Canada’s Sceptical Position at the UNFCCC

Each year the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet and work towards preventing catastrophic climate change. The Kyoto Protocol (KP), an addition to the UNFCCC made in 1997, was ratified by the required countries – including Canada – and came into legal force in 2005. Canada agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. Despite the Kyoto Protocol requiring Canada to establish a means of reducing GHG emissions, Canada has failed to implement any kind of national strategy to actually reduce its emissions.

In fact, Canada’s position on climate change has become less concerned with the actual science involved and more about mirroring the policy of America – which happens to be the main importer of energy extracted from the Alberta tar sands, a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions with a devastating environmental footprint. As such, at COP13, 14 and 15, Canada was voted the “Fossil of the Year” –  an award presented by NGO’s and civil society to the country that does the least in terms of emissions reductions and the most in terms of stalling the negotiations of the UNFCCC.

COP15 in Copenhagen was dubbed to be the most important gathering of world leaders in human history, and expectations were high for a legally binding treaty to be negotiated in Copenhagen to continue the transition into a low carbon economy set out in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Copenhagen did not produce such a treaty, and the actions of countries like Canada are a primary cause. Canada adamantly insisted at Copenhagen that developing countries must take significant steps to reduce their emissions, despite Canada’s small and ineffective target of 17% GHG reduction from 2005 levels.  Canada’s stalling of the negotiations was likely a result of it not being able to meet its own reduction targets under KP, and being subject to the resulting penalties.

Not only does the science of climate change tell us that this target is ineffective because it will likely still lead to run away climate change, but the target itself is unattainable because of the government’s own projected growth in tar sands emissions, which will either equal or exceed all of the reduction programs currently in place to meet that target. In combination with it’s absurd fossil fuel subsidies program which amount to about $1 billion a year, its weak commitments to short and long term financing, and it’s overall ideology of economy before environment, Canada earned the special designation of “Colossal Fossil” at Copenhagen.

Since its inception, the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) has set out very clear points on what it wants to see from the Canadian government. At Copenhagen, the CYD urged Canada to completely change its pace on climate action, to accept its historical responsibility as a carbon intensive economy, to commit to scientifically valid GHG reduction targets (adhering to the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change),  to commit to short and long term mitigation and adaptation financing, and to re-establish itself as a leader on the defining crisis of our time. As we approach COP16 in Cancun, the CYD will continue to seek and ask for accountable, transparent, science-based policies from the Canadian government.

Stephen McGlenn

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