By Dr. Louise Comeau
Five weeks – that’s the time remaining before the most anticipated UN climate change negotiating session in years. With a new federal government taking the helm November 4, and a Prime Minister promising Canada will do its fair share to keep global warming well below dangerous levels, there is the potential to rewrite the Canada-Climate Change story.
The stakes are high. A draft of our new story must be off the presses in weeks. It must be action-packed and have climate action heroes who are authentic and reliable when the going gets tough. In other words, Canada’s new climate story must turn the page on more than 20 years of never reaching our climate goals. Our new story will have lead characters that do what they say they will do and who are brave as they navigate this urgent crisis.
The situation is tense. The world is rapidly moving toward dangerous global warming that will hurt people and the natural systems we rely on for safety and well-being. Seemingly oblivious to the dangers ahead, developed and developing countries are jockeying at UN negotiating meetings over what fair share means and who should pay for loss and damage from impacts so severe there is no prospect of adapting. There are choices to be made. Which way will Canada go? What will our new leaders do to earn the title of climate action heroes as they take centre stage in the world and at home?
Canada in the World
The Paris UN negotiations in late November, and the G-20 meeting in Turkey mid-month, set the stage for the first chapter. Global readers must see Canada take concrete action to ease negotiating tensions by being responsible, accountable and fair. Canada must sketch out an offer that is consistent with our wealth and capability, and that includes deep cuts in carbon pollution at home, as well as substantial international financial contributions.
Canada can make a difference to the Paris Agreement by agreeing to include a long-term goal, such as 100% renewable energy or full decarbonization over the next 35 years. The Agreement also needs a sturdy foundation, including short commitment periods (first target date of 2025 with five-year increments), and a robust assessment mechanism. Assessments would start in 2017 and continually increase ambition in cutting carbon pollution and in international financing.
Solving climate change also means emerging and developing economies leapfrog fossil fuel infrastructure, quickly phase out coal for electricity, and phase in renewable energy to run factories, homes and vehicles. We believe Canada’s fair share financial contribution to help less developed countries should approach $4 billion a year by 2020 (part of a global effort to stimulate more than $100 billion in financial flows by 2020). Half the $4 billion would aim to cut carbon pollution, half to adapt to climate impacts. This is a lot of money. It is, however, fair given our wealth and capabilities. It also is good value given that investing now saves money in the long run and stimulates the economy.
Canada at Home
Our new non-fiction story has many contributors and editors. The federal government has committed to working with provinces. That’s good because learning from existing leaders is essential. But climate action heroes will do more than talk or just add up what provinces offer. Canada must promise to quickly improve on what the previous federal government put forward and develop a solid implementation plan. We believe Canada’s fair share would see the country cut climate altering pollution one third within 10 years. Canada must also promise to enshrine its national emissions reduction target in law.
One urgent priority at home is to develop a plan to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. To get there, we need to work with provinces/municipalities/aboriginal leaders and non-government organizations to accelerate investments in public transit and modernize the electricity system, including energy efficiency and conservation, a rapid coal-phase-out, an increase in renewable energy (like solar rooftop, wind), upgrade transmission and distribution networks, and integrate buildings/vehicles/electricity systems. New Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards in Canada, the US and China will shift vehicles from liquid fuels toward electricity in less than 10 years. Governments can accelerate uptake of non-emitting vehicles, but we need more renewable energy on the grid to meet new demand.
It’s fiction to think we can expand oil sands and pipelines and protect the climate. Our climate action heroes will face battles and challenges, advances and victories as they make bold choices to build a renewable energy economy that sustains our economy and creates jobs. It will take courage and determination to reach our goals, and that’s just what we would expect from our climate action heroes!
Louise Comeau is Executive Director of Climate Action Network – Réseau action climat Canada, a network of almost 100 organizations working together for climate protection.