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What We Know About Canada’s Position on the Six Most Hot Button Issues at the Paris Climate Talks

This weekend represents a major transition point in the COP21 Paris climate talks.

Negotiators who have been working away to shorten and clarify an international climate treaty will now pass on a draft text to ministers and their lead negotiators for an intense final week of high-level deliberations.

The nearly 200 countries involved in the talks hope to finalize a document by next Friday. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.

The key issues for all parties include climate finance — how wealthy countries will help developing nations transition off of fossil fuels and adapt to climate impacts — as well as loss and damage (which includes the issue of insurance and compensation), human and indigenous rights and whether the global climate treaty will lock in a 1.5 or two degrees of warming target.

A final issue has to do with the legally binding nature of the climate treaty and how the progress of countries — whether or not they are sticking to their own commitments — is reviewed (this issue is generally called MVR: monitoring, verification and review).

So here’s a quick overview of what we know about Canada’s view on each of these hot button points.

Climate Finance

Canada entered into the climate talks last week on a high note after agreeing to contribute $2.65 billion to the Green Climate Fund over the next five years for developing countries to transition to clean energy and cope with climate impacts.

In his opening speech on the first day of the talks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a crowd of international heads of state, “we believe that climate finance is critical.”

However, according to ‘fair share’ metrics that outline what percentage of climate finance Environmental Defense calculates a rich country like Canada should actually contribute $4 billion — every year.

The goal for vulnerable and developing countries is to have a perpetual $100 billion fund replenished annually by wealthy nations. This figure is recognized as a floor rather than a target for climate finance, meaning contributions into the fund should be expected to grow over time.

A major sticking point throughout the first week of negotiations is how to calculate what countries should pay, when and how that will be enforced on an international scale.

During press briefing representatives of Canada’s negotiation team told members of the press, “It’s no secret that climate finance and support for vulnerable countries is critical” to the talks.”

“Ambition, long-term vision and giving assurance to countries that we will be there to support them is critical to getting this agreement right.”

It’s interesting to note that Canada currently provides 79 times more funds in fossil fuel subsidies than contributions to the Green Climate Fund, according to Alex Doukas from Oil Change International.

Loss and Damage

Developing countries, which have historically placed very little greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, are suffering a disproportionately high amount of climate impacts.

Loss and damage is a mechanism to provide vulnerable nations with compensation for climate impacts they cannot simply adapt to.

“It’s about rising oceans, increasing pace of desertification, glaciers melting, land not being productive,” Harjeet Singh, international climate policy manager with ActionAid told COP21 attendees during negotiations last week.

Traditionally Canada has not been eager to support vulnerable countries deal with the impacts of climate change. This year, however, Canada highlighted “support for climate resilient development and adaptation in countries that need it” in its list of COP21 priorities.

It’s unclear at this point what position Canada will take on loss and damage during the coming week. The U.S. recently indicated it will not bear any legal compensatory responsibility or liability for damages in vulnerable countries. It is likely Canada will follow the U.S.’s lead on this issue.

Human and Indigenous Rights

Last week indigenous leaders from across the planet were outraged by the efforts of several nations including the E.U. and the U.K. to remove reference to human rights and indigenous peoples in the climate treaty text.

According to representatives of indigenous nations speaking on a panel hosted by the Indigenous Environmental Network, Friday these countries put the ‘s’ in the term indigenous peoples into brackets for potential erasure.

Crystal Lameman, member of the Beaver Lake Cree nation in the oilsands region of Alberta, said this felt like hurtling indigenous peoples 30 years into the past.

Canada has indicated that it is taking a strong position on this issue, working to keep human and indigenous peoples rights in the treaty text.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an international treaty, which has been ratified by many nations. Canada’s Liberal government, which has plans to ratify the treaty soon, has been pushing hard in negotiations to retain the reference to human and indigenous peoples.

According to a new study, indigenous peoples around the world are the most effect managers of the world’s forests which represent a massive global carbon sink. In addition, indigenous communities are often at the front lines of both energy development and climate impacts.

For this reason, the indigenous rights network at COP21 in Paris, are fighting for clear reference to indigenous rights in the climate treaty, saying no true climate justice can be had by excluding indigenous rights.

1.5 or Two Degrees of Warming

Representatives of Canada’s negotiating team told press last week that ambitious mechanisms for emissions reductions are “crucial to get right” in the text.

Canada has not officially come out in support of the 1.5 degree warming target even though the vast majority of nations participating in the talks have done so. Nor has the new Liberal government outlined their specific climate commitments now that the Conservative government is no longer in power.

Trudeau has been roundly criticized for bringing Harper’s climate commitments to Paris. Those hoping the Liberal government would announce a more specific climate plan were left disappointed during these first week of talks. Although Trudeau’s speech at the outset of the negotiations indicated Canada is willing to play a constructive role in the negotiations and will work with other countries to stay within the two degrees of warming target.

Legally Binding Treaty

In Canada’s list of priorities for COP21, the government states it is in support of a “durable, legally binding agreement.”

However what aspects of the climate treaty are legally binding has been the source of much disagreement at during negotiations.

Before heading to Paris, environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna told members of the press Canada would not support legally binding carbon reductions because the U.S. was unlikely to do so with a Republican-dominated Congress.

"Everyone wants to see the United States be part of this treaty," McKenna said. "There are political realities in the United States … they cannot have legally binding targets. We don't expect that the targets will be internationally legally binding.”

What burden of responsibility countries will bear under the climate agreement was a major source of contention over the last week and will likely continue to be so going forward.

What role Canada will play on this issue will likely be set by the U.S.’s position. 

Monitoring, Verification and Review

Canada has placed a lot of emphasis on transparency in monitoring, verification and review, saying a “common robust transparency and accountability approach” will go a long way towards providing assurances that “parties are doing what they set out to do.”

Getting this part of the climate agreement right is crucial for the “trust and confidence needed to enhance cooperation between parties,” Canada states in its list of COP21 priorities.

Canada has not previously supported any rules that require Canada to do more than other countries to reduce emissions. The E.U. and the U.S. have shared that position, saying they want common rather than differentiated rules.

Yet the current rules for reporting are too weak, Bill Hare chief executive of Climate Analytics told the Guardian.

Hare said going forward with the reporting requirements in place would means a “complete failure at the Paris talks.”

“It would mean we couldn’t check or track what developing countries are doing,” he said. “There would be no way of knowing what was happening.”

Image: David Meenagh via Flickr

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Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

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