Canada must take the lead on climate targets

Decisive action is needed to avoid climate change disasters on a biblical scale

Glacier melting | Photo: CC0

Glacier melting | Photo: CC0

When Prime Minister Trudeau spoke on Canada’s behalf at this year’s Paris Climate Summit, he invoked the ghost of 10 years of the Conservative government’s contempt for carbon reduction initiatives. Differentiating his government from Stephen Harper’s, Trudeau said, “Canada’s back, and here to help.”

If the Liberals are different negotiating partners than the Conservatives, why are they using the exact same carbon reduction targets as the Harper government? If Trudeau truly wants to help build an ambitious carbon reduction treaty at this year’s climate summit, Canada has to take the initiative.

The Liberals are in a strong position in Canada and at the summit to take the lead.

Less than two months from a majority win in the election, and with “Trudeau-mania” catching on around the world, the Liberals are popular enough to make a difficult stand in Paris. Trudeau can push for ambitious, legally binding emission reductions.

That the Liberals are using the Harper government’s pledges going into the summit has two primary problems. First, Canada’s pledges, to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 levels by the year 2030, are as Globe and Mail national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson said, “one of the least—if not the least—ambitious target of any advanced industrial country.”

Besides the fact that this pledge is not likely to meaningfully mitigate climate change, perhaps more dangerous is the message it sends to other countries at the talks. If a very popular head of state, who recently won an election on fairly progressive platform, is not taking the lead on ambitious targets in Paris, who will?

There are few governments in Paris that are better positioned politically to set a constructive precedent than Canada.

Limiting global warming to two degree Celsius above pre-industrial level has been generally accepted as the world target to avoid a catastrophic change to the climate. While the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges that the effects of global warming are already being felt around the globe before we’ve reached two degrees, the panel finds that allowing a more significant increase will make the impacts worse.

And what are the impacts? Think biblical: large-scale droughts, forest fires, storms, and sea-level rises that will endanger coastal populations.

The Climate Action Tracker, a research project which weighs national government’s carbon reduction pledges with the two degree target, has found that every carbon reduction pledge currently before the IPCC would lead to a 3.4°C increase in global temperatures.

It is vital that Canada’s new Liberal government use its momentum to not only encourage a strong agreement in Paris, but also ensure that Canada sets and meets its own ambitious carbon reduction targets.

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Canada must take the lead on climate targets