Even with only a few weeks of preparation for upcoming climate negotiations in Paris, Canada’s new Minister of Environment and Climate Change should send a clear message to the world that Canada is finally ready to do its fair share to avoid catastrophic climate change, the director of Climate Action Network Canada said Monday.
Louise Comeau heads CAN-Canada, a coalition of more than 100 environment, labour, development, faith-based and aboriginal groups across the country concerned about climate change. Comeau briefed journalists Monday on what those groups say Canada must do to “start making things right” in Paris after years of being condemned as a climate laggard.
“What we face (if no agreement is reached in Paris) is catastrophic climate change that will affect the quality of life and stability of people around the world,” Comeau said. “We can’t let that happen … We are not on track to handle this problem. We can’t let Paris fail.”
Scientists warn of dire impacts if global temperatures increase beyond an average of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And even an increase of 2 degrees, experts now say, would exceed what is safe for the world’s most vulnerable countries. The global Climate Action Network, which includes more than 950 organizations around the world, now takes the position that the world should be aiming to keep warming to no more than an average of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna is already in Paris taking part in a preparatory meeting of ministers. She was not available for comment Monday. McKenna, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will attend the United Nations climate talks, to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.
Under Stephen Harper’s government, Canada committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. But Canada is headed toward being at least 19 per cent above 2005 levels by 2020.
Canada’s target should be at least 35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 to do its fair share, according to the Climate Action Network.
Comeau said Canada should commit in Paris to meeting its 2020 target, despite its lack of real action thus far, and should also commit to spending more on helping other countries reduce their emissions.
She said Canada should be investing up to $4 billion by 2020 in such initiatives as the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries reduce their emissions. Last year, Canada announced it would contribute $300 million to that fund, and it has spent $1.2 billion on another program called the Fast-Start Financing Initiative, which also aids developing countries reduce emissions.
“We are a wealthy country, we have the capacity to do more and the need is great,” Comeau said.
Steven Guilbeault, of the Montreal-based group Équiterre, said the federal government can make these kind of spending announcements in Paris without waiting for a meeting with the premiers. Trudeau has promised a first ministers meeting on climate change within 90 days of the Paris conference.
“One of the things we can do is invest,” Guilbeault said. “We don’t need consensus from the provinces and territories to do that. It’s great to talk to people, but they won’t get everybody on board and we have to move despite that.”
Comeau said plans to build new pipelines to transport crude oil are not consistent with Canada’s goals to reduce emissions.
“If pipelines are built and the oilsands expand as expected, that’s another 41 million tonnes of emissions as we go from 2.3 to 4 million barrels a day of oil produced. So that is clearly incompatible with climate protection,” she said.
But she added that “these are difficult issues and it is a big transition that has to happen so there has to be some sensitivity to the politics of the situation. The smartest thing the federal government can do is to work with Alberta to manage that transition in the oil sector, and encourage a massive uptake of renewable energy.”
She said Canadians should stop fearing the transition to renewable energy and get excited about the opportunities that transition can provide.
“There will be good, sustainable jobs for people in the new system,” she said, pointing to the electrification of transportation as one sure source of employment.
The groups expressed optimism over the fact that Minister McKenna has chosen Marlo Raynolds as her chief of staff. Raynolds worked as executive director at the Pembina Institute, a well known clean energy think tank. He also sat on the board of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, and spent the last three years at BluEarth Renewables Inc., a renewable power producer based in Calgary.
“Raynolds is a skilled, capable and knowledgeable person … so we can be assured she (McKenna) is getting good briefings, which is important,” Bonin said.