Talk of change dominates global climate summit

·5 min read

In a world so often divided, the leaders of 40 of the worst-polluting countries stood Thursday in a virtual line, united to speak about the impact and urgency of action on climate change at this week’s global climate summit.

They varied in level of fervour.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping weren’t committing to any hard greenhouse gas emissions reduction values, but nonetheless provided concrete actions their respective countries were taking.

On the other end of the spectrum, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a push to halve emissions in the U.S. from 2005 levels by 2030.

Canada stood near the front of the pack, advancing its climate target to a 40 per cent to 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.

“And we will continually strengthen our plan and take even more actions on our journey to net zero by 2050,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In its most recent evaluation of countries’ actions to reduce emissions, the United Nations judged Canada was unlikely to even achieve its previously-set target of a 30 per cent reduction in emissions.

However, in the time since that report’s release, the federal government unveiled a more ambitious climate plan in December, putting a 30 per cent reduction within reach, according to its calculations. This week, the federal budget claimed, with the increased spending included in the document, Canada would be able to achieve a 36 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.

Part of Canada’s plan to achieve these goals is raising the price on carbon to $170 per tonne by the end of the decade, paired with policy and spending that will reach into nearly every corner of the economy.

“Climate ambition and economic ambition go together. That’s why we’re investing in public transit, clean energy, retrofitting homes and decarbonizing industry — like steel, cement and aluminum — to secure our clean industrial advantage,” Trudeau said at the start of the two-day virtual climate summit Thursday.

However, even with the advancement of targets, many Canadian environmental organizations balked at the move, calling it underwhelming.

“It’s good to see Canada driving up ambition and it’s not enough. The new target is not aligned with (limiting global warming to) 1.5 C — that would require a 60 per cent emissions-reduction goal. We hope to see Canada continue to ramp up ambition,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network.

The most notable thorn in the side of any climate action in Canada is the oil and gas sector, which makes up 14 per cent of the entire country’s emissions and with sector emissions having risen by 67 per cent since 2005.

When asked how Canada would overcome this hurdle, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson said, in the near-term, heightened methane regulations, as well as innovation supports for technology such as carbon capture are being pursued.

In the longer term, he expects oil demand to drop.

“With oil in particular, it’s used primarily as a transportation fuel. And oil that’s produced in Canada is either used domestically, by and large, or it’s used in the United States for transportation,” Wilkinson said.

“And the second part of this, obviously, is to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission vehicle technology, which will have an impact on demand for oil on a go-forward basis.”

While Canada will have to continue to ratchet up policy in order to attain its new target, Wilkinson said any further increase in the carbon price past $170/t was off the table.

Japan was another country to reassess its nationally determined contribution target at the climate summit Thursday, pegging its aims at 44 per cent by 2030.

Europe continues to lead the charge on decarbonization, as the European Union had previously committed to halving emissions by 2030, and the United Kingdom aims to reduce emissions by more than 60 per cent.

A notable aspect of the summit was each leader of a developing nation inserted into their speech a reminder that, for the biggest economies, setting emissions reduction goals isn’t enough. Investments and aid to help lower-income countries with green development and adaptation is also critical.

“We need to give full recognition to developing countries’ contribution to climate action, and accommodate their particular difficulties and concerns. Developed countries need to increase climate ambition and action and make concrete efforts to help developing countries accelerate the transition to green and low-carbon development,” Xi said.

In addition to emissions reductions, the Paris Agreement also had developed nations commit to providing US$100 billion each year to help support green development around the world.

To date, the highest level achieved has been US$79 billion in 2018, according to Bloomberg. But world leaders say the funds are also coming out of other aid pockets, leaving other international aid sectors short.

Scientific projections show due to sea level rise, some of the Marshall Islands will be consumed by the ocean by 2035.

In his address, president of the Pacific island nation, David Kabua, pleaded with world leaders to continue to raise their ambition for emissions reductions and limit global warming to 1.5 C for the sake of the countries that will pay the most dearly.

“Too often, vulnerable countries hear the excuse that steep emission cuts are too costly, but political signals — especially from the major economies — shape decisions on investment and innovation for low-carbon pathways,” he said.

“Now is the moment for the signal to be unequivocal. The recovery from COVID-19 gives us a rare chance to invest in a safer and healthier world.”

Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press