THE PARIS AGREEMENT: NATIONALLY DETERMINED CONTRIBUTIONS & FEDERAL ELECTIONS
Important pieces, technological and financial solutions, political will and a cultural shift will come together to form the puzzle outlined in the Paris Agreement; carbon neutrality by 2050 that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The sum of these parts also represents Protect Our Winter Canada’s Theory of Change. And the outdoor community can have a positive and disproportionate effect on meeting the goals of Paris.
To achieve these objectives, the 186 countries with the greatest emissions submitted nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs are targets outlined by each country’s commitments for curbing emissions through 2025 or 2030. For example, Canada’s target up until April 2021 was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Prime Minister Trudeau announced a new target of 40-45% reductions below 2005 levels by 2030 in the Spring of 2021. The United States’ first NDC seeks an economy-wide target of reducing GHG by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. New Zealand pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
In December 2020, the Government of Canada released A Healthy Environment and A Healthy Economy, Canada’s strengthened climate plan (SCP) to create jobs and support people, communities and the planet. The plan included 64 measures, with $15 billion in new investments, and will allow Canada to meet and exceed its current national greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target for 2030. Measures fall under five pillars of action:
- Make the places Canadians live and gather more affordable by cutting energy waste;
- Make clean, affordable transportation and power available in every Canadian community;
- Continue to ensure that pollution isn’t free and that households get more money back;
- Build Canada’s clean industrial advantage; and,
- Embrace the power of nature to support healthier families and more resilient communities.
This plan is comprehensive and clearly demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to exceeding Canada’s 2030 target. However, federal actions are only part of Canada’s story. Many provinces have committed to deep greenhouse gas reduction targets but not all have announced a complete set of measures to reach these targets. Additional provincial and territorial measures will build on the progress that currently proposed federal measures will achieve, leading to further emission reductions. For this reason, the federal government committed to consult with provinces and territories, Indigenous partners, and Canadians in all socio-economic sectors to further elaborate a strong plan that can be implemented together. And although the plan set forth by the federal government would set us on track to achieving our commitments on climate, we need to make sure promises are being held.
There’s no defined punishment for breaking the Paris Agreement because the idea is to encourage accountability to influence countries to act on climate. NDCs are not a top-down dictatorial arrangement but allow every country to come to the table relying on their own capabilities. While not a silver bullet solution to reaching emissions goals, it points the world in the direction of progress that can be built upon. Each nation has varying strategies and ambitions that reflect its capabilities, finances and responsibility for global emissions.
On the ground, progress will look different depending on your home country. In Canada, we will see changes when it comes to public transit, renewable energy reliance and clean technologies.
There are frameworks in place to help nations that lack the capacity to strengthen their goals over time. The Agreement asks richer countries to help out poorer countries. The richest countries are far more responsible for global emissions, while underdeveloped countries often have contributed the least, but will suffer the most from the consequences of climate change. The Agreement includes a plan that sends $100 billion in aid per year from richer countries to poorer ones in order to boost their climate resiliency. That aid is set to increase in the future.
Having the right people in office—climate champions who put solving the issue of climate change at the top of their agenda—is a surefire way to make sure climate-forward policies are put in place. Right now, those elected officials should be working to implement legislation that helps meet the goals of Paris. These are the people who will take the outline of the Paris Agreement and push Canada to the next level as a global climate leader.
Countries must revisit their pledges every five years with the goal of further driving down emissions. This principle was also locked down into federal law in 2021 when Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, passed. The federal government is now required by national and international agreements to come up with national climate targets for the year 2030 and every five years thereafter, ultimately reaching net-zero carbon pollution by 2050. This means our choices as the Canadian electorate have impacts that go beyond what first comes to mind—employment insurance, national defense…
In the upcoming federal elections, it’s important to consider all ramifications of our vote. Many Cabinet ministers have an incredible impact on Canada’s contribution to worldwide emissions reduction.
For example, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change is responsible for overseeing Environment and Climate Change Canada, the environmental department of the Government of Canada. The minister is also responsible for overseeing Parks Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Similarly but perhaps less directly, the Ministers of Natural Resources, Fisheries and Oceans, Transport or Natural Resources also have immense responsibility in tackling the climate crisis.
The current Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, is a member of the Liberal Party. The next election will determine which party will form the Cabinet and who will take the role of Minister of Environment and Climate Change, representing Canada on an international stage. Electing a party that takes a strong stance on climate legislation and leadership is essential.
In addition to the faces you’ll see spurring change at the federal level, there will also be a slew of new legislation and topics that are sure to pop up on your news feed in the coming months as the federal parties run for office. Here are just a few examples of what you’ll see, and how that ties back to the goals of Paris.
Implementation of Bill C-12
The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act is the first-ever climate accountability legislation in Canada. Canada has missed every climate target it has set, and previous attempts at climate accountability legislation, such as then NDP Leader Jack Layton’s bill in 2009, have failed to make it through the country’s legislative process. Multi-partisan collaboration in Parliament and swift work in the Senate allowed a strengthened bill to pass before the summer recess in 2021, with rumors of a writ drop as soon as the legislative break came to a close.
While Bill C-12 falls short of the international gold standard, it will provide a foundation that can be built upon with strong implementation to ensure that Canada never misses another climate target. So keep your eyes peeled for any updates on the implementation of C-12 (or lack thereof).
With all the talk about renewable energies and the just and green transition, you would think fracked gas, pipelines and liquefied natural gas would be more and more difficult to get funded by banks and get approved by provincial and federal governments.
Since Canada signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, Canadian banks have given $798 billion to oil, gas and coal projects. What’s more, banks aren’t just funding existing projects. They’re providing financing and guarantees that allow expansion of fossil fuel operations that put Canada’s wild spaces at risk, contravene indigenous rights and make an outsize contribution to global heating.
BTW, if you’ve got money in an everyday checking account – the money you use to buy your groceries or your season’s pass – then you can be sure the banks are using it to support fossil fuel projects (if that seems unlikely, check out this blog post).
Stay tuned. We launched a campaign (#BankOnNature) in the Spring of 2021 and we plan to keep the pressure on because the stakes are high. We haven't yet addressed our provincial and federal governments' involvement in the financial aspect of the climate crisis, but we will.
In addition to the monumental loss of life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, industries and businesses across the country, and world, are hurting. There have been bailouts for the airline industry and for fossil fuel companies. It’s imperative that clean energy becomes part of the conversation surrounding an economic stabilization package. Support is needed for the renewable energy industry, which is reeling from supply chain and project disruptions. The economic disruption of the pandemic has caused emissions to drop, and while a deadly pandemic was never the sought-after path to reducing emissions, it has painted a picture of what a creative economic rebuild with clean energy at the forefront could look like.
Our numerous different leaders, from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to Harper and Trudeau, have repeatedly stated their intentions to build a resilient economy that invests in clean energy infrastructure, addresses environmental justice and creates millions of new jobs. Our voices as outdoor enthusiasts can have a huge impact, and it starts by making a plan to vote for a climate leader.
The bottom line is that although the future of the Paris Agreement looks bright, this year’s federal election is more important than ever. Momentum is once again on its side, as Canada, one of the top ten global culprits of carbon emissions, potentially elects a new party at its mast. With a clear cultural shift taking place, financial support and technological innovation and the right political representation, carbon neutrality and a slowing of global temperature rise are once again in play. Make a plan to vote for a climate leader.