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press release

Environmental and health groups call for competition law that can tackle the climate crisis

April 4, 2023

OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHINAABEG PEOPLE – Environmental and health groups across the country, Ecojustice, the Quebec Environmental Law Center, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Équiterre, University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, are calling for the federal Competition Act to be modernized to help Canada effectively address the climate crisis and tackle the scourge of greenwashing across the country.

These groups have made submissions to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) urging that sustainability considerations be incorporated into the reform of this legislation. A public consultation ended last Friday and, over the coming months, ISED will review the input they have received and prepare a first draft of proposed amendments for Parliament to consider.  

In its current state, the Competition Act is not equipped to effectively address greenwashing and support our transition to a net-zero economy. Unless Canada sets clear standards and has effective legal mechanisms to hold those making claims about their climate commitments to account, we have little chance of achieving our climate goals.

Competition law reform is not the sole answer to the climate crisis. It does, however, offer an important economic lever that complements other environmental and climate policies. Done well, it can help ensure that competitive pressures in the marketplace push corporations to make efficient use of our planet’s scarce resources and empower consumers to make sustainable choices. 

In a global economy where polluting industries are increasingly recognized as a liability and where our trading partners are integrating sustainability into their own competition laws, Canada stands to lose a competitive edge if it fails to credibly integrate environmental sustainability into its own economic policy.

Matt Hulse, Ecojustice lawyer, said:

“The climate crisis is the greatest challenge of the 21st century and every sector of society has a role to play in preventing a catastrophe.

“Greenwashing is rife and systemic in Canada — corporations falsely portray their services, products and businesses to be in line with a sustainable future. In reality, they directly contribute to the climate crisis. For example, oil sands companies and major banks across Canada are often making meaningless “net-zero” commitments without plans or policies to back up these claims.

“Canada needs legal standards to prohibit greenwashing and avenues to hold industry accountable for meeting their climate commitments; otherwise, it will be difficult for this country to achieve its goals under the Paris Agreement, putting everyone in Canada at risk from the impacts of climate change.

“The federal government needs to hold corporations to account on climate action. The Competition Act must be part of that solution.”

Calvin Sandborn, Senior Counsel at the UVic Environmental Law Centre, said:

“Already humanity’s future is grimmer than it need be – thanks to the wave of deceptive ads from the fossil fuel industry that killed Kyoto and other climate measures decades ago. Deceptive advertising must never again sabotage climate action.

Misleading ads make it impossible for consumers to distinguish between beneficial and harmful products.  That is why regulating such advertising serves both conscientious consumers and sustainable companies. It might also help save the planet.” 

Andréane Brazeau, Climate Policy Analyst at Équiterre, said:

“The Competition Act is a key lever in the fight against greenwashing. We must seize this opportunity to foster the development of a competitive economy that is compatible with our climate goals. The law must ensure that environmentally proactive businesses reap the rewards of their investments and that consumers have all the information in hand when making choices, which is far from being the case at the moment. Many jurisdictions around the world have already taken important steps in the right direction. Canada now needs to catch up.”

Leah Temper, Campaign Director, Fossil Fuel Ads Make Us Sick at Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said:

Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has known. Competition law reform can contribute to stopping such corporate cost-shifting successes and to transforming our economies to protect people and planet. To create a level playing field and  drive green innovation we must start with tackling greenwashing and deceptive advertising. We need companies to change their conduct, not their discourse.  It’s time for “business as unusual.”

Marc Bishai, Lawyer at the Quebec Environmental Law Center, said:

“Neither the public nor the business sector know what the authorities currently consider to be false or misleading when it comes to climate-related claims. We now have a perfect opportunity to reinforce our legal framework so that it helps put us on the right track and stay in tune with regulation being enacted in other parts of the world. Let’s not miss it.”

Catherine McKenna, Chair, United Nations High-level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, said:

“We must remember that businesses, industry, and financial institutions have a critical role in getting the world to net-zero. They can either help scale the ambition necessary to ensure a sustainable planet or else they strongly increase the likelihood of failure. 

“The Canadian government should set standards and enforce against greenwashing not only for the good of consumers and the planet, but also so our marketplace is not distorted by false or confusing green claims. We should follow the lead of jurisdictions like the European Union to tackle greenwashing head on. We should also be permitting companies to advance climate goals through legitimate collaboration. The current reform of the Competition Act is the perfect opportunity to do this.”

Read the CQDE, CAPE and Équiterre’s submission here »

Read the ELC submission, endorsed by Équiterre, here >>

Read the Ecojustice and CAPE submission here