Why the G7 must be Canada’s climate change wake-up call

COMMENT: Forced to play ball in Germany, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper must now meet his promises

(Pic: Crown copyright/Arron Hoare)

(Pic: Crown copyright/Arron Hoare)

By Leehi Yona 

As the G7 meeting wrapped up today in Schloss Elmau, Germany, a few hours away in Bonn negotiators were still trying to push through on proposed United Nations climate texts.

Dozens of countries voiced concerns over the slow pace of the negotiation process, lamenting the 2 degree Celsius goal we are not going to achieve if business continues as usual.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel touted a climate agreement among the G7 countries to move towards decarbonization.

The G7 declared that fossil fuels will be phased out, moving towards zero greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of the century for these respective countries.

The status of the Bonn negotiations were typical; the statements from the G7, not so much.

To have many of the world’s most polluting countries publicly declare that they do not see fossil fuels in their economies’ future is groundbreaking.

Are G7 statements enough? 

It is one thing for a country to claim it will reduce its emissions; it is another thing entirely to actually commit to those reductions.

The G7 pledge, while significant, is not ambitious enough and must be scaled to total decarbonization by 2050.

More importantly, however, each of the seven countries, in addition to the European Union, must ensure that their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) at the UN are in line with these pledges.

At the current moment, there is a significant gap between countries’ short term commitments (the INDCs) and long term goals (the decarbonization pledge).

In particular, Canada may be the G7 country facing the most significant challenge for reconciling these two objectives.

Canada’s current greenhouse gas emissions reductions commitments according to the INDC are to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6% compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

A 3.6% reduction in 15 years does not scale up to a 100% reduction in 85. Canada’s INDC must adequately reflect the G7 decarbonization goal.

Canadian leadership

It is clear that Canada and Japan were the only two G7 countries opposing the climate pledges, and for good reason: both have weak national climate policies, and both are known – along with Australia – for their bad behaviour at the United Nations climate negotiations.

The Canadian government must realize the importance of climate action to the nation’s health, economy, and social well-being.

The Prime Minister’s Office stated that Harper’s main goal at the summit was job creation via a Canada-EU trade deal.

What the office neglected to acknowledge is that climate change is an immense opportunity to create Canadian jobs.

A recent report by the New Climate Institute found that the renewable energy sector would grow by 25 000 jobs in the next fifteen years, 30 000 if its emissions reductions were more ambitious and in line with a 2 degree Celsius total warming.

Another added co-benefit of climate action in Canada lies in healthcare. It is estimated that air pollution kills about 3 500 Canadians prematurely each year.

An ambitious commitment would see that number drop by almost 25%, saving hundreds of lives each year.


And yet, Canada and Japan were both singled out for watering down the G7’s initial agreement text.

It is expected that Stephen Harper would oppose commitments to a fossil fuel phase out, as it would force the Conservative Party to acknowledge that a future without tar sands – the industry providing most of the financial and political support for the party – is foreseeable.

Harper stated that the G7 commitment only indicated a need to move towards “lower-carbon emitting sources of energy”, implying that perhaps Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), for which research was also included in Canada’s INDC, would be the saving grace of the fossil fuel industry, allowing for continued extraction.

However, this research is not currently develop, and is more an excuse for inaction than anything else.

By association with the G7, Canada must now commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions swiftly and significantly.

It is clear that the country’s current INDC is not compatible with this goal, and as such, a new INDC should be submitted, ideally by the COP21 Paris United Nations negotiations.

It is high time that Canada lived up to its potential as a climate leader.

Leehi Yona is following UN climate talks in Bonn this week with the Adopt A Negotiator NGO. Follow her on twitter @LeehiYona

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