Will Canada commit to climate change efforts?

Will Canada commit to climate change efforts?

By Carl Cantelon

October 16, 2014

Carbon reduction is not an impossible task to achieve, but it relies heavily on whether or not major emitting countries, such as Canada, can find a balance between economic development and environmental sustainability. Canada continues to transition towards a cleaner energy economy, but over the last decade, the nation has been the subject of intense scrutiny concerning its commitment towards environmental change. As a country rich in natural resources, many of the decisions that have come from the Canadian Government have not exactly supported the idea of investing in cleaner technology, and it is still unknown how future arrangements might affect this.

To say that Canada has not made an effort to reduce carbon emissions would be misleading. The provinces of Québec and Ontario have both made substantial investments in clean energy technologies. Clean Energy Canada reported that they invested US$6.5 billion into the clean energy sector in 2013, which included roughly US$2.5 billion into solar energy, and US$3.6 billion into wind energy. While this seems like a considerable amount of money, Canada’s investments are not exactly on par with the contributions of other nations. For example, last year China spent US$55 billion dollars researching and developing greener alternatives, while Japan and the United States also both spent nearly five times the amount that Canada did in the same year. Other countries, such as Uruguay and Scotland, have even set policies to become 80%-100% renewable by 2020, whereas Canada has not set any significant goals since the Copenhagen Accord in 2009.

It is difficult to say if Canada is on track to becoming a greener country. It seems apparent that the Government of Canada is reluctant to make any hasty decisions when it comes to climate change efforts. In April, Colin Carrie, a member of the House of Commons, indicated the Federal Government is working with the provinces on lowering carbon emissions in the oil and gas industry, but that it was too “premature” to comment further on any future regulations. Environmental Minister Leona Aglukkaq also felt it was too “premature” when asked to comment on Canadian Government plans to contribute to the international Green Climate Fund during this month’s UN summit—other nations in attendance contributed over $1.3 billion dollars. Ms. Aglukkaq did indicate there is some interest in revising Canada’s current emission policies, including legislative efforts to cut new car emissions to 50% of 2008’s emissions by 2015. However, Ms. Aglukkaq followed up by saying that Canada is not interested in furthering climate control unless they can negotiate a fair agreement that includes all emitters of all economies.

The delayed response by the Canadian Government on climate change may not be completely unwarranted. Canada has many trade obligations with outside nations. For example, just recently the Harper government signed a Foreign Investment and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) with the Republic of China. This 31-year binding corporate rights agreement—which effectively grants state-owned Chinese companies substantial legal power to interfere with the management of Canadian energy reserves, according to CBC—has continued the debate on how Canada plans to attack climate change issues.

The Honourable John Manley, President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, wrote that the FIPA with China will help bring in the $600 billion needed for Canada to develop resources, market products, and research new technologies for environmental sustainability. However, many critics argue that the FIPA will immensely decrease Canada’s ability to make any significant changes to environmental policy without first getting China’s approval. This is due to a clause within the FIPA that allows Chinese companies to seek redress against discriminatory laws imposed by any level of the Canadian government.

It is unknown if the FIPA will truly impact Canadian attempts to combat climate change, but what is clear is that China’s growing need for resources will continue to increase its direct investment into the Canadian oil and gas industry for the next 31 years. As of 2013, China had already invested over $16 billion dollars into the Canadian energy sector, which included a $15 billion purchase of the formerly Canadian-owned oil and gas company Nexen Inc. It will be interesting to see how foreign investments will be used to improve the Canadian economy.

Whether Canada is fully committed or not, according to the report by Clean Energy Canada, there are at least three things that the federal government could do to improve its environmental standing within the international community. First, it should join the International Renewable Energy Agency, which is an intergovernmental organization that aids countries in developing and implementing energy sustainability solutions. Second, it should participate in the Clean Energy Ministerial, where cabinet ministers share and promote strategies to transitioning to a cleaner economy. Last, and most importantly, it needs to play a more active role in the global climate conversation, particularly in the Paris conference set for 2015.

In order to achieve a sustainable future, it is necessary for governments around the world to fight climate change. Canada is a country that is more than capable of providing assistance to the international community and its help would have a considerable positive impact in the coming battles. If Canada can take the initiative to lowering its own emissions, especially given its energy-based economy, then maybe others will follow it as the world leader the Great White North should be.

(Icon photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

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