OPINION | Mind the Gap – how far off is Canada from Paris Agreement goals?

On March 27th, Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand, issued an historic report. It was the process more than the subject matter that made it historic. For the first time ever, the federal Auditor General working with provincial and territorial auditor generals, turned their attention to a single issue and prepared a coordinated audit.

The issue was climate and the audit was not encouraging. Canada’s governments are not on track to achieve our climate targets. Measured against Canada’s current target – 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 – we are 66 mega tonnes short.

Since the report’s release, our Minister for Environment and Climate Change has been dismissive. She claims the report does not reflect our current reality; that it is backward looking. But the federal auditor is only reporting Environment Canada data when it comes to the gap. We are not on track to hit the 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 target. The audit looks at what is being done in measurable ways. Only five federal departments out of 19 federal departments and agencies have even conducted a review of the risks to government assets posed by the climate crisis.

What makes this even more distressing is that the target (30% below 2005 by 2030) is not consistent with the Paris Agreement. It is far too weak for Canada to do its fair share of reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) consistent with the Paris target — much less to claim global leadership.

The huge gap is that the Paris Agreement is more a framework for future action than a blueprint to avoid climate disaster. The Paris Agreement overarching target is to try to hold global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above what it was before the Industrial Revolution, and, if that goal is missed, to as far below 2 degree C as possible. Every nation within Paris (all nations on earth, including the USA) have filed their targets (described as “NDCs’ – “nationally determined contributions”) with the UN secretariat on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) The UNFCCC was negotiated and signed back in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. Every climate negotiation since then has been conducted within the umbrella of the UNFCCC. Paris differs from Kyoto in that the targets in Paris are not part of the text of the agreement. Every nation can change the target any time, but only to “ratchet up.”

On the eve of Paris, all the NDCs were reviewed by the international scientific body (the IPCC) and the numbers were crunched to see how far the current targets would get us to our goals. The news was not good. The 2015 goals took us to a range well over 2 degrees and to above 3 degrees. Clearly, current targets are inadequate.

Minister McKenna confirmed that in Paris, describing the 30% below 2005 by 2030 left in place by the Harper administration was weak. She described it as “the floor” and said we would do better. But within a year, the floor was the ceiling, and the entire Pan-Canadian Framework is built around the Harper target.

And now it is confirmed we are not on track to meet that target.

Good intentions are not enough. We need bold climate leadership.

Elizabeth May is the Member of Parliament for Saanich — Gulf Islands, British Columbia, and Leader of the Green Party of Canada

Contributed to the Sixth Estate – The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sixth Estate.

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