Climate change 'important priority,' Canada's new environment minister says
Published Tuesday, November 10, 2015 11:39AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 10, 2015 6:52PM EST
The international community is “really excited” to see Canada back at the table for climate change talks in Paris, Canada’s new environment and climate change minister said Tuesday.
Catherine McKenna, who is in Paris meeting with environment and energy ministers from around the world in advance of the UN climate change conference, said the Canadian delegation has received a “huge reception” and she has made it clear that climate change will be a “very important priority” for the new Liberal government.
“We haven’t been at these types of climate negotiations and what I’ve learned is that there’s a real appetite to get a global framework, a new global framework to tackle climate change,” McKenna said Tuesday. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Former prime minister Stephen Harper skipped the UN climate change summit in New York last year, but he did send his environment minister. Under the Conservative government, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto agreement that required developed countries to reduce their emissions by 2012.
This year, both McKenna and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will attend the climate conference in Paris. Trudeau has said that he wants to show the world that Canada is serious about environmental issues.
“Under the previous government, there really wasn’t a serious appetite to do anything to tackle climate change,” McKenna told CTV News.
“This is a huge issue. I think Canadians are expecting us to start doing our part to tackle climate change, to reduce emissions.”
McKenna did not specify Canada’s carbon reduction targets, but said she hopes that world leaders will reach an agreement on global action for climate change by the end of the COP21 conference, which will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.
She said the Liberals have been “very, very clear” that tackling climate change at the national level will require co-operation with Canada’s provinces and territories.
In an appearance on CTV's Power Play, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who was also invited to the talks by Trudeau, says McKenna's early attendance in France is "essential" and could help provide a "kick in the pants" should negotiations stall down the road.
Despite saying that a draft agreement "needs a heck of a lot of work," May said she has to be optimistic about the potential outcome of the talks.
"Maybe, just maybe Justin Trudeau as our new prime minister will decide 'I'm going to give this some impetus and improve Canada's target over the one that we currently have, that was put in place by the previous government,'" said May.
She says those previous targets are "the weakest target in the industrialized world," and that Canada can at least match those made by the United States.
"We're way behind Scandinavia or the European Union, where they have already made substantial reductions in their own emissions," May said.
"But Canada could at this point help the world do better by upping our game."
May said that she has "sympathy" for the Trudeau government because of short period time since he took power and the conference, and commended him for inviting premiers to the negotiations.
But she says it would be "preferable" if they spoke ahead of time and could bring joint commitments to the table.
May said that every year there are "diminishing opportunities" to "make any real difference."
She hopes instead that Canada raises its commitments to reduce emissions domestically, transfers technology to help poorer nations cope, and contributes to the financing of global initiatives.
"This isn't just about how Canada does at a climate negotiations in France, this is about whether 196 countries gathered in the United Nations system can at long last put together the treaty the world needs," said May.
"Canada can play a role in making that happen."
Dale Marshall, the national program manager at Environmental Defence, said instead of instituting long-term emission targets it would be better if the Paris agreement required signees to make promises "every few years" or, "at the minimum, every five years" and be reviewed regularly and compared to scientific evidence.
"The issue that we're worried about is that the combined pledges of all the countries add up to a warming that is simply unacceptable, that will be well above what would be considered dangerous," Marshall said in an appearance on CTV's Power Play.
"And that those pledges and commitments won't be reviewed until 2025 or 2030, so you're losing a decade or decade-and-a-half of inaction."
Marshall said he remains "hopeful" that there will be a strong outcome from the conference, but says it is "pretty clear" there is going to be a "gap between what is necessary, what's on the table and what will be committed to."
He added that Canada can send a "clear signal" by regulating the emissions of the oil and gas sector.
"A new government in Canada -- that's signalling that it wants to take action that's based on the science of climate change -- may actually boost some momentum in Paris and lead to an agreement that’s maybe not perfect, but that gets us down the road and that can be strengthened in short order," said Marshall.