Skip to main content

President Barack Obama addresses the Climate Summit at the United Nations, Sept. 23, 2014. "I am here as the leader of the world's largest economy to say that we have begun to do something about it," Obama told the largest ever gathering of world leaders devoted to climate change.CHANG W. LEE/The New York Times

Canada's Environment Minister says the government is committed to reaching a new global climate deal in Paris next year, as leaders from two of the world's biggest carbon emitters pledged to take tougher action to combat global warming.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli each promised to do more to tackle the issue in closely watched speeches at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York on Tuesday. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened more than 120 heads of government for the one-day event, which was aimed at building momentum on negotiations for a new agreement.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper participated in a climate-change dinner but chose not to attend the summit, sending Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq in his place. Ms. Aglukkaq told the summit that Canada is committed to reaching an agreement in Paris but stayed away from the stronger language used by Mr. Obama, who said the United States expects to meet its commitments from the last global climate deal on time.

Under the Copenhagen agreement, both the United States and Canada agreed to reduce their carbon emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

Mr. Obama said he met with Mr. Zhang shortly before his speech and reiterated his belief that, as the biggest economies and emitters, the countries have a "special responsibility" to lead. "That's what big nations have to do," he said.

Mr. Zhang, who attended the summit on President Xi Jinping's behalf, said his country is on track to reduce its emissions per gross domestic product by 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. He also said China would work to slow the growth of its emissions and reach a peak "as soon as possible," a comment observers hailed as the strongest comments yet from a high-level Chinese official.

In an interview at the United Nations on Tuesday, Ms. Aglukkaq said Canada would continue to convey the message that all countries have a role to play in reducing emissions. "We want a fair agreement that includes all emitters and all economies," she said. "It's not up to one country to solve the global greenhouse-gas emissions. I mean, seriously now, it's just not fair. We all have to do our part, big or small countries."

Figures provided by Environment Canada indicate that Canada is not on track to meet its Copenhagen targets. Ms. Aglukkaq told The Globe and Mail that Canada is committed to "working toward" the target, but declined to say whether she expects the reductions to be achieved by 2020.

The minister announced Monday that Canada would align its automobile emission standards with the United States in a move she said would cut in half greenhouse-gas emissions from new cars in 2015, compared with 2008. She also said the government would draft new legislation to curb sulphur in gasoline.

Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute, said she was optimistic about the comments from the Chinese and U.S. leaders. But she said Canada should recognize that it is "out of step" with other parts of the world, where leaders are making stronger commitments to pursuing a low-carbon future.

Kumi Naidoo, international executive director for Greenpeace, was less optimistic about the Chinese and U.S. speeches, saying the level of commitment was inadequate to address the magnitude of the threat.

"We have been consistent in saying that both developing and developed countries must provide leadership and to be very blunt about it, if China and the U.S., in the next six months, don't step forward with decisive leadership, with specific targets, with much more ambition in emissions reductions level, I fear that actually we won't get a deal in Paris."

Several countries used the climate summit to announce contributions to the UN's Green Climate Fund, which is meant to help developing countries curb their emissions and adapt to a changing climate.

A spokesperson for Ms. Aglukkaq said on Tuesday that, while Canada has invested in other climate projects in the past, it was "premature" to comment on any planned contributions to the Green Climate Fund.

With a report from the Associated Press

Interact with The Globe