On Saturday December 12, 2016, Canada and 194 other nations adopted the Paris Agreement, a global pact to fight climate change. The Paris Agreement aims to keep the global temperature rise this century to “well below” 2ºC and hopes to limit it to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.
Earlier this year, Canada, under the previous Conservative government, committed to reduce GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Prime Minister Trudeau previously announced that the federal government would hold meetings with the provinces and territories within the next three months to set a new national emission reduction target and to establish a pan-Canadian framework for combatting climate change. The government has not provided any details yet on new targets, but Catherine McKenna, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change has referred to the current targets as a “floor not a ceiling.”
The emission reduction targets set out in the Paris Agreement are not binding on nations. However, Article 4 of the Paris Agreement requires that nations prepare and publish their nationally determined GHG reduction targets and meet every five years to review and assess their targets.
Parties to the Paris Agreement are encouraged to reach a global peaking of GHG emissions “as soon as possible” so as to achieve a balance between human-caused GHG emissions (i.e. burning fossil fuels, tropical deforestation, etc.) and removals by sinks of GHG (i.e. forests, soils, oceans and the atmosphere). The Paris Agreement specifically recognizes the role of forests as carbon sinks and calls on nations to conserve remaining forests through sustainable forest management and other measures, including payments to those developing nations which reduce or limit the destruction of their forests.
Developed nations agreed to collectively provide up to $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. The Canadian government has already announced $2.65 billion in funding over the next five years to help developing countries fight climate change.
We should have a clearer picture of what steps Canada will take to achieve the goals and obligations set out the Paris Agreement once the federal and provincial and territorial governments have a chance to meet in the new year. At the same time that government is looking inward at a national strategy, the Canadian government has stated that it is working with the Unite States and Mexico toward a continental climate change deal. What is clear is that 2016 promises to be a significant year for action on climate change in Canada.