What can we expect from COP 21 (the Paris Conference of the Parties)?

Can these Parties who, nearly two decades ago, agreed to limit emissions causing climate change, finally take effective steps towards that goal?   A failure to do so, such as happened at the Copenhagen COP, will confirm the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, the only international organization that can bring countries together to generate reasonable solutions.

The Conference can only make progress towards a sustainable world if the parties are then and there are prepared to increase their intended nationally determined contributions (INDC’s) to reducing carbon emissions.

In many cases – Canada is an example – that won’t happen.

The previous Conservative Government did nothing of any consequence to put our economy and infrastructure on a path to reduced emissions.  Instead our emissions increased as the Government encouraged the development of the tar sands.

That Government submitted Canada’s INDC last spring.  The proposed reduction was one of the weakest submitted by any nation.

Lacking Federal leadership, the Provinces have taken the lead.  British Columbia introduced a carbon tax. Ontario phased out coal-fired generating plants. Quebec instituted a system of cap and trade. Nova Scotia committed to a reduction of emissions.

Accordingly the newly elected Liberal Government under Prime Minister Trudeau has assumed a facilitating role by setting national standards for reductions, modeled on our national Health Care infrastructure. But  real progress in setting national standards and establishing an infrastructure for enforcing controls on emissions will take time.

The Liberal Government has called a two-day Federal Provincial Conference for tomorrow to discuss limits on emissions.   A two-day conference is too short to achieve any consensus before Paris – which perhaps explains why Canada’s INDC will remain at the inadequate level determined by the previous Government.

Climate Action Network (Canada) recognizes both the problem and the difficulty of finding a solution to the lack of sufficient commitment in national INDC’s.  It observes:

 “That’s why the [Paris] agreement needs to include measures to check in on [national] commitments and scale them up over time until we get to our goal.”

Will these measures that require the creation of new international law work?   Will they be accepted by countries without special arrangements that prejudice the overall accord?  Will they be accepted by countries such as

  • United States (The US Senate must ratify treaties and Republic Senators have stated they will reject whatever Obama agrees to),
  • Russia (which considers that it is entitled to extraordinary concessions on further limits to its emissions),
  • China (which has already announced that its emissions will increase over next 10 + years) and
  • India (a large emitter that wishes to bring its huge numbers of poor out of poverty through electrification generated by coal-fired plants.)

Yet, even considering all these negative factors, we remain “Cautiously optimistic”.   Read our next blog that will identify factors that lead us to this conclusion.


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