‘Canada is Back’, But the Devil is in the Details

December 02, 2015

By Mitchell Beer, 
Sierra Club Canada Foundation Observer, COP21

PARIS—“Canada is back, my friends,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared again Monday, in his speech to the opening plenary of the United Nations climate summit.

And in the first two days of the conference, Canadian delegates have been welcomed with hope, excitement, and relief by international colleagues who’d spent the last decade wondering what had become of their one-time ally.

But as negotiators from 190 countries make their way through the ponderous, technical process of wordsmithing a make-or-break global agreement to control climate change, it’s becoming clear that the devil is in the details. And in many key areas, the details of Canada’s position are still taking shape.

Sierra is a member of Climate Action Network, which has a large, active presence at the summit, analysing key elements of the draft agreement while keeping open lines to the official Canadian delegation and the international Climate Action Network. As a Sierra observer attending this international gathering for the first time, I’ve been boggled by the encyclopedic knowledge and strategic acumen that some of our country’s veteran civil society climate experts bring to the process.

And this year, for the first time in a decade, four civil society representatives have been named to the official Canadian delegation, a long-standing tradition that was alive and well until a previous federal government did away with it. The Prime Minister invited provincial/territorial premiers and Indigenous leaders to attend the conference, and he also included the other federal party leaders—which means Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is attending this year as a member of the Canadian delegation, rather than borrowing accreditation from the delegations of Afghanistan or Papua New Guinea, as she had to do during the Harper years.

So, yes, Canada’s back. But now that we’re here, CAN is looking for signs that the country’s official delegation is doing all it can to secure the strongest possible climate agreement in Paris.

“Environmental and civil society groups in Paris are pleased to hear that Canada will have a Pan-Canadian framework to cut carbon pollution in the next 90 days,” the Network said in a Monday afternoon release, just hours after Trudeau addressed the COP plenary. 

“Canada announced a substantial financial package to assist developingcountries develop renewable energy economies and to adapt to climate change.” And “the Prime Minister highlighted Canada’s financial support for clean energy innovation and carbon pricing at home and abroad, and the need to respond to the concerns of the world’s most vulnerable countries.”

But there’s still a lot more work to be done. “If Canada is serious about protecting the most vulnerable, we must support inclusion of a long-term goal in the Paris Agreement to keep global warming below 1.5º Celsius.” And Trudeau’s remarks gave no indication of Canada’s detailed position on:

  • Providing funding for small island states and other vulnerable countries that won’t be able to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change
  • The need for an effective strategy to begin assessing countries’ carbon reduction promises before 2020, trigger deeper cuts over time, and verify that countries (including Canada) are doing what they said they would
  • How to lever the $2.65 billion in international climate finance that Trudeau promised earlier in the week into Canada’s fair-share contribution of $4 billion by 2020, and assure developing countries that financial support will be predictable after 2020.

Pleased as other countries are to see and hear that “Canada is back,” they’re still waiting to see that we mean what we say. Many Canadians feel exactly the same way—because when it comes to combatting climate change, actions speak louder than words.

So as Head of Delegation Catherine McKenna and her officials work their way through a gruelling, 12-day UN summit process, they could do worse than to keep in mind the results of a recent Oracle poll funded by CAN: 70% of Canadians want the federal government to sign on to a legally binding, global climate agreement, and 84% want the feds to create jobs in the country’s renewable energy sector.

That means the best way to keep Trudeau’s exceptionally well-received promise to the COP plenary is to give Canadians what we’re asking for. Sierra Club Canada will be watching the process right to the end, and you can count on regular updates through this blog.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna is asking Canadians to let her know what we think Canada should do about climate change. Send your video today, and please send us a copy(membership@sierraclub.ca). We’ll publish a selection on our website.  

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