Environment ministers meet to discuss carbon-cutting strategies

Canada's environment ministers were meeting on Friday in an effort to negotiate a national carbon-cutting strategy to meet the country's ambitious international targets.

OTTAWA — Canada’s environment ministers were meeting on Friday in an effort to negotiate a national carbon-cutting strategy to meet the country’s ambitious international targets.

Provincial and territorial ministers arrived Thursday for talks with federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, in advance of a full-blown first minister’s conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tentatively set for the first week of March.

It’s the first ministerial meeting on the climate file in almost a decade, a period during which provinces have each pursued their own climate policies in the absence of an over-arching national plan.

At a UN-sponsored summit last month in Paris, the new Liberal government — in consultation with the provinces — agreed with nearly 200 countries to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius by mid-century.

A new report this week from the Ivey Business School at Western University lays out the scale of the challenge Canadian governments have set themselves.

While Canada emits just 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gases, the country is in the top three for the amount of emissions per person.

Canadians, per capita, produced about 20.6 tonnes of GHGs in 2012, says the report from former senior federal civil servant Paul Boothe, compared with a global average of 6.2 tonnes per capita. A United Nations research group says that in order to meet the Paris temperature target, citizens globally must be down to per capita GHG emissions of just 1.7 tonnes by the year 2050.

The previous Conservative government set a 2030 target of reducing Canada’s emissions 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, a target adopted “as a floor” by the incoming Liberals. Several provinces, meanwhile, have set their own reduction targets.

The report, “By The Numbers: Canadian GHG Emissions,” states that “even if all provinces achieved their announced or proxy targets, Canada would still face a gap of about 45 Mt (megatonnes) in 2020 and 55 Mt in 2030.”

Climate skeptics like to point out that Canada’s relatively small contribution to global levels of carbon dioxide means any Canadian reductions will have a negligible global impact. Advocates counter that climate change poses the classic dilemma of the commons: If a wealthy, industrialized, self-respecting international citizen like Canada — with one of the highest standards of living on the planet — won’t do its part, then how can developing nations be convinced to curb emissions?

The Canadian Climate Action Network, a coalition of environmental groups, says the federal and provincial ministers could create a million new jobs with an aggressive green agenda — powered by almost $81 billion in government spending over the next five years. And even that staggering outlay doesn’t address the wide regional differences presented by different economies within Canada.

“Significant challenges lie ahead for Canada as it works to meet its GHG emission targets and those challenges parallel the ones faced by the international community,” Boothe and co-author Felix Boudreault say in the conclusion to their report.

“Finding ways to equitably share the burden of GHG emission reductions and practical mechanisms to allow regional and national economies to transition to a low-carbon world will test the ingenuity and will of political leaders at home and abroad.”

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