Paris summit: Reaching for a solution to global climate change


renewable energy

Post by: Sherry Hume, ECO Canada

From November 30 to December 11, 2015, France will be hosting the 21st session of the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP21).

Designed to achieve international agreement on world climate, the first COP took place in Berlin in 1995. Other significant COPs include COP3 where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 where the Montreal Action Plan was developed and COP17 in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

Otherwise known as Paris 2015, COP21 could very well be the most important conference in over 20 years of UN negotiations.

Its aim is to achieve a new international and legally binding agreement on climate, with the goal of keeping global warming below 2°. Although negotiations have been going on for the past two decades, not all countries have taken part, and in Canada’s case we actually dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2011.

The Kyoto Protocol called for participating countries to reduce their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 5.2% below their respective 1990 levels. However the signing of this agreement did not include developing countries, such India and China and the US  did not sign the agreement either.

What has been Canada’s commitment to climate change action?

Canada’s Action on Climate Change states that “the government of Canada supports international action to help developing economies reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.”

This is a good start – but Canada’s commitment to the same has been woefully lacking over the last 10 years.

Ontario’s Environment Minister Glen Murray has said “Prime Minister Harper would not allow the words ‘climate change’ to be used or discussed for the better part of the last 10 years at the federal-provincial tables.”

Ontario and Quebec have been the most outspoken over the environmental failings of the Harper government which claimed to be consulting with them, when in fact it had not.

When questions arose over Canada failing to meet the last agreed deadline of March 31st to submit its own set of commitments, Murray says that the federal government took credit for the progress made by individual provinces.

Canada’s current climate commitment, formed under the Conservative government, is to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels, a target that climate analysts have criticized as “weak and inadequate”. They also argue that our lack of climate legislation makes it an unrealistic target.

What can we expect to see from the newly-elected leader?

With the next conference happening so soon after our Federal Election, and the overwhelming Liberal majority that was achieved, the world is wondering just what Canada will contribute to the conference.

However, many sources believe that this sweeping win will make for an invigorated Canadian presence at COP21.

From a world environmental perspective, the benefit of winning a majority Liberal government is that the new government can easily disassociate themselves from the previous Harper’s Government.

High-level ministers from over 190 nations will be in Paris to deliberate on the future of the world’s environment. Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau plans on attending, and most of Canada’s premiers will be joining him.

He has also invited Elizabeth May – leader of the Green Party, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, and intends to ask the new Conservative leader to attend as well; an amazing show of Canadian representation that has not been seen in previous years.

In addition to attending the climate talks, Trudeau has promised to convene the provinces within 90 days of the conference to “work together on a framework to combat climate change.”

While there may be some dispute over the new Prime Minister’s ability to form a workable framework, he has expressed his commitment to working with each province in order to be able to help them individually reach the national emissions targets.

Trudeau can also be expected to work closely with his transition team and a team of advisers – people who have experience in environmental initiatives and negotiation.

Part of that team is Peter Harder, who has been helping with the transition from Conservative to Liberal government. An experienced public servant and the former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, Harder was part of the team that negotiated Kyoto, and he is just one of the many resources that Trudeau has to draw upon.

With a world of expectations now being placed on his shoulders, Trudeau has a long road ahead, but is in a good position to raise the bar on Canada’s approach to climate change and environmental stewardship in general.

For more information on COP21, visit the official website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en

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