Paris, Canada, and Nova Scotia

With the Paris climate agreement finalized, attention will now shift to its implementation.

On Wednesday I spoke with Stephanie Domet on CBC Mainstreet about the new Paris Agreement on climate change. In discussions before my spot, Mainstreet’s producer asked “What can you tell me about the Agreement that hasn’t already been said?” After a little thought, there was something: It is not widely known, but the federal government already has plans for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions (and I’m not talking about the past government’s failed sector-by-sector approach). The government’s plans will create opportunities for Canadians, including Nova Scotians.

The historic Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted 12 December 2015.
The historic Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted 12 December 2015.

First, the nuts and bolts of the Agreement.

There are many good things in the Paris Agreement, and I am encouraged (and even surprised) by the result. For example, the “risks and impacts of climate change” are formally recognized, and the limit for what is considered “safe” global warming has been reduced from 2℃ to 1.5℃. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna deserves credit for leading the charge. World leaders clearly want to be seen as doing the right thing, and have constructed a common vision to fight climate change. 195 countries agreed on the text.

There are some notable specifics:

  • the “aim” of the agreement is for GHG emissions to peak as soon as possible and be eliminated this century (Article 4.1);

  • each party “shall” determine its own contribution (Article 4.2), update it every five years (Article 4.9), and may enhance it at any time (Article 4.11);

  • developed nations “should” lead with economy-wide absolute emissions reductions (Article 4.4);1 and

  • support for developing nations “shall” be provided (Article 4.5).

There are certainly weaknesses. There is no mention of fossil fuels, and that is just plain weird. The parties also failed to set legally-binding GHG emissions targets that limit global warming to below 2℃, let alone 1.5℃. Nevertheless, the result appears to be, as others have put it, a “useful failure”. The Agreement makes clear, for example, that the nations of the world intend to prioritize the mitigation of climate change.

In the Canadian context, what is most important now is that we roll up our sleeves and get to work. And what happens next is already spelled out – to some degree – in the federal Liberal election platform.

A variety of new policy instruments were proposed, including:

  • new national emissions reduction targets (the Liberal platform called Canada’s current targets “inadequate”);

  • a national price on carbon (already in or coming to BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec); and

  • a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies, as agreed by the G20 in 2009 (Canada’s current annual fossil fuel subsidy is $591M according to the OECD).

These measures are widely recognized as essential in the fight to limit greenhouse warming, and their introduction will be most welcome.

The following new programs were also promised:

  • a $2B Low Carbon Economy Trust for projects to reduce emissions;

  • $100M/year of additional investment in clean tech producers; and

  • a new Canada Infrastructure Bank to issue Green Bonds to fund projects like electric vehicle charging stations, transmission lines for renewable energy, building retrofits, and clean power storage.

These all sound like very good things, and I would expect there to be much talk (and progress!) on them in the coming months. There will be intense competition for the new funds.

The new policies and programs will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion at the upcoming first minister’s conference on climate change which the federal government committed to hold by mid-March. This is where things will get really interesting. It has already been pointed out, for example, that Alberta’s new climate plan is inconsistent with what is needed to even achieve the existing (“insufficient”) national GHG targets. How this, and other issues, will be resolved remains to be seen.

What will the federal government’s plans mean for Nova Scotia? The new programs should result in green job creation, and could be a boon to our nascent green energy and efficiency efforts. New opportunities enabled across Nova Scotia will be most welcome.

Whether or not Nova Scotia will be able to take full advantage of the new programs is in question. Our provincial government does not appear to be fully engaged with the climate change problem. Premier McNeil did not support Prime Minister Trudeau by joining him in Paris, despite almost all of the other premiers having done so. McNeil also chose to skip the Quebec Climate Summit last April. What’s more, his government’s 25-year electricity plan reveals a distinct lack of ambition for dealing with GHG emissions.

Nova Scotians, long-time leaders in the fight against climate change, may well miss out on federal job growth funding if the lack of engagement by our provincial government continues. Premier McNeil needs to recognize the opportunities in the federal government’s climate change plans and change course.

  1. “Should” replaced “shall” at the last moment. In UN-speak, “shall” implies a legal requirement, while “should” does not.