign during a call for climate change protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct 24, 2009.

During the recent House of Commons emergency climate debate, spurred by an alarming new UN climate change report, there were many politicians talking about the need for Canada to rise to the challenge of climate change. Many of these same politicians acknowledged that, right now, Canada's policies aren't enough to line up with what scientists are saying we need to do.

That's around the time that Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan rose to speak, calling for "climate change accountability."

It might have just been a clever turn of phrase, but it reminded me of the last time I was in the House of Commons watching Question Period. I was there supporting legislation that, if brought back, could close the gap between Canada's climate promises and our climate policy.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
A group of youth protestors chant on the steps of the main doors to Parliament after they were escorted out due to disrupting question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 26, 2009.

For me, this story started on Oct. 26, 2009. I was in the House of Commons gallery with around 100 other young people from all across Canada. Most of us had spent the morning meeting with our Members of Parliament, and were hopeful that our presence — following the PowerShift Canada conference that weekend, where hundreds of youth from across the country had come to the nation's capital to rally for climate action — would spark some action from our elected leaders.

It didn't. Question Period droned on as if we weren't there, as if the Copenhagen climate summit wasn't a few weeks away and as if the existential threat of a scorched earth wasn't waiting in the wings.

Eventually, a few among us got fed up and started chanting. Most of us joined in, echoing call and response chants about climate justice, stopping tar sands expansion and, most germane to the business in that chamber, calling for the passage of Bill C-311, known as the Climate Change Accountability Act.

The problem is that there's nothing holding our government accountable to their climate promises.

The bill was remarkably simple. It aimed to enact legislation that would legally bind the Canadian government to meet the targets our country had agreed to in the latest United Nations climate deal — at that time, the Kyoto Accord. By law, the prime minister and their cabinet would need to bring legislation to the House to meet our climate targets, and if we weren't meeting them, they would have to bring forward new legislation to change that.

In short, it would legally force us to keep our promises — exactly the kind of legislation we need now.

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the most terrifying text ever assembled about climate change. With input from scientists around the world, the report concluded, in essence, that we have less time to do more when it comes tackling climate change. If we don't, the report explains, the planet will face devastating consequences sooner than anyone previously thought possible.

And, it made it crystal clear that we need not only to ensure countries meet the commitments they made under the Paris Agreement, but that we far exceed them.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit
Protesters brave the rain during a call for climate change protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 24, 2009.

That means Canada's plans, including the recently announced carbon price backstop, are still coming up short, according to a March 2018 report, we're on track to miss our 2020 Paris targets by at least 20 per cent.

On top of that, our government keeps backing massive fossil fuel projects, like the TransMountain pipeline, that scientists from the IPCC, from Canada's universities, and some from both keep telling us make it all but impossible to meet those goals.

As Catherine McKenna told the House of Commons the day after the emergency debate, "it's easy to have a target, but it's harder to have a plan to do it."

The problem is that there's nothing holding our government accountable to their climate promises, but something like the Climate Change Accountability Act could change that. Not only that, it could force future governments to keep the promises of previous one's, helping us to deal with the fact that climate change solutions need to be implemented over decades, while politicians typically think in four-year increments.

What's more, back in 2010, the Climate Change Accountability act was supposed to become a law, in part thanks to the support of now Prime Minister/then rookie MP Justin Trudeau.

THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld
Then a Liberal MP, Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 7, 2010.

After the dust had settled on the disruption in the House of Commons, sit-ins rolled out all across Canada echoing the demand to pass Bill C-311. Climate activists in cowboy hats occupied Stephen Harper's Calgary office. Toronto residents put on their Sunday best and chained themselves to the reception desk in the late Jim Flaherty's office. All across Canada the protests continued for two weeks as the Copenhagen climate talks began. Near the end of the two weeks, I was thrown out of the House of Commons for the second time, one of six young people who staged a sit-in during a meeting of the House Environment Committee where C-311 was being discussed.

Justin Trudeau was on that committee. The next day, he and the other opposition committee members sent Bill C-311 back to the house without amendment.

The bill didn't make it to a vote in time for the Copenhagen negotiations, but on May 5, 2010, the Climate Change Accountability Act passed third reading and went to the senate for approval. There, that November, Canada's unelected, Conservative-dominated Senate killed the bill.

The government has no plans to scale up our climate ambition.

Shortly after that, Stephen Harper won a majority government and climate legislation in Canada was all but dead for the next five years.

Now, nearly a decade later, Justin Trudeau is continuing with Canada's unfortunate legacy of prime ministers that come up short on climate. And, as Catherine McKenna told HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj after the emergency debate, the government has no plans to scale up our climate ambition.

In the United Kingdom, the U.K. Climate Change Act requires governments to scale up their climate plans at least every five years following the best available science. We need something similar in Canada, and the good news is that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have already voted for it once.

More from HuffPost Canada:

Passing a new Climate Change Accountability Act in Canada could be just what Canada needs. It would give people a tool to help our government raise ambition on climate change and it would help lock in climate policies, like Justin Trudeau's carbon price, from politicians like Andrew Scheer, who don't think we should be doing anything on climate.

The recent IPCC report made it clear that we need to do more on climate. That starts with setting a real bottom line that, as a country, we keep our global climate promises. The 2009 Climate Change Accountability Act would have done that. It's past time to try and do it again.

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