Canada joins ‘climate ambition coalition’, but questions persist

While rebranding by the Liberal government is attracting positive news coverage, substantive policy change remain in order to make good the rhetoric

Environment minister Catherine McKenna and prime minister Justin Trudeau (Pic: Environment Canada/Flickr)

Environment minister Catherine McKenna and prime minister Justin Trudeau (Pic: Environment Canada/Flickr)

By Meghan Holloway and Guy Edwards

Late Thursday afternoon at the UN climate change talks in Paris, Canada joined the Marshall Islands, the European Union, United States, and dozens of African, Latin American, Caribbean and Pacific countries in an informal group called the “High Ambition Coalition.” 

The coalition’s key positions include limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, supports for 5-year cycle for ratcheting up countries’ emission reduction targets, and ensuring developed countries deliver the promised US$100 billion target for climate finance per year from 2020.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is demonstrating his desire to change Canada’s reputation on climate change from spoiler to team player. While this rebranding by the Liberal government is attracting positive news coverage, substantive policy change remain in order to make good on this rhetoric.

Trudeau’s statements mark a 180 degree turn from his predecessor Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Trudeau is trying to rebrand his government as a new, fresh alternative to old Conservative Canada. Revamping Canada’s stance on climate change is a key part of making that happen.

However, Harper’s old ways cannot be binned immediately. Preparations for the Paris negotiations have been months or years in the making.

A single election a month ago and the appointment of a new Minister of the Environment may have helped to symbolize a change but making it a reality is something completely different.

While pledging to be more constructive in the negotiations, Canada is still adopting some negotiating positions which are drawing fire from civil society groups.

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Canada was awarded the “fossil of the day” award by the Climate Action Network for saying that it will not accept an agreement unless it includes text excluding compensation and liability from the Loss and Damage Mechanism – a key red line for developing countries fearful of the huge damages from a changing climate.

Trudeau has also kept his predecessor’s Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution (INDC) of reducing its emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. He has not offered a more ambitious target.

Because the INDCs will form the central part of a new agreement and thus, by refusing to scale up Canada’s emissions reduction goals, Trudeau is allowing Canada to continue to provide status quo promises that fail to contribute significantly to international efforts.

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In Paris, Canada has pledged CAN$2.65 billion over the next five years to aid developing countries adapt to climate impacts and mitigate their emissions.

But given the agreed commitment of raising US $100 billion for climate finance per year from 2020, this amount will need to increase along with the contributions of the rest of the developed world if the goal is to be achieved.

By joining the High Ambition Coalition and supporting the French COP presidency by co-facilitating negotiations on mechanisms for cooperation between countries, this rebranding is off to a promising start.

But these efforts are not enough to shake off the old demons. Canada needs to continue pushing publically for a human rights provision in the agreement’s text – a move praised by Canadian environmental organizations.

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Canada’s INDC is currently not consistent with a 1.5 degree goal. Trudeau will have to commit Canada to being fueled by 100% renewable energy by 2050 in order to make this goal realistic, according Gideon Forman from the David Suzuki Foundation.

When Trudeau meets in a couple of months with the leaders of the provincial governments to discuss his government’s plan and the results from the climate summit, he has an opportunity to remake Canada’s national climate plan.

Be putting forth an ambitious plan Canada can break the ties with the previous government. Trudeau can demonstrate to the world that Canada doesn’t just make promises on climate change, but will actually take real action.

The authors are members of Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab. The opinions are the sole responsibility of the authors.

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