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“First Enlightenment, then the Laundry”: What the Paris Climate Agreement Means for Canada

If you’ve been watching headlines about the historic signing of the Paris Agreement this past weekend, you may be understandably confused.

Does the world’s first climate treaty represent the beginning of the end for fossil fuels or a mere free-market cop out?

Both arguments hold some truth. That’s because the agreement is more form, less substance. That’s what it was intended to be. The real meat of the deal remains entirely undetermined because it has yet to grow on the bones of the treaty.

What countries like Canada actually do to implement the intended outcome of the Paris Agreement — to keep temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions — will determine whether the torrent of analyses we’re seeing, dire or otherwise, have any merit.

There’s this Buddhist idiom that says: first Enlightenment, then the laundry,” Glen Murray, Ontario’s Environment Minister, said at the climate summit in Paris. “This has been the Enlightenment and now we all have to go home and do the laundry to make sure this happens.”

McKenna Under Fire for Dodging Energy East Questions in Paris Press Briefing

At a press briefing in Paris on Wednesday Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna was asked to describe how Canada’s support of a new goal to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius squares with the government’s apparent support for the Energy East pipeline.

McKenna told a gathering of reporters that she prefers not to speak to individual projects.

I don’t like just looking at one particular development. We are looking at how we are going to make progress towards a low-carbon economy,” she said.

McKenna added Canada is currently reviewing the National Energy Board environmental assessment process.

The Energy East pipeline is a part of that,” she said, although pipeline opponents were disappointed last month when Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said reviews already in progress will continue on, rather than being restarted under a new and more robust regime. 

McKenna added Canada is committed to doing its “fair share” alongside other nations to combat climate change. 

New Climate Performance Index Ranks Canada Among World’s Worst for Emissions and Lack of Climate Policy

Alberta oilsands

A new index of global emissions released Tuesday at the Paris climate talks finds Canada among the worst performing nations when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate policy.

Canada, taking sixth place, ranked only above Korea, Japan, Australia, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia in the 2016 Climate Change Performance Index.

Even though Canada’s position remains low, it represents a slight improvement from last year, when the country came in last out of 58 nations profiled in a 2014-2015 report.

This year’s index report notes a “slight positive trend can be seen in Canada, which improved its performance by two places.”

But report, produced every year for the last 11 years by Climate Action Network Europe and Germanwatch, attributes the majority of Canada’s improvement to the work of the provinces and acknowledges that no visible efforts to improve Canada’s climate standing have been made at the federal level in recent years.

The slight increase in Canada’s standing is due to early indication from the Liberal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada will be a more constructive player on the international climate stage.

B.C., Canada’s Carbon Tax Champion, Criticized for Lack of Climate Leadership at COP21 in Paris

British Columbia has long been celebrated for implementing one of North America’s first — and the world’s most successful — carbon tax regimes.

Yet at the ongoing COP21 climate talks in Paris, Premier Christy Clark is getting a lot of flack for her province’s lack of climate leadership.

Clark’s efforts to develop a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry and her freezing of the province’s carbon tax in 2012 shows just how far B.C. is from being a climate leader, according to Torrance Coste, member of the Canadian Youth Delegation attending the climate summit.

Last week a panel of industry and environmental experts appointed by Clark to review the province’s climate action found B.C. will not meet its own target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions one third by 2020.

I’m fairly disappointed with what [Christy Clark] is bring forward as part of B.C.’s new climate leadership model,” Coste said. “It’s not building enough on what we’ve done in the past.”

Five Numbers You Need to Know to Understand Canada’s Role at the COP21 Paris Climate Talks

Even though the COP21 climate talks in Paris only began Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already made waves, thrusting Canada back onto the international stage amid excitement and applause.

Yet climate experts are quick to point out Trudeau has a lot of work to do to bridge the gaps between the talk and the walk when it comes to meaningful climate action.

The international climate negotiations ongoing in Paris will continue on until the end of next week and onlookers will have to wait to know what shape the final outcome will take.

But for now, here are five numbers you need to know to understand Canada’s role in the world’s most important climate negotiation to date.

Canada Could Actually Help Strengthen the World’s Climate Agreement in Paris

This is a guest post by Dale Marshall, national energy program manager with Environmental Defence.

There’s a lot of hope for the U.N. climate change summit starting this week. And Canada can play an important role in helping to ensure the Paris summit’s success. 

The goal of the Paris summit, officially called the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), is for a global agreement on climate action to be finalized. The world has let so much time pass without taking strong action on climate change that many are hoping the Paris agreement will be the one that finally ensures that climate change does not reach truly dangerous levels.

Expectations are high for the Canadian government. Prime Minister Trudeau has signalled that he wants his government to play a constructive role, and contribute to a strong outcome in Paris. Our new report, Canada’s Role at COP21, shows there are several ways that the Prime Minister can lend momentum to the climate summit, where a strong, progressive, Canadian voice can propel the talks forward.

First, the federal government must signal in very clear ways that this is not just a new government but one that takes climate change seriously. The previous government’s pledge for the Paris summit was the weakest in the G7 and assessed as inadequate by two separate analyses — one by four European think tanks and one by civil society groups. The new Canadian government needs to communicate in concrete terms that it will do much more.

The Nitty Gritty on Alberta’s Coal Phase-Out

It’s a sentence that feels weird to write: by 2030, Alberta will have shuttered the 18 coal-fired power plants that currently generate around 55 per cent of the province’s electricity, with two-thirds of that power replaced by renewable sources.

The stunning move was announced as part of Alberta’s climate change policy framework that was released on Sunday. According to the government, only 12 of the 18 coal-fired power stations would have been phased out by 2030 under the previous arrangement.

The immediate health benefits of such a move are tremendous.

Kim Perrotta, executive director at Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), says that coal accounts annually for an estimated 107 premature deaths, 80 hospital visits and almost 5,000 asthma-related sick days in Alberta, costing the province around $300 million.

Prior to the government’s announcement, over 40 organizations — including the Alberta Medical Association and Asthma Society of Canada — made a joint call for an accelerated phase-out on health grounds.

We see the air quality benefits that are fairly immediate that would be felt by the people in Alberta,” Perrotta says. “But we also want to reaffirm that as an organization run by physicians, we actually believe climate change is the public health challenge of the century. So we think this is a huge win for public health in terms of the the immediate benefit for Albertans but also for the long-term benefits for public health around the globe.”

Coal is responsible for 17 per cent of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions and six per cent of emissions nationwide.

Canada's New Climate Change Minister 'Excited' To Tackle Emissions. Is this For Real?!

It’s already big news that Canada now has a Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.

But it might be even more newsworthy that McKenna is promising that Canada will be a constructive player at the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris next month.

After years of international scrutiny for playing an obstructive role in international climate negotiations and a former environment minister who performed awkward linguistic gymnastics to avoid using the words “climate change,” McKenna’s enthusiasm signals a new era for Canada’s role on the global climate stage.  

Speaking outside Parliament Wednesday after her first day in office, McKenna said she is “really excited” to get down to work on Canada’s climate file.

It’s going to be a lot of hard work. This is a really important file. It’s a really important file to Canadians — both the environment but also tackling climate change. We need to be ambitious and I’m ready to work hard and get down to action,” McKenna told the CBC. “This is why I got into politics: to make a difference. I have three kids and this portfolio could not be more important to their future.”

Cutting Carbon Could Create Nearly 1 Million Jobs in B.C. by 2050: New Analysis

British Columbia has been praised the world over for its wildly successful carbon tax which, according to polls, the majority of British Columbians actually like paying.

Now a new analysis shows that B.C.’s efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions is compatible with growing jobs and a strong economy in coming decades.

The report by Clean Energy Canada shows that while pursuing strong climate policies the province could add 270,000 new jobs to the market by 2025 and possibly triple that figure to 900,000 by 2050.

The analysis, conducted by Navius Research, also found the economy would enjoy steady growth, about two per cent per year, at the same time as bringing new opportunities to sectors and communities across the province.

We hear a lot of fear mongering claims that climate action is going to hurt our economy. But this research shows the opposite,” Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said. “We found that B.C. can cut carbon pollution — and still create hundreds of thousands of new jobs across all sectors and see the same level of economic growth we would otherwise. That’s a big win for British Columbians, for businesses, and for our climate.”

In other words, climate leadership pays off,” Smith said.

Is it the Beginning of the End for the Alberta Oilsands?

A new report from Oil Change International challenges industry’s common assumption that the continued production of oilsands crude is inevitable.

The report, Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands, argues industry projections — to expand oilsands production from a current 2.1 million barrels per day to as much as 5.8 million barrels per day by 2035 — rely on high prices, public licence and a growing pipeline infrastructure, all of which are endangered in a carbon-constrained world.

As the report’s authors find, growing opposition to oil production — especially in the oilsands, which is among the most carbon intensive oil in the world — has significantly altered public perception of pipelines, a change amplified by the cross-continental battles against the Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain, TransCanada Energy East and TransCanada Keystone XL pipelines.

According to the report’s authors, production growth in the oilsands hinges on the construction of these contentious pipelines because the existing pipeline system is currently at 89 per cent capacity.

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