The world was watching as delegations from over 190 countries gathered in Lima, Peru for the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. With a December 2015 deadline for a new international agreement to drastically lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (at COP21 in Paris), the goal for Lima a good first draft. The agreement that emerged, however, is by most accounts weak, watered-down, and reflective of the North-South divide that has long challenged the COP process.
Canada continues to be seen as a “problem country” by the international community when it comes to climate action. Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq told delegates in Lima that Canada wants a climate agreement “that would see all major emitters commit to do their fair share.” But while she was restating the government’s 2006 commitment to regulating the oil and gas sector, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was emphatically stating the opposite in the House of Commons. In fact, the Prime Minister said it would be “crazy” to regulate oil and gas.
Still, Canada was not alone in limiting progress in Lima.
The main barrier to a more far-reaching framework was division between developed, emerging, and least developed countries. As a result, the final text offered less precision than desired. It preserved the 1992 framework convention that puts the heaviest burden of emission reduction on wealthy countries, but participation is more or less voluntary. The Lima agreement does not require legally binding targets or firm commitments to assist vulnerable countries with climate change adaptation. Such a framework casts doubt on whether Canada will announce its targets by March 2015 (the established “deadline”) and if they will be ambitious enough to significantly lower GHGs.
Taken on its own, the Lima deal might inspire cautious optimism at best. However COP20 should not be considered in isolation. Here are three reasons to hope:
1. Major International Players are Shifting the Yardsticks
In November, the leaders of the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies and highest GHG emitters, signed a climate change agreement. The targets established by the U.S. are particularly ambitious, and if met, would result in a reduction in GHG emissions of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. These emission reductions are significant. Equally important, however, is the leadership the U.S. and China are providing to the international community, especially the rich and emerging economies. In addition to setting “peak” emissions targets and committing to move 20% of its power generation away from fossil fuels by 2030, China is already a world leader in new clean – primarily solar – energy installations.
While the U.S.-China agreement didn’t result in a strong following from other countries in Lima, it still offers good guidance as the world works towards Paris.
2. Provinces and States Take the Lead
A step ahead of the U.S. and China are several Canadian provinces and U.S. states. As Lima negotiations hit the half-way mark, the governments of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and the state of California issued a Joint Statement on Climate Change. The statement named climate change as “a serious environmental and economic threat” requiring immediate action. It further identified the tremendous opportunities – both environmental and economic – to address climate change and shift to a greener economy. Following on the November agreement between Ontario and Quebec, there is growing resolve among the provinces to work together to reduce GHG emissions. Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Manitoba also sent a strong signal to the federal government when they signed on to the global subnational agreement to fight climate change.
As has been seen in other key policy areas (including poverty reduction and refugee resettlement) where the federal government steps aside or otherwise fails to take action, the provinces are filling the void. The significance of this provincial action is heightened when considering that these four provinces are home to 80 per cent of the Canadian population.
3. Canadian Citizens Want More
The September Climate March in New York City was 350,000 people strong, making it the largest climate march in history. Among those gathered in New York were Canadian students, environmentalists, and people of faith, all determined to let our leaders know that staying the course simply won’t do.
In November, a poll released by Environics indicated that a growing number of Canadians are concerned about climate change, particularly when considering the fate of their children and grandchildren. Also on the rise, according to the same poll, is citizen support for putting a price on carbon – 56 per cent now strongly or somewhat support a tax on carbon emissions.
And on December 7, in communities across the country (and indeed around the world) people of faith gathered to pray for the earth, for the millions of people affected by climate change in the Global South, and for the political leaders gathered in Lima. At the Ottawa #LightForLIMA prayer vigil we carried our prayers in song to Parliament Hill, united across many faith traditions in our concern for the earth and our belief in a better future.
Looking forward, we should feel encouraged by the momentum we’ve seen and emboldened to continue to press the Canadian government “to do their fair share” to protect our environment.