Climate urgency signalled by some Premiers, others backpeddle on progress

Intro

Despite accusations of Ottawa’s piggybacking off provincial initiatives, Premiers paved the way for new climate policy yesterday — yet much remains to be done. Yesterday’s Quebec-hosted climate summit brought together leaders from most provinces who agreed to “make a transition to a lower-carbon economy through appropriate initiatives.” Noticeably absent from meetings were leaders from four provinces, including Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, who is reportedly preparing for provincial elections next month, and BC Premier Christy Clark, who was in Washington, D.C. for the World Bank spring meetings. Clark did, however, partake in discussions by phone. Throughout the summit, some leaders appeared more hard-pressed about the urgency of acting on climate, drawing attention to initiatives such as the cap-and-trade deal signed earlier this week by Quebec and Ontario. Despite some progression, perceived tensions were also prevalent among leaders, particularly between Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during moments where the prairie province’s leader was reluctant to adopt firmer targets for his region, with Premier Wall dismissing the country’s carbon footprint. In attendance was also Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN’s Framework  Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who piped up in response to Premier Wall, saying that “Canada honestly can’t excuse itself of its responsibility […] Although Canada is only 2 per cent of global emissions, it is the ninth-highest emitter in the world.” While each province in attendance offered their regional commitments, any finalized deal on a national energy strategy will have to wait on the results of Alberta’s elections next month. Alberta is responsible for 73 per cent of Canada’s GHG emission growth. Discussions concluded with a call to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to step up and deliver quantifiable targets for Canada towards UN climate negotiations, so that global leaders can move forward on an accord in Paris next December. Shortly after the Act on Climate march and immediately before inter-provincial meetings, the federal office announced it would submit national contributions to the international process before the G7 this June.

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Key Points

  • This week signalled a turning point for Canada’s role in the climate movement. Leading up to interprovincial meetings, thousands of people came together for a historic march, while yesterday’s climate summit is receiving praise for reorienting “what was once an initiative to boost oil exports” towards conversations focused on greenhouse gas emissions. Popularity is increasing for acting on climate, and Canada’s leaders have the opportunity to show that they are listening to the people they represent and can take action to reverse their country’s reputation as a climate laggard.
  • Despite many strides forward, there is a lot of work left to be done. While most provincial leaders made it to the interprovincial climate summit, four failed to attend, and even among those who were present, some chose to downplay Canada’s role in climate change instead of being at the forefront of action. With no specific measures agreed upon in the meeting’s closing declaration, and at least another month until Alberta joins in on any final commitments, leaders are accused of “agreeing to disagree” yet again instead of taking a step forward and delivering tangible results.
  • It’s now up to Ottawa to show more initiative on climate. As meetings concluded, all provinces agreed that the Harper administration needs to collaborate more closely with the provinces. Between now and June, which is the  federal government’s self-imposed deadline to submit national contributions, provincial leaders will do what they can to pull their weight, but as Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel notes, “it takes two to tango.”

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Key Quotes

  • “The only way forward to Paris (a worldwide conference on climate change this coming December) is consultation and collaboration. The provinces’ actions need to be quantifiable” – Philippe Couillard, Quebec Premier
  • “Our fellow citizens, our children and future generations will judge us on our courage and the seriousness that we accord this approach,” he said. “Canada has an obligation to show results. It’s our leadership, our credibility on the international scene and also the economic development and the well-being of our societies that are in play.” – Philippe Couillard, Quebec Premier
  • “There’s no way [climate action] can be done in isolation. One order of government cannot ask the other to do the job. It has to be done together.” – Philippe Couillard, Quebec Premier
  • “Canada honestly can’t excuse itself of its responsibility […] Although Canada is only 2 per cent of global emissions, it is the ninth-highest emitter in the world.”  – Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN framework agreement on climate change
  • “The scientific literature indicates that the main impact on Canada of climate change is that it will be warmer, wetter and stormier […] Regional implications of climate change include permafrost thaw in the north, wildfires in many parts of the country, coastal erosion and droughts.” – Paul Kovacs, executive-director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University
  • “We’re trying to work with Ottawa, but as the Americans say, it takes two to tango,” – David Heurtel, Quebec Environment Minister
  • “Everybody’s sort of waiting with bated breath to hear what announcements come out of [the Premiers’ meeting]. It’s really the only hope that the environmental movement has in Canada as far as government action on climate change” – Mark Calzavara, Council of Canadians organizer
  • “Yes, we are a small country in terms of our population and absolute emissions, but we are heavy emitters per capita and that actually gives us more of a responsibility to innovate and create technology that allow us to deal with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” – Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Premier

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