Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Canadian Leadership at COP21

The new Liberal government breathes life into Canada's involvement with international climate negotiations. Under the newly elected federal Liberal party Canada has done a 180 on climate action. In a radical departure from the previous Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau's Liberal party are assuming a leadership role on climate change. This new approach is evident at the COP21 climate talks that are about to conclude in Paris.

At the swearing in ceremony prior to the start of COP21 Trudeau said that “Canada is going to be a strong and positive actor on the world stage, including in Paris at COP21...that’s why we have a very strong minister — not just of the environment, but minister of the environment and climate change — who will be at the heart of this discussion.” The new Prime Minister clearly indicated that Canada will "do its part" to prevent catastrophic warming.

The ministerial appointments of both Catherine McKenna and Stephane Dion confirm that the Liberals are serious about climate action.

This is welcome news after a decade of Conservative climate obfuscation and obstructionism. The shameful environmental record of Harper's Conservatives gave the nation the dubious distinction of being climate laggards who undermined international climate negotiations.

While the Conservatives made climate pledges they did very little to live up to them. Unlike his predecessor Trudeau has indicated that he will both set and achieve ambitious emissions reduction targets. The new government has made a number of climate related campaign promises, however, delivering on these pledges will not be easy after a decade of failed Conservative climate leadership.

During the election campaign the Liberals pledged "real change" and now they are tasked to deliver on a raft of promises. They have promised to put a price on carbon, phase out oil subsidies, invest in renewables, support efficiency, promote the growth of electric vehicles, contribute $2-billion to a "Low Carbon Economy Trust” to drive clean tech, partner with the private sector to unlock venture capital, develop a Canadian energy strategy, work with the provinces to develop green power sources, work with the US and Mexico to develop a North American clean energy and environmental agreement, make Canada the world’s most competitive tax jurisdiction for investments in clean tech, embark upon trade missions to promote clean tech, support green trade by training trade officials on clean technology, ban oil tanker traffic off the west coast, cancel the Northern Gateway Pipeline, support research into sustainable technology, increase government use of clean technologies, invest $100 million more each year in clean technology producers, invest $200 million more each year to support innovation and the use of clean technologies and issue Green Bonds to fund clean tech projects.

The new Canadian government appears to be listening to Canadians who have indicated that they support cutting greenhouse gas emissions, even at a personal cost. As reported by the CBC,  a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute more than two-thirds of Canadians believe that climate change is a serious threat and 63 percent support Canada signing an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, even if it increases their annual energy costs.

One of the most positive initiatives to come out of COP21 is Canada's decision to advocate for a global warming target of less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Nations like the US and China support a warming target of less than 2 C.

The Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), have championed the 1.5 C target. These states are at risk of being inundated by the rising seas due to climate change. The alliance is comprised of low-lying states in Africa, the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea, including Belize, Cape Verde, the Maldives, Jamaica, Singapore and Papua New Guinea. On Monday, December 7, the leaders of countries from the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) which includes nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh, broke ranks with the G77 and joined the Aosis group in calling for the more ambitious target. This declaration was supported by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland. Last week Australia also appears to have signaled that it would support the long term upper threshold target of 1.5 C.

More than half (106 of the 195 countries) of the world supports these more robust upper threshold limits. If it were to be adopted this target will require even more radical global emissions reductions (the current INDCs will not keep warming below the 2 C target). We are seeing evidence for accelerated warming and the planet has already warmed more than 1 C above preindustrial times.

On Sunday December 6, McKenna said Canada supports including a reference in the text of the final deal to a more ambitious, long-term limit to global warming.

In addition to supporting the 1.5 degree target, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna Canada has also endorsed the need for a five-year review of any Paris agreement as well as the inclusion of language of indigenous and human rights.

Canada also announced a new $50-million investment in a G7 fund to help compensate countries for climate disasters.

As a reflection of Canada's newfound global climate leadership, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius appointed Ms. McKenna as a facilitator in the Paris negotiations. This is the first time that Canada has played such a role in more than a decade.

Canada is the 10th largest carbon emitter and one of the world's highest per capita emitters, this makes Canadian climate leadership critically important.

Canada has pledged to establish a pan-Canadian framework to tackle climate change within 90 days of the conclusion of the Paris climate conference. The new government is rebranding the nation on the climate issue and it would appear this is far more than just rhetoric.

Despite the new Canadian government's efforts, the Liberals have not explained exactly what they plan to do with the tar sands, a leading cause of Canada's emissions output.

Throne Speech Reiterates Canada's Commitment to Climate Action
Canadian PM and Provinces Unified for COP21
New Liberal PM's Mandate Letter to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change
Canadian Government Scientists can Now Speak Freely Again (Video)
Canada's New Minister of Environment and Climate Change is Already at Work
The Liberals Must Deliver on their Environmental and Climate Promises after 10 Years of Conservative Rule Climate Welcome and Gifts for Canada's New Prime Minister
Dion to Lead Canada's New Environment, Climate Change and Energy Cabinet Committee
Canada's New Government and Hopes for Climate Action
The New Liberal Government's Climate and Energy Policy Promises
Canadian PM and Provinces Unified for COP21
What Canadian Provinces are Doing to Combat Climate Change
Canada's Failed Climate Leadership is also an Economic Disaster

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