Climate accountability frameworks— implemented in jurisdictions from Manitoba to Aotearoa/New Zealand to the United Kingdom—offer one way for governments to square this circle. They break down long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets into interim milestones. They establish clear governance structures and processes for linking milestones to policy actions. And they hold governments to account for policy implementation by requiring regular, transparent taking stock, progress reports, and—if necessary— action plans to help correct the course.
Currently, Canada does not have a federal climate accountability framework in place. However, the 2019 mandate letter for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change committed to setting legally binding, five-year emissions-reduction milestones based on the advice of experts and consultations with Canadians. To date, provincial climate accountability frameworks have also been legislated in British Columbia and Manitoba.
This report explores how best practices in climate accountability frameworks apply in a Canadian context. Critically, any climate accountability framework implemented in Canada must reconcile shared jurisdiction over climate policy across different orders of government.
Some provinces, territories, Indigenous governments, and municipalities also have their own climate targets, their own policies, and in some cases, even their own accountability frameworks. To add even more complexity, federal and provincial jurisdiction and authority often do not account for Indigenous rights to self-determination. Addressing climate change will require unprecedented collaboration and coordination between all orders of government across the country. Individuals, businesses, and industry are looking to governments to work together to get Canada on the path to meeting its long-term targets.
Canada has a sound foundation to build on: existing policy processes such as target setting, reporting and disclosure, consultation, and policy development are part and parcel of good climate accountability. Provincial examples also provide valuable experience and insights. Manitoba, for example, implemented climate accountability legislation through its Climate and Green Plan Implementation Act and British Columbia through its amended Climate Change Accountability Act.
Still, designing accountability frameworks for the Canadian federation poses unique challenges. At what level should milestones be defined: nationally, subnationally, or at the sector level? How will interim milestones for meeting long-term targets be set? Who will be accountable for implementing policy to meet them: the federal government, other orders of government, or some combination?
Our analysis suggests that climate accountability frameworks can be a key tool for governments. They can support greater accountability and policy coherence by formally connecting long- term targets to near-term planning and action, by providing a forum for difficult policy debates, and by empowering engaged citizens and stakeholders with clear and accessible reporting.
At the same time, accountability frameworks—even when designed according to best practices and tailored to the Canadian context—are not a silver bullet. They cannot provide perfect policy certainty, guaranteeing that governments will enact policy consistent with long-term targets. In other words, accountability frameworks do not replace climate policy itself; rather, they are a process for policy development and course correction.
Yet a climate accountability framework for Canada can enable good policy. By increasing transparency and accountability it can be a crucial step toward implementing stringent, well-designed, coordinated policy implemented at multiple orders of government. It can create institutional incentives for governments to make their policies more coherent—and more ambitious—over time.