On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you for Canada’s upcoming Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) announcement? You know, that thrilling moment where Canada announces its contribution to the global fight against global warming, the one coming out next month?!

If you realize you don’t know what these targets are about, what they currently are, and why they even matter, you are not alone. A recent poll found that only eight per cent of Canadians follow the evolution of the targets “pretty closely”.

This is understandable, given that the targets are often presented as percentages you can’t visualize, and that by themselves they don’t actually constitute real climate action. However, while it might not be worth hosting a full watch party for the release of these new targets, the upcoming announcement of the NDC should matter to those of us who care about having a liveable future.

What is Canada’s climate target, and why is it a big deal? 

Canada has a little over a month to release its NDC, in which it is expected to lay out its ambition in terms of domestic and international climate action. The current target of 40 to 45 per cent emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 is completely insufficient for the climate, and it also lacks elements of equity, planned transition, and nature-based solutions to make the pledge credible.

However, a new report by CAN-Rac, which Environmental Defence endorsed, highlights the pivotal role the new plan could have if it is informed by science, rooted in principles of justice and equity, and oriented towards nature-based and people-centered solutions. The report, which lays out a People’s plan for how the NDC should be structured, demands that Canada commit to doing its fair share by

  • reducing domestic emissions by 60 per cent by 2030, and investing in international action to reduce emissions in developing countries by a further 80 per cent,
  • kickstarting its just transition strategy by establishing a working group composed of workers and affected communities,
  • centering its climate action around human rights and Indigenous rights principles,
  • and decarbonizing all sectors through changes in regulation and government spending.

In short, it recommends that Canada use this unique opportunity to do the right thing!

Three reasons why a stronger climate target matters: 

The announcement is a unique opportunity for Canada to get out of its cycle of confusing, vague or insufficient climate promises to give Canadians and the international community tangible proof that we actually want to win the fight against climate chaos. Still, knowing that the NDC has the potential to be disruptive of the status quo is not the most exciting news, I’ll agree with you on that.

There are however at least three real reasons to care about Canada’s upcoming announcement:

  • It is doable, and even beneficial, for us to do the right thing. Modeling by Navius and EnviroEconomics found that it was not only possible for Canada to achieve its fair share target while keeping our economy strong, but it was also beneficial for Canadian households. Implementing the emissions reductions policies needed to achieve the target would allow the Canadian economy to grow by 19 per cent of GDP over the next decade thanks to innovation in low-carbon technology and transformation of existing industries, and Canadians would save on energy and enjoy healthier communities!
  • Canada is already very behind. We like to think of ourselves as global leaders on women’s rights, public health and education. Yet, when it comes to climate action, we are far behind – and the gap is only getting bigger. For example, out of all G7 members, Canada had the highest emissions growth since the signing of the Paris Agreement. Eventually, reaching our target will be imperative if we want to be fair to the global community, especially the people who will be most severely affected by the crisis. Arriving at COP26 – the international climate negotiations- in November as a climate laggard would further affect our international credibility and reputation if we don’t have an ambitious NDC to back up our claims of being a nation that plays a positive role in the world.
  • There is something for everyone in a well-written target

In an NDC inspired by what Canadians actually want in which international responsibility meets domestic feasibility, all of us would win:

  • Young people would have a better chance at a safe climate in the future,
  • Canada’s most affected regions would receive early support to mitigate the rising negative effects of climate change,
  • Workers in GHG-intensive sectors and community leaders would be invited to the planning table to draft together a transition strategy in order to secure good jobs in a clean economy,
  • Groups historically left out of economic development plans such as Indigenous people and racialized communities would be given a seat at the decision-making table.

Far from being utopian, a well-written NDC could be the stepping stone for Canadians to mobilize around a coherent, ambitious action plan.

Canada has a few more weeks to submit its NDC, giving us a last opportunity to let our government know that we have high expectations for much greater ambition and leadership. Sure, just like setting ambitious fitness goals hasn’t made me an athlete yet, Canada setting its target at its fare share won’t make it a climate leader right away. Yet, failing to even set the right goals would mean giving up on our aspirations of being a prosperous and progressive nation in a climate-friendly world.