Johannah Bernstein is a Geneva-based international environmental lawyer. She teaches international environmental law and climate diplomacy at universities in Europe and North America.
Désirée McGraw is co-founder of Al Gore's Climate Reality Project in Canada, and has served on several Canadian delegations to UN environmental conferences.
This week in Paris, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that "Canada is back." If Canada is serious about a renewed commitment, it must raise its own level of climate-change ambition and work hard to mobilize support from other governments for a robust outcome in Paris.
The Trudeau government follows a dark and debilitating decade of Conservative obstructionism on the international climate stage as well as many years of insufficient action by previous Liberal governments.
Currently in Paris, the most pressing challenge is the fact that the voluntary pledges by over 180 countries don't add up to a sufficient level of greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions to stay within the two-degree C threshold beyond which, scientists tell us, climate change becomes irreversible. The combined impact of the pledges depends on a bigger package of financing and technology transfer as well as measures to support adaptation, verification and compliance.
How these issues are resolved will determine whether the agreement adopted can keep humanity on the safe side of a world that is two degrees warmer. If Canada truly is back, then it must work to ensure that the following proposals on the table are adopted in Paris.
1. Regularly review and increase targets for pledges
In order to bolster national pledges to reduce emissions, Canada should push for a framework for a five-year cycle for review, along with a procedure for ratcheting up ambition levels.
2. Decarbonize by 2050
Recently, the G-7 called for decarbonization of all energy sources over the course of this century. Right message, wrong time frame. Science tells us decarbonization has to happen by 2050 if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.
3. Close the gigatonne gap
Since the beginning of industrialization, the world has emitted around 2,000 gigatonnes of CO2. According to the world's leading climate scientists, staying within the two-degree threshold will require keeping future emissions well below 1000 gigatonnes. If current emission trends continue, the whole of the carbon budget will have been used up within the next 25 years. Respecting this budget means leaving 75 per cent of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. For Canada, this will be an immense challenge considering the pressures of the oil sands lobby.
4. Fill the current emissions reduction gap
Because of the weak pledges, filling the emissions-reduction gap will best be achieved by reducing emissions outside of the UN process. Here, Canada is well placed to actively engage other states through multilateral forums such as the G20 as well as non-state actors such as its cities, provinces and the private sector.
5. Mobilize support for climate financing promises
Developed nations have promised to mobilize $100-billion (U.S.) per year by 2020 through an international climate fund to help developing nations reduce their own GHG emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. Currently only $62-billion is being delivered annually – falling far short of what is needed to realize substantial climate innovation.
Canada has announced that it will give $2.65-billion over five years, a pledge that will make it the largest contributor to the fund. This pledge is in addition to the $1.2-billion the Conservative government contributed to the fund, thus bringing Canada's contribution to $3.85-billion. It's a good start, but not the $4-billion that that environmental groups have urged it to meet as its fair share based on the country's national wealth. Canada is also one of 20 countries planning to double R&D of clean energy technology over the next five years. Canada can use its newfoundd leadership to encourage other countries to step up their own contributions.
6. Support rigorous rules on measurement, reporting and verification
The agreement to be adopted in Paris must have concrete rules on how countries measure, report and verify their emissions. Currently, the options for reviewing countries' pledges have become muddled. Canada must push for an independent review process that maintains the integrity of the pledges and avoids creative accounting.
7. Promote a carbon price
Back home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed support for a clear carbon pricing policy. Both Alberta and British Columbia have announced their own provincial plans to price carbon. And soon Ontario will join California and Quebec in a massive joint cap-and-trade program. Carbon pricing had not been formally on the Paris agenda. This is why we welcome the fact that Mr. Trudeau has joined the alliance of world leaders who are calling for carbon pricing to be put back on the agenda
Over the past 10 years of federal inaction and obfuscation, provinces and municipalities have shouldered the burden of combatting climate change in our country.
Now with a clear mandate, Mr. Trudeau has a historic opportunity and responsibility to demonstrate genuine leadership on climate change, and help put an end to global procrastination on the greatest challenge of our time.