Federal, provincial auditors join forces for first national climate audit

OTTAWA -- Canada's federal and provincial auditors general are joining forces to come up with the first comprehensive national audit of climate change actions, says the commissioner on the environment and sustainable development.

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Julie Gelfand told a Senate committee Thursday that the national project will be completed in 2017 and the auditors hope to set a template that can be repeated every three or four years after that as Canada moves to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions.

It's the first time, on any issue, that federal and provincial auditors have combined forces to compile a single, common national audit, said Gelfand, whose office is included under the mantle of the federal auditor general.

"We're all in the planning stages of doing this collaborative audit," Gelfand said in a follow-up interview with The Canadian Press.

There are a variety of metrics in the climate change field that could be examined, she said, and auditors are working out collectively "what's sort of the minimum question that we're going to ask all the provincial governments."

The exercise isn't designed to measure the overall output of carbon emissions, she said, but rather how the various jurisdictions are doing in meeting their policy commitments, including emissions targets.

There is a national standard that provinces use for assessing their own emissions output, and that information is compiled by Environment Canada under United Nations reporting requirements as part of Canada's participation in international climate agreements.

The current trajectory for carbon emissions shows the country as a whole is nowhere close to meeting its GHG reductions targets for 2020 or 2030.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet in Vancouver with the premiers in the first week of March to develop a national framework for combating climate change.

Provinces and territories hold many of the environmental and energy policy levers, and over the past decade a reluctant federal government has left provinces to take the lead.

Trudeau's Liberals won a majority government last fall on a platform that included putting a national price on carbon, but with a patchwork of policies and carbon pricing across the provinces, stitching together a national policy will be difficult.

Gelfand says the country's auditors general are also struggling to set out common parameters as they develop a template to measure progress.

"We've never had everybody in the same tent" on a single audit topic, said the commissioner.

"It'll be very complicated because they all have different legislation and they may even have different audit methodology, perhaps, different priorities, different amount of staff to do it all."

Gelfand said the complexity of the audit challenge is "the whole point of doing it now -- so that once we get it all together we can repeat it again as we aim for (emissions) reductions."


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