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Trudeau government fails to take bold action at COP24 to avoid climate breakdown

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in 2017

The Trudeau government was elected just prior to the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015. The next federal election in Canada will take place just before COP25 in Chile on November 11-22, 2019.

The Paris Agreement reached at COP21 seeks to keep the global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The process to achieve this includes countries putting forward "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs). These will be evaluated every five years, starting this year.

Washington-based Climate Interactive has projected that the current NDC pledges would see a global temperature increase of 3.5 degree Celsius.

And a recent study published in Nature Communications found that if the rest of the world were to follow Canada's current climate policies, there would be a global temperature increase of more than 5.1 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges that the Paris Agreement is insufficient to avoid exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit.

The IPCC now says that carbon emissions must be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 to keep the global temperature (that in 2012 was at 1.06 degrees Celsius above the 1880 level) below the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark.

Canada’s carbon emissions in 2010 were 692 megatonnes (million tonnes), meaning this country would have to cut emissions down to about 380 megatonnes by 2030.

In 2015, the Trudeau government pledged to reduce carbon emissions to about 512 megatonnes a year by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. But by 2017, Environment Canada acknowledged that Canada's carbon emissions could be as high as 790 megatonnes a year in 2030.

On December 12, The Canadian Press reported, "Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, told The Canadian Press last week Canada will be ready -- as the Paris agreement requires -- to increase its targets for cutting emissions in 2020."

It adds, "It was a departure from an earlier line that McKenna had no plans to increase Canada's ambitions until policies were in place to realize its existing ones."

That article then highlights that on December 11, McKenna would only say, "We are absolutely committed to meeting our target."

On December 14, CBC Radio reported, "Sean Fraser, McKenna's parliamentary secretary, [says] that Canada will continue to monitor its progress and gauge whether more ambitious action on emissions could be taken."

How McKenna and Fraser square this meek assertion with their government having bought the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline defies logic.

That pipeline is projected to result in about 15 megatonnes of upstream carbon emissions (the extraction process) and about 60 megatonnes of downstream carbon emissions (when the oil is burned) on an annual basis of its 40-60 year lifespan.

The Trudeau government also continues to tout its carbon tax that is scheduled to start at $20 a tonne next year and rise to $50 a tonne in 2022.

But Simon Fraser University economist Marc Jaccard says that the carbon tax would need to start at $30 next year and rise to $200 a tonne by 2030 to meet even the federal government's (insufficient) commitment under the Paris Agreement.

A recent report by Environmental Defence and Stand Earth also found that oil and gas companies will have an average of 80 per cent of their emissions exempt from the carbon tax.

The Trudeau government has failed to both recognize the climate emergency in front of us and to take action to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Climate justice activists will undoubtedly work to make climate breakdown a ballot box question for the October 21, 2019 federal election and press whichever party that forms the next government (if polls and projections are right it will be the Liberals again) to take action at COP25 in Chile the following month.

However, given the Trudeau government is abdicating its responsibility on this front and other political parties needing to step up in their commitments to address the climate emergency, Extinction Rebellion actions -- such as the week-long international rebellion scheduled to start on April 15, 2019 -- will be needed to see real change.

Image: Flickr/ChathamHouse

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