Make no mistake: The upcoming COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow has the potential to be a make-or-break moment for the climate movement. All at a time when the science couldn’t be clearer that we are out of time for "next times."
The criteria vary somewhat depending on who you’re talking to and where they come from. But in general, the broad outline for success goes something like this:
Leading economies step up with ambitious commitments to rapid emissions reductions and energy transition, complete with concrete plans and timelines, giving countries at all stages of development the confidence to follow suit.
In addition, wealthy nations make good on their current financial commitments to help poorer nations adapt to climate change and build resilient economies – and pledge to support these efforts in the years ahead.
One of the countries that will be critical to getting COP 26 to make (rather than break) is Canada, the world’s 10th-largest economy by GDP and a nation with both a proud environmental tradition and a powerful fossil fuel industry that continues to shape politics at every level.
Ahead of COP 26, we asked the activists at Climate Reality Canada to give their perspective on the climate and political challenges Canada faces and how their country can play a pivotal role in making the summit a success.
What Climate Change Looks Like in Canada
Canada is warming twice as fast as the global average and the Canadian Arctic is warming even more rapidly – about three times as fast. This phenomenon is called "Arctic amplification."
This warming grabbed global headlines in the summer of 2021, when the town of Lytton, British Columbia recorded the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada on June 29, at 49.5° Celsius (121.1° Fahrenheit). The next day, the town was devastated by wildfires that burned it to the ground. In the same week, the country experienced massive flooding in the Yukon, and extreme heat waves in British Columbia that killed hundreds. That same summer, more than 1 billion sea creatures baked in their shells. Canadians are taking note.
Canada's future, based on modelling scenarios from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, shows that Western Canada will continue to experience above-normal temperatures, particularly in the Arctic, which could lead to extreme drought conditions and fuel forest fires. In central Canada, more precipitation is expected as temperatures continue to rise, increasing the risk and frequency of severe flooding. Our “From One Coast to the Others Webinar Series,” led by Climate Reality Leaders, explores all of the regional impacts and solutions to the climate crisis in Canada.
The Political Climate
Climate change was at the forefront of the last federal election campaign. Polls showed that climate and the environment were top priorities for Canadians, but these popular priorities have yet to turn into equal political priorities.
The environmental record of the current government remains controversial. Throughout its mandate, the government has continued to subsidize the fossil fuel industry while promising to be carbon neutral by 2050.
We cannot continue to have it both ways. The government's purchase and commitment to the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion undermines collective efforts towards decarbonization. The commitment to this pipeline's use in 2060 is incompatible with Canada's international and legislated commitments.
Key Opportunities and Wins
The Carbon Tax
The Supreme Court of Canada recognized last March that the fight against climate change requires collective action on both national and international scales. Indeed, GHGs, by their very nature, know no borders. This reasoning led the court to recognize the constitutionality of Canada’s carbon pricing law. This legislation functions as a backstop for provinces and territories that fail to implement a sufficiently ambitious system to deliver on Canada’s climate targets.
Ending Investment in Coal
This year, the Canadian government committed to ending investment in thermal coal-fired electricity generation projects. This is an important step in addressing harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal. At the same time, to mitigate the effects of phasing out coal-fired electricity in Canada, the government is making funds available for skills development, economic diversification and infrastructure to support coal workers and communities.
The Post-Trump US-Canada Partnership
Climate policy is identified as a key area for increased collaboration between the United States and Canada after the four years of Donald Trump's presidency. The roadmap announced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden in February commits both countries to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement by working together and with other parties to increase the scale and speed of action.
Obstacles to Overcome
Canada is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of fossil fuels. It is home to the third largest oil reserves in the world, and the industry is responsible for a quarter of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Under current projections, crude oil production is set to increase by 20% from 2019–2040 and decrease 8% from 2040– 2050. On the other hand, oil and gas contribute about 5% of gross domestic product nationally, and 21% provincially for Alberta. In this context, the federal government must balance these economic and environmental interests by working to implement a just and inclusive transition.
Canada has failed to achieve every climate target it has set. It is the only G7 country to have increased its overall emissions since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Moreover, Canada has increased its emissions reduction target to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030, ranking the country among the lowest of the G-7 group.
In Canada, significant gaps remain in our preparedness for climate change impacts. Accelerating progress on adaptation through thoughtful plans and actions tailored to local contexts is essential for the well-being of all. Urgent action backed by massive investment is needed, not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to increase climate resilience through adaptation. Decisions made now will certainly determine the magnitude of future climate change in Canada, but also our resilience to such changes and our ability to manage associated risks.
Where We Stand
While Canada's NDC represents an improvement over previous submissions, the country is still not doing its fair share to address climate change. The NDC reaffirms a range of greenhouse gas emission reductions of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. However, in order for Canada to contribute its fair share to the global effort, it must reduce its emissions by at least 140% below 2005 levels by 2030, including 60% domestically.
Canada reiterates its commitment to support Indigenous climate action and to ensure policies, measures, and investments in line with the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous People, but the NDC does not explain how it will do this.
Climate change significantly affects the ability of Indigenous peoples to maintain traditional ways of living, access to clean water, food security, land, safe ice surfaces, and stable housing. Rising temperatures exacerbate and reproduce inequalities created through colonization. Our response to the climate crisis cannot replicate colonial patterns and must uphold Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination.
The NDC also recognizes the need for greater investment in skills and training, as outlined in the Plan for a Healthy Environment and Economy, but this NDC does not indicate how workers' voices will be included in climate planning and action to advance a just transition to clean energy. Workers are stakeholders in the just transition, and it is critical to ensure that their voices are included from the definition of a climate target to the response planning.
What We Want from COP 26
1. Safe and Inclusive Process
The COPs have always been difficult to access for countries that do not have the possibility to send one or more delegates, experts, or representatives of their civil society. The pandemic situation in which COP26 is taking place exacerbates the inequalities in access to these major events. Inequitable access to vaccines and lack of support for delegates from the Global South make a safe and inclusive COP impossible. COP26 cannot meaningfully address the disproportionate impacts of climate change in developing countries if the participation of negotiators, observers, journalists, scientists, and youth from these same countries is threatened. We must therefore do our best to ensure that the voices of these groups, individuals and countries are heard.
2. Commitment to Indigenous and Human Rights
The COP must ensure that Indigenous peoples and human rights are upheld, in particular through the discussion on Article 6.
3. Real Financing for Vulnerable Nations
The countries that pollute the most per capita and have the financial means to deal with climate change must mobilize. We need to help the most vulnerable countries deal with the extreme weather events exacerbated by the highest emitting countries. Canada and Germany have been tasked by UK COP 26 President Alok Sharma to channel aid funds.
Time for Real Action on Climate
The stakes of COP 26 couldn’t be clearer and now we need our leaders to commit to real action to fight climate change.
Join us for 24 Hours of Reality: Let’s Get Real on October 29 and join activists all across the planet in taking action to push our leaders to take real action on climate.
Before You Go
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