For the first time in awhile, a Canadian Prime Minister is highlighting the problem of doing too little to combat climate change rather than the fear of doing too much. Prime Minister Trudeau’s speech earlier this week highlighted a significant shift in Canada’s approach.
The change in tone and language from the previous government was remarkable. Climate change as a top priority…scientific evidence…collaboration with Indigenous peoples…an acknowledgement that vulnerable countries have done little to cause climate change but face the greatest impacts…the right to clean technology for all…a promise of a concrete climate change plan that includes putting a price on carbon…climate change as an opportunity in the clean economy.
Highlighting these principles and making these statements is a critical step forward for the Canadian government.
But now comes the really important part: applying these principles to inform new Canadian positions, policies, and actions. And that can start right here in Paris. Canada can make bold commitments and support the stronger elements of what will become the Paris climate change agreement.
There are several concrete examples where Canada can strengthen its Paris commitments.
For example, Canada can signal that it will take greater action sooner by committing to developing a carbon reduction target for 2025 instead of 2030. A nearer-term target will give our international allies greater comfort, given Canada’s history of missing climate commitments, and make the government more accountable for the target it sets.
Canada’s commitment to deliver $2.65 billion in international climate financing — funding to assist developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change — is a good step in the right direction. But the government should explain how the $2.65 billion, five-year commitment can lever additional public and private sector investment in both mitigation and adaptation. Canada’s total contribution in 2020 should be $4 billion per year, Canada’s fair share of the commitment made in 2009 in Copenhagen.
In the post-2020 period, financing should increase in a predictable manner. Canada can help secure this by supporting measures in the Paris agreement that can raise the needed funds, such as a tax on bunker fuels used for international aviation and shipping.
There are other strong measures being negotiated in Paris that Canada should also support.
A review and ratcheting mechanism (where targets are periodically assessed and increased if found to be insufficient) will be critical to avoid locking in commitments that don’t get us all the way to fully protecting the climate and our future. The first review must happen before 2020 so that any insufficient commitments can be strengthened in the short term.
A long-term goal that will get us to full decarbonisation by mid-century is now supported by at least 43 countries. Decarbonisation involves phasing out carbon-based fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, and replacing it with 100 per cent renewable energy. Canada should join them. This goal is 100 per cent possible.
And the Paris agreement should include a dedicated, stand-alone Loss and Damage insurance-style fund for vulnerable countries facing impacts that are difficult to impossible to prepare for or adapt to. Just one example of these impacts would be small island states facing rising ocean levels.
In these and other ways, Canada can support a strong outcome in Paris. That begins with backing up strong words with strong action.