Climate Action in Canada During the Biden Era: Is Canada on Track?

By: Sonja Perisic

On April 22 and 23, in advance of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) climate talks in November, President Joe Biden will host a Leaders’ Climate Summit. As the United States proposes new climate investments, Canada could potentially fall behind in the global forefront of climate leaders. The Climate Summit presents a perfect opportunity for Canada to demonstrate its commitment to a healthier, safer, more prosperous future for its own citizens as well as those in developing countries.

In recent years, Canada has implemented a national price on carbon pollution, regulated a phase-out of coal-fired power, and invested in zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure and public transit. In his speech from the throne, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that Canada would achieve “net-zero” emissions by 2050—an ambitious goal that will require rapid action by 2030. In December, the government announced a spike in the federal carbon price to $170 a tonne by 2030 — a goal that would place Canada at the global forefront in pricing carbon pollution. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Canada is “on track” to meet its Paris Agreement target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. But several reports, including the latest UN report, show that Canada is missing its targets by roughly 15 percent, even under the best-case scenario.

Canada’s actions, both at home and abroad, could be made inconsequential unless we continue building national support towards change. Canadians still appear to be feeling pessimistic in the climate fight: in a survey conducted by Ipsos, 58 per cent of respondents believe solutions will cause economic hardship and 50 per cent agreed Canada won’t be able to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Canadian business leaders will have to move quickly to make the transition that the government and global investors are calling for, supported by new federal programs such as the $3-billion Net-Zero Accelerator Fund. Domestic actions such as modernizing and enhancing the productivity of key industries and creating new products are key to building a clean, competitive, and prosperous future for Canada. However, the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership was stagnant on any climate action abroad for Canada, which is now a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.

Also, Canada has an obligation to support those who are hit hardest by the climate crisis, which are developing countries. This includes providing robust financing to help those countries adopt clean energy, protect biodiversity and adapt to the increasingly devastating impacts of a changing climate. John Kerry, the U.S. Presidential Envoy for Climate, said, “domestic action cannot possibly be enough if we don’t together forge an international strategy to … drive greater ambition from every country, every sector and ensure that the clean energy future we need is global in scope and scale.” However, Canada maintains its contribution level at $300 million – after adjustment for inflation and currency fluctuations, this is less than what it pledged in 2014 and one of the lowest contributors per capita by any major funding country.

Canada has made progress in the fight against climate change, but the Biden administration is taking much quicker action and is beginning to invest where it counts. The U.S. has scrapped the Keystone XL Pipeline in the early stages of Biden’s presidency and has reaffirmed its pledge to the Paris Agreement. So, how can Canada step up its climate change plan to contend with the U.S. and other G7 nations?

Canada’s overall climate finance provision, including funds provided through the multilateral development institutions, lags behind its peers in the G7. Contributing more on a per capita and percentage of gross national income basis would allow Canada to position itself as a competing economy and a principal contributor to the global climate change fight. Canada can also surge its international climate finance commitments. This means supporting developing countries through stronger and more flexible bilateral partnerships. Finally, Canada can scale up funding to global initiatives that empower the most vulnerable, increase its contribution to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and strengthen institutions for climate risk management, such as the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s (IISD) National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Global Network.

As for its citizenry, many have stressed the importance of micro-awareness and activities as simple as continuing to engage in conversations around climate change and getting politically active at the municipal or local level to raise optimism about the state of the economy during efforts to reduce carbon emissions. However, it will ultimately be state action and corporate leaders that will push the North into a leading place in the fight against climate change.

Sonja Perisic is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. Sonja’s interests include journalism, cultural policy, innovation policy and multimedia storytelling. Sonja holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English and Ethics, Society & Law from the University of Toronto.

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