Today is the day we review the year. Let me tell you, this year was full of changes. Making it all the more interesting is the fact that we had a political party transition. As our country went from blue to red, we saw a vastly different perspective at how we look at climate change and the environment. As Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government entered the political world, so did the environment. He fixed several of the Conservative government’s unpopular climate change policies and established his own policies as he led the country in a new direction.
This time last year, Stephen Harper’s unpopular policy of muzzling federal scientists was among one of his political blunders. It used to be that if you needed to speak with a scientist you would simply have to call them up. However, under the Conservative government, access to federal scientists was restricted by a government policy that required scientists to contact media managers whenever they were approached by a reporter. The reporter was subject to a line of questioning in advance, assuming they weren’t denied communication altogether. During the 2015 federal election, this was among the many environmental issues that Justin Trudeau promised to address. Soon after becoming Canada’s new Prime Minister, he kept his promise and took the muzzle off of federal scientists and reopened lines of communication between reporters and scientists.
Next on the political journey for Canada was COP21. Here, leaders of countries from all over the world met to discuss their action plans for combatting climate change. Minster McKenna said that she would use the Conservative’s pledge to cut emissions by 30% below 2005 levels. Furthermore, Canada’s approach to global climate action is built upon four issues:
- Canada pledged to use fact based decision making and robust science that reflect the latest findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- The Trudeau government said that they recognized the necessity of transitioning to a low carbon and climate resilient economy.
- A strong collaboration with provinces and territories, and non-state actors to take concrete climate action
- Support for climate resilient development and adaptation in countries that need it
Canada sought to establish a legally binding agreement that reflects the strong political will of all Parties to take concrete action on climate change. Our government was also in strong support of an outcome in Paris that had recognized the important roles played by sub national governments and non-state actors in the front line efforts for addressing climate change.
At Paris, there was a collective agreement and vision to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius and to send a strong signal of the global resolve of the needed transformation to a low carbon and climate resilient economy.
Canada had promised to increase the accountability and transparency of regular reporting and review of Parties’ commitments and their progress in implementing their commitments in order to provide assurances to the international community that Parties are doing exactly what they had promised.
Our government set an agreement that provided a prominent focus on adaptation, including building resilience and reducing vulnerabilities. This agreement was set to reflect the importance of actions at the national level, while promoting international cooperation and support for the poorest and most vulnerable countries as they respond and adapt to climate change.
The Liberal government stated that they recognize that carbon pricing is one of the most effective policy measures to drive climate action and the transformation of global energy systems towards cleaner alternatives. The agreement would facilitate the use of international market mechanisms for implementing mitigation commitments in a way that would ensure environmental integrity while avoiding a double counting of mitigation efforts.
Finally, Canada agreed to facilitate the mobilization of climate financing away from a high carbon future. This means that the Federal government would invest in the deployment of clean technologies and innovation support, while also restricting international public financing in maladaptive and high carbon investments.
COP21 has the potential to affect the globe as a whole. Myself, I love any global cooperation whether they are economic, environmental or legal. The policies implemented by each country will not necessarily impact our lives in that we will experience global change, however it’s the changes that we will not see that will have an impact on us. This collaboration is an historic stepping stone in our lives as global citizens, not just as Canadians.
Here, 90 days after the Paris Climate conference, the Environment Ministers’ meeting had brought federal, provincial and territorial governments in order to work together on a Canadian plan to address climate change. The discussions had centered on economic opportunities, means of reducing emissions, and the importance of technological innovation, public engagement, carbon pricing and adapting to the effects of climate change. Several reporters have criticized the First Minsters’ Climate Change Meeting for producing no real results. However the Ministers did agree to somethings:
- They will increase the level of ambition. They will commit to implement greenhouse gas mitigation policies in support of meeting or exceeding Canada’s 2030 target of a 30% reduction below 2005 levels of emissions.
- They will promote clean economic growth to create jobs. Here, from what I can gather, they all agree to recognize the need for growing our economy, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, their commitments are hazy in that they all commit to think about ways to reduce emissions while improving the economy.
- They agree to deliver mitigation actions. Again, here there seems to be more recognizing that mitigation is something that is needed to combat climate change. No real commitments other than to go back to the drawing board and discuss how to work towards their targets.
- They agree to increase action on adaptation and climate resilience. The pattern of recognizing things has continued further. Here, the ministers will recognize that adaptation is important particularly for those regions that have been hit the hardest.
- Finally, the ministers will enhance cooperation.
Here, I’m going to have to agree with the reporter’s criticisms, simply because there really wasn’t much done other than recognize the importance of climate change policy and useless commitments by the ministers to go back home to figure out a plan. I was expecting action by the provinces, not recognition that the environment is important. They have such potential to affect citizen life more profoundly than the federal government can, but it flopped. Ironically, more greenhouse gas emissions were produced because of the meeting than the policies they had committed to.
Meeting with Obama
Prime Minister Trudeau travelled to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama. The leaders discussed their collaboration efforts between the two countries on climate change, energy and Arctic leadership. Canada and the US agreed to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025 and to explore new opportunities for additional methane reductions. They both committed to reduce the use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by using their respective domestic frameworks and promised to propose new actions in 2016.
The reduction in hydrofluorocarbons is a particularly important action to undertake by both countries. HFCs are potent greenhouse gases that are increasingly used in applications. Surprisingly almost everything in your house produces HFCs, for example, your Air Conditioning unit, refrigeration system, foam insulation, your vehicle’s AC unit, and fire extinguishers. Ironically, things that seem to cool you down, warm up the Earth. HFCs also account for less than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions; however they are expected to rise to 19% if no actions are taken to reduce the emissions. UN Environment tweeted that “Phasing down HFCs can avoid up to 0.4 degree Celsius of global warming by the end of the century & continue to protect the ozone layer.” This is something that most any citizen of Canada can help reduce, and should we reduce these emissions we can hold the increase of global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre industrial levels. So this is something that I will immediately be taking effect on and I implore my readers to do the same. Turn off your AC; it’s not that hot out this summer. It’s actually quite nice, open a window at home, have the breeze hit you in the car.
Chapter 4 – A Clean Growth Economy is the title of the chapter in our 2016 Budget that contains Canada’s monetary pledges to protect the environment and grow the economy. This chapter will impact each Canadian more so than all the other policies and pledges that I have mentioned above, simply because this will affect our bottom line as taxpayers. In terms of numbers, this is what the Canadian government has committed:
- $2 billion over three years, starting in 2016-2017, for a new Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, which is a time limited initiative that will support up to 50% of the eligible costs of infrastructure projects at post-secondary institutions and affiliated research and commercialization organizations, in collaboration with provinces and territories
- $2 billion over two years, starting in 2017-2018, to establish the Low Carbon Economy Fund
- More than $1 billion over four years to support clean energy technology investments, including the forestry, fisheries, mining, energy and agriculture sectors. In addition, over $130 million over five years to support clean technology research, development and demonstration activities.
- $345.3 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada and the National Research Council to take action to address air pollution in Canada
- $142.3 million over five years to add new national parks and improve Canadians’ access during the 150th anniversary of Confederation and beyond, and enhance programming.
These figures do not include the other ventures that the Canadian government is doing to improve innovation and promote a clean growth economy.
On April 22, Canada finally signed the Paris Agreement and launched an online engagement to seek out Canadians’ ideas on potential solutions to address climate change. You can access it at www.canada.ca/climateaction.
All in all, I find that this is only going to benefit the environment. While the First Ministers’ Meeting was a letdown in terms of what it had accomplished, they all agree that the environment is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. I just wonder if slow political action will hinder any real decision making. But one thing is sure, we’ve come a long way and whatever our government decides will affect us in profound ways. I believe that it’s not up to our governments to tackle the issue alone; it is collaboration amongst Canadians as a whole that will decide the future of our planet.