Thousands have been killed in natural disasters this year. Homes and livelihoods were lost to landslides in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Colombia, Sri Lanka and the Congo. Devastation was brought by hurricanes in the Caribbean and avalanches in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are only the worst instances.

And now, in the wake of this destruction — much of it linked to a changing climate — governments are gathered in Bonn, Germany, for COP23, this year’s annual UN climate conference.

The world was watching events in Paris in December 2015. There was both an urgency to the climate talks taking place and an excitement around them. The ultimate achievement of a 196-country agreement to take action to hold warming to 2°C over preindustrial levels was celebrated across the globe. In Canada, this moment was marked by both pride and delight, as citizens witnessed the newly elected federal government stepping into a leadership role on the international stage, pressing for more ambitious climate targets and the recognition of the rights of the most marginalized.

The purpose of COP23 is to figure out how to put the Paris Agreement into practice. The meeting, which began November 6 and will continue to November 17, follows not only a string of disasters but also two significant announcements from the United Nations.

First, on October 31, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released the annual Emissions Gap Report, which revealed that the world’s current estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions will get us only one-third of the way toward achieving the Paris goal. Then, as negotiations began in Bonn, the World Meteorological Organization reported that 2017 is set to be among the top three hottest years on record.

With Fiji as the president and official host of COP23, this is the first time that a low-lying small-island state has led the UN climate talks. Yet despite the urgent calls for action from nations vulnerable to climate-induced extinction, many world leaders, and certainly the global media, have turned a blind eye.

It seems that the Canadian government would like us to think that it is doing all it can. But a closer look reveals that there are a few key shortfalls to overcome.

  • Lack of ambition. Canada’s GHG emissions reduction target was set by the previous Conservative government — and has not been improved upon by the Liberals. It is the weakest commitment among G7 nations. Still, both Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and UNEP say that this target will not likely be met. It is clear that Canada needs to stop increasing GHG emissions — and soon. Then, to align with the Paris Agreement, we should increase our target from 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 to at least 50 percent. Reports from the international scientific community indicate that even if all parties to the Paris Agreement follow through on their commitments, 80 percent of the carbon budget for 2°C will be used up by 2030.
  • Contradictory policies. The federal government has repeatedly committed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks by 2025 (six years after the end of its mandate). Canada currently provides $3.3 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers. There is a fundamental disconnect between financing the fossil fuels sector and supporting the Paris Agreement. Yet these subsidies remain in place. In fact, the federal departments of the environment and finance have not yet even identified which subsidies would be phased out. Here again, the Environment Commissioner has questions. “It is unclear,” she says, “how Canada will meet this international commitment by 2025 without a clear roadmap to get there.”
  • Inadequate leadership. Prime Minister Trudeau’s personal participation at COP21 in Paris signalled that those negotiations were a political priority. This year, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, is attending COP23, but only for a few days. Soon after the Bonn meetings, Canada assumes the chair of the G7, starting January 1, 2018. In June, we will host the G7 Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec. As chair, Canada has the opportunity to identify priority issues and set the agenda for this discussion among the world’s most powerful economics. Given the government’s ongoing emphasis on gender equality, we can expect this to be a key issue. One would also hope, however, with all of the rhetoric about the importance of addressing climate change, the priority of reconciliation and the interest in charting a “clean growth” future for Canada, that our federal government would take this opportunity to take some significant strides forward on the climate agenda.

With the passage of time, the urgency of the climate crisis is growing. The current moment in Bonn is an important one.

Fiji is doing its best to encourage the highest level of ambition possible from the global community. However, with the US government having withdrawn from the Paris Agreement and other wealthy nations, including Canada, failing to walk the talk, this is not a direction that we can take for granted.

It is essential that we, as Canadian citizens, make it clear that we expect more of our government: that we support a stronger emissions reduction target, that we want to see an end to fossil fuel subsidies and that we expect our government to stop lecturing others on climate progress and instead lead by example with meaningful actions to meet and exceed the goals of the historic Paris Agreement.

Photo: Shutterstock/By Mettus Bonn, Germany on the Rhine River Embankment.

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Karri Munn-Venn
Karri Munn-Venn is the senior policy analyst at Citizens for Public Justice, a national faith-based public policy organization. She holds an MA in international development (Carleton) and an honours BA in political science (York).

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