United Nations Climate Summit, Paris COP 21: Welcoming Pragmatic Action and A Conversation

November 28, 2015

Delegates are boarding planes, trains and other modes of transportation on their way to Paris to participate in the most anticipated United Nations Climate Summit since Copenhagen in 2009. This year’s conference has a different mood than past conferences. It’s been sobered by terrorist attacks, extreme weather challenges, economic crisis and austerity measures. It’s taking place against the backdrop of military (and rebel) combat and the most significant refugee crisis since World War II. And for once, there is some global understanding that these issues are linked to a safe, sustainable and predictable environment. The convergence of these circumstances, at this time and place in history might mean the international community is ready to move forward on climate action in a pragmatic way. One can hope.

The Paris summit aims to foster international ambition and develop a clear path to averting catastrophic climate change and supporting adaptation to a climate-adjusted future. It’s acknowledged that the Paris outcomes will likely not be sufficient to keep the global temperature from rising by 2 degrees Celsius, but there is significant optimism that whatever deal emerges can be a substantial step in the right direction.

Canada is set to participate in these talks under a new government. After years of Canada “winning” fossil awards for obstructing progress, Prime Minister Trudeau and his team of delegates are expected to restore Canada’s position as a productive (and dare I say, ambitious) contributor to global action on climate change. For the first time in almost a decade, Canada’s official delegation includes elected officials from outside the governing party, indigenous leaders, representatives from civil society, and youth delegates.

Financing mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries will be a cornerstone of any Paris outcome. Today, the Canadian government announced an increase in Canadian funding for developing countries to $2.65B over five years. This amount is still short of what some argue is Canada’s fair share of the $100-billion annually that has been placed for 2020, and less than other developed nations (for instance, Britain has pledged $10B over 5 years). But Minister Dion has indicated that this government contribution is hoped to leverage private sector funding to meet Canada’s “fair share” of $4B by 2020.

171 countries, collectively accounting for 90% of global emissions, have submitted national climate plans with targets, referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or “INDCs”. The Paris outcomes aim to formalize these commitments into some sort of international accord. UN analysis has determined that these targets collectively will not prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius; however, officials and pundits (including the highly regarded UNFCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres) have expressed hope that these contributions will provide a solid base of action and targets can be ratcheted up with periodic reviews to avoid the worst.

Canada’s official policy and direction going into COP 21 has not changed much from what was announced prior to the federal election. Canada’s INDC included an economy-wide target to reduce GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. This INDC is weaker than many of our major trading partners. For instance, the EU pledged 40% reduction from 1990 levels by 2030, the US pledged 26-28 % below 2005 levels by 2025, and according to WRI estimates, the EU and US proposals aim to reduce GHG emissions between 2020 and 2030 by approximately 2.8% per year. Meanwhile, Canada’s is significantly less ambitious, at 1.7% per year. Prime Minister Trudeau may make further announcements as the week unfolds.

As nation-states make their commitments and practice climate diplomacy, the conference will also hold numerous side events and industry showcase opportunities. These events should not be understated: what happens outside of the Paris negotiation halls to spur and harness private sector innovation could provide the most potent solutions to the climate crisis and make great strides toward a resilient global future.

We’ll be adding updates over the next two weeks and welcome your thoughts and comments on the Paris climate summit below.