A Paris climate summit success is urgently needed

The summit currently being held in Paris represents the 21st time the UN has held its climate mitigation conference. There are of course countless meetings between the annual events. This year’s massive conference of over 190 countries, which includes most leaders and environment ministers, has an urgency about it and a palatable appeal to goodwill and action that have not been present before.

Already three major topics have emerged at the Paris summit that must be addressed if real change is to take place. The first is a limit to the rise in global temperature of 2 °C – and preferably 1.5 °C. (We are already experiencing a 1°C increase above pre-industrial levels.) Fairness, the second major topic, is proving to be highly contentious: less-developed countries quite rightly are demanding that industrialized countries take on a larger commitment to reductions because of their long history of damaging emissions. The third topic, money, has plagued consensus since 2009 when the Copenhagen Accord asked for US$100 billion to be given each year by 2020 to lower-income nations to help them adapt to climate change. So far that money has not fully materialized. In addition, there are two topics that are not on the table: a maximum carbon budget that humanity must not exceed if we are to stop climate chaos, and the taboo word “decarbonization”, which some countries, including India, refuse to address because they wish to grow their economies and bring millions of people out of poverty by building new coal-fired power plants.

If the huge climate marches by people around the world are any indication that there is a demand for honest negotiations in Paris, here in Canada that demand was translated into action by our November 29 climate marches, which brought out more Canadians than ever before. One of the many reasons why Canadians voted in a change of government this October was a wish to move away from Stephen Harper’s dismal conservation record. The new Liberal government promised many improvements, but is Justin Trudeau doing less than his pre-election pledges suggested? A blistering article in Britain’s Guardian on December 3, headed “Trudeau’s climate rhetoric is riveting. So what about the reality?”, outlines legitimate concerns regarding his climate leadership. Although Canadians may find a kinder and gentler prime minister in Trudeau, his initial allegiance to voluntary national commitments to mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions instead of legally binding reductions underscored the influence that is being exerted by corporations and the US. At the same time he is on record as wanting to place his government’s response to climate action on a firm scientific basis. As of today it appears that Canada’s government will go further and ask for mandatory assessments on how individual countries are progressing towards improving their own mitigation practices.

On December 7 Canada’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Catherine  McKenna, announced that Canada will push for a 1.5 °C limit to rising  global temperature. It will also support the collective rights of Indigenous people to be recognised in any agreement, something that the EU and the US oppose.

The 45-page draft of an agreement is now being scrutinized by governments at the climate summit, but there are 900 statements in the draft that are being questioned. In the next article we will see if an equitable solution to what is essentially a climate justice pathway for this Earth has been found.

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