Political Corner: Canada cannot call itself a leader on international climate action

As we approach COP26, we should take a hard look at domestic climate issues

The Trudeau government’s strategy on climate action is counter-productive. PHOTO: Presidencia de la República Mexicana / Flickr

by Luke Faulks, SFU student

The world’s latest chance to collectively start scaling back fossil fuel production is right around the corner. The 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26, is a meeting of the 197 signatories to the 1995 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. From October 31 to November 12, the group will meet to get the international community on board with reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and preventing catastrophic warming. Canada’s lack of domestic progress on climate, however, means the country is not poised to convincingly lead any transformative collection action. 

Canada accepted an invitation from the United Kingdom to co-lead the development of a new international climate finance action plan, alongside Germany. In response, Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson said the invitation “underlines the leadership that Canada has demonstrated internationally” on climate. But it’s an assertion that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

As usually happens with high-profile climate summits, there’s a report from the previous year that jumpstarts the conversation. For COP26, it’s a report that found the best path to keep warming under 1.5° requires the immediate halt of coal mining, oil extraction, and the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Unfortunately, Canada’s domestic agenda flies in the face of this new report.

Trudeau has been espousing the paradox that Canada can effectively address climate change while investing in fossil fuel extraction. A recent example of this thinking involves the 2018 purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline for $4.5 billion. This year, Wilkinson confirmed the government’s commitment to maximizing profits from the pipeline in order to fund a clean energy transition that decarbonizes the country. 

It’s evidence of the shambolic nature of the Trudeau government’s climate strategy that the plan’s foundation is based on the continued enabling of planet-warming emissions. Trudeau’s “plans” to fight climate change will only further exacerbate the issue. 

In June 2021, the Liberal government took a stab at enshrining the “net zero by 2050” target into law with Bill C-12. It’s a step forward, but it’s undercut by the fact that the country is one of the only G7 members — a group of the worlds largest economies — whose emissions have risen every year since the signing of the Paris Accords. Trudeau is leaving successive governments with the task of figuring out how to make good on those targets, rather than boldly tackling the issue himself. 

Before taking a leadership stance at COP26, Trudeau should look, to a finite degree, to the US to reform its domestic policy. Consider the proposal for the Green New Deal it expands beyond what usually constitutes climate policy, reaching into decarbonizing buildings, transportation, manufacturing, and the agricultural sector, among others. South Korea and the European Union have also passed climate plans titled “Green New Deal,” or “Green Deal.” While they both fall short of the ambition of the original proposal, it’s indicative of the global reach the original GND has had.

So is it possible for Canada to come into a climate summit with a sterling domestic record? Not in time for COP26. But if the government can examine the emissions reductions and adaptation potential of each piece of legislation put forth, and adopt a holistic approach to climate, we can be a real leader in the next summit.