What would a good agreement at the COP21 look like?

December 9, 2015

It has been just over a week since the climate negotiations have been ongoing in Paris. The objective of the COP21 is clear: to reach an ambitious and legally binding agreement that will limit the temperature rise to less than 2°C between now and 2100, and to support vulnerable countries in the Global South in the struggle against climate change. In essence, the agreement must facilitate the transition to a global economy that is based on 100% renewable energies.

Here are two criteria that can help us evaluate if this agreement will allow for new economic and energy models that do not rely on fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, to emerge.

Immediate and drastic reductions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 

Each country must present its GHG emissions reduction targets for after 2020 by the end of the conference. The total of all national commitments must limit the temperature rise to less than 2°C between now and 2100. However, if these commitments are to be maintained, then mechanisms must be put in place to do follow-up and revisions. Sanctions could also be added to these mechanisms if countries do not meet their targets. Some feel that these mechanisms should be put in place immediately to follow progress made by countries with regards to their 2020 targets.

The GHG reduction targets between now and 2020 need to be taken seriously and realistic plans need to be put in place by each country so that they can attain their targets. These plans, if they are to be coherent, need to cut all subsidies to fossil fuel industries and must invest these sums in developing renewable energies.

What are the obstacles to setting ambitious targets?

The right to development is the main argument made by emerging countries like India to justify the use of fossil fuels, which is mainly coal. Access to energy, especially electricity, is essential to end poverty. India has pledged to reduce its GHG emissions by 30% by 2030 provided that financial and technological resources are made available for the country to make this economic and energy transition. The reduction of GHG emissions from countries in the Global South then becomes contingent on the financial commitments made by Northern countries. Where is Canada situated?

Canada’s target for 2020 is to reduce its emissions by 17% compared to levels in 2005. This is an insufficient target that was set at the Copenhagen talks in 2009. Unless Canada drastically changes course, it is widely recognized that it will not meet this objective. If Canada is serious about being back on board in the fight against climate change, then it must immediately make a realistic plan that allows for these targets to be achieved.

In terms of post-2020 targets, the Trudeau government has kept those that were set by the previous government, which is a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 below 2005 levels. The Trudeau government recognizes that these are modest targets, and has said that these targets will be regularly reviewed and increased. The first review of Canadian targets is set to take place 90 days after the Paris climate conference.

Climate justice for communities already affected

The accord that will be signed in Paris must guarantee access to the necessary financial and technological resources for countries in the Global South to adapt to climate change and to transition to low-carbon economies, while also guaranteeing access to the required energy for development to occur. This financing, which must come mainly from public funds and in the form of subsidies and not loans, must reflect the historic responsibility of developed countries in being the biggest contributors to climate change, and must be transparent and predictable. What are the obstacles to climate financing?

There seems to be consensus around the obligation to support less developed countries and small insular states in their efforts to adapt and to reduce their GHG emissions. However, there are divergent points of view on the support to be given to emerging countries like India, Brazil Mexico and Indonesia. Even if there are large segments of poverty in those countries, developed nations like Canada argue that that these countries have the capacity and the responsibility to handle their own poverty issues.

Where is Canada situated?

Canada’s commitment on these issues is relatively positive. The Trudeau government has announced a financial envelope of $2.65 billion of public funds over 5 years to support the most vulnerable countries in developing economies that are based on renewable energies and to adapt to climate change. However, Canada is still far from doing its full part, which would require contributing $4 billion per year starting in 2020, the majority of which should come from public funds. These sums must be in addition to Canada’s budget for overseas development aid, which the government has not yet specified. The government has maintained that the private sector must contribute its part as well to climate financing, however, this can open the door to potential abuse unless private sector investment is not strictly monitored.

Lastly, we must take into account the commitment made by Prime Minister Trudeau in his opening speech to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Up until now, the government has provided subsidies of close to $1.7 billion per year to this industry, and that is without counting the $2.8 billion that is given by Export Development Canada for the production of fossil energy. If the Trudeau government maintains the actual level of subsidies to fossil fuel industries, the government will be giving 8 times more to this sector than what it will put into climate financing over the next 5 years ($22.5 billion in subsidies to fossil fuels versus $2.65 billion for climate financing.)