The year 2017 has shown us in horrific detail the immediate and devastating results of anthropogenic climate change. The symptoms of a planet in the throes of environmental sickness have manifested themselves this year with a turbulent Atlantic hurricane season, hellish Californian wildfires, and at home, ravaging spring floods in Quebec. These events, and others like them, provided ammunition to the ever growing list of environmental issues which were tackled at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany this November.
In 1992 the global conversation surrounding climate change began in earnest following the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With the subsequent adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a conference of parties (COP) have formally met in various parts of the world since 1995 in order to have an open dialogue concerning environmental issues on a global scale.
This year from November 6-17 the 23rd conference of parties met in Bonn, Germany along with those additionally involved in the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Climate Agreement. (1) Along with indigenous leaders, opposition party members, NGO representatives, and citizen experts, the Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna represented Canada on the world stage this year at COP23. McKenna used her platform to express Canada’s plans to implement a national carbon pricing policy, the further reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions, and made some serious strides in working to phase out Canada’s usage of fossil fuels; a stark deviation from current U.S. goals. (2)
In a bizarre turn of events, the U.S. delegation in Bonn presented an event on the role of “clean fossil fuels” and faced denouncing jeers from an unofficial counter U.S. delegation led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Canada rose to the top and declared an international alliance with Britain’s Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, Claire Perry to disband with coal entirely as a viable power source.
In explaining the new coalition dubbed, “Powering Past Coal”, McKenna said “Canada is committed to phasing out coal. We’ve created an alliance with the U.K., we’re going to get other countries around the world to help support moving forward on a coal phase-out. Coal is not only the most polluting fossil fuel but it’s also terrible for health.” (2) The two ministers will work in union together to push for the elimination of unbated coal powered plants across the globe. While at the conference, McKenna tweeted “Burning coal [is] responsible for 41% of our global emissions. The largest single source world wide. Phasing out coal represents a massive opportunity and #ClimateAction” (4) Back at home Canada has committed itself to becoming completely free of coal produced energy by 2030.
Canada’s participation in the conference of parties this year also saw an unprecedented shift towards welcoming an indigenous perspective on climate change action. This came as a result of wording contained within the Paris Treaty which calls for a UN platform for indigenous and local community climate action. (5) In honoring this, and holding true to the Trudeau government’s call for more indigenous representation, the Assembly of First Nations participated as an envoy at COP23. The delegation, led by indigenous leader Bill Erasmus, engaged in the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change, a meeting to promote an acknowledgement of native knowledge of environmental processes and solutions. Erasmus detailed the importance of a global ingenious voice, “The parties need to respect and take into account traditional knowledge when scientific measures are being used, recognize Indigenous Peoples’ authority in their own homelands and territories when it comes to climate change.” (5) In support of Canada’s federal government, Erasmus has affirmed his faith that Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna will continue to honour the Paris Treaty and the rights of indigenous peoples.
As part of the robust Canadian involvement this year, COP23 also saw the formation of a North American Climate Leadership Dialogue created with both Mexico as well as a somewhat rogue alliance of 15 U.S. governors working in opposition to the current Trump administration’s views on climate change. The alliance aims to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as aligned within the Paris Climate Agreement, and offers an optimistic representation of potential future agreements to further champion climate change action. (6)
Ultimately, Canada’s role in COP23 was a crucial one. As an influential industrialized nation, and both a neighbour and competitor to the U.S., a Canadian perspective and call to action against the devastation being done to our planet must be as loud as can be. However, in order to stay true as a world leader in this human endeavour, Canada must not forget its own part in contributing to global climate change. “The first thing you have to do is have a plan; you have to implement your plan, and then you have to ratchet up ambition.” Catherine McKenna said before leaving for the COP23 conference, “That’s part of the Paris agreement, and that’s what we’re absolutely committed to doing.” (7)
For the sake of the planet, let’s work together to make sure she’s right.
(J.Q. Stanley is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He is currently enrolled in Professor Olive’s environmental policy course).
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 2017. “COP23: FAQs.” Last modified November 11, 2017. https://cop23.unfccc.int/cop23/frequently-asked-questions-on-cop-23#eq-1.
- McCarthy, Shawn. 2017. “Canada, Britain to tout coal phase-out as U.S. champions fossil fuels.” The Globe and Mail, November 12, 2017. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canada-us-at-odds-over-coal-power-at-un-climate-change-conference/article36931792/.
- CBC News. 2017. “As Trump tries to revive coal industry, Canada pushes for a phase-out at UN climate meeting.” CBC News. November 13, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-coal-mckenna-trump-bonn-1.4399956.
- McKenna, Catherine (@cathmckenna). 2017. “Burning coal responsible for 41% of our global emissions. The largest single source world wide. Phasing out coal represents a massive opportunity and #ClimateAction.” Tweet, November 13, 2017. https://twitter.com/cathmckenna/status/930142643589472257.
- Morin, Brandi. 2017. “Assembly of First Nations to have seat at international climate change conference for first time.” CBC News. November 4, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/afn-climate-change-germany-1.4387206.
- Press Release PR Newswire. 2017. “Minister McKenna wraps up successful COP23 in Bonn.” Business Insider. November 20, 2017. http://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/Minister-McKenna-wraps-up-successful-COP23-in-Bonn-1008788441.
- Belot, Ross. 2017. “Catherine McKenna Says Canada Has a Climate Plan. Prove It.” DeSmog Canada. November 15, 2017. https://www.desmog.ca/2017/11/15/catherine-mckenna-says-canada-has-climate-plan-prove-it.