Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks during a news conference in Paris on Nov. 29, 2015. Five years after it was passed, the Paris Agreement may finally be changing the climate on climate change. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks during a news conference in Paris on Nov. 29, 2015. Five years after it was passed, the Paris Agreement may finally be changing the climate on climate change. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Tipping point? Experts say the Paris agreement changed the climate on climate

Five years after it was passed, the Paris agreement may finally be changing the climate on climate change.

“I’ve always known we’re not going to act as soon as we could have,” said Mark Jaccard, a widely consulted energy economist at Simon Fraser University.

“I also know that when we do start to act, it’ll be very fast. It’ll be one of those tipping points and it could be that we’re at one right now.”

On Dec. 12, 2015, 196 countries met in Paris and put their signatures on a legally binding treaty to do what it took to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius and to create carbon-neutral economies by 2050.

Progress on those promises has been spotty.

The United Nations annual emissions gap report released this week points out that greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow and reached record levels in 2019. Even with a seven per cent decline in emissions expected this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, atmospheric concentrations are expected to rise.

The Liberal government has committed Canada to being carbon neutral by 2050. But it has released no plan for the three to four per cent annual cuts that it would take to get there. Canada has never met any of its previous climate goals and is one of five G20 countries behind on its Paris commitments.

And yet …

“We have a much stronger climate movement that we did,” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace. “A lot of the big forces in the world are starting to line up behind the transition.”

More and more financial institutions — including, just this week, the $225-billion New York state pension fund — are divesting from fossil fuels or decarbonizing. The UN says 126 countries, including China, have either adopted binding net-zero goals or are considering them.

The cost of renewable energy is plummeting — 90 per cent for solar power, says an Oxford University publication. Some countries — again, including China — are putting end dates on the sale of gas-powered vehicles.

“The effort is picking up speed,” Jaccard said.

Without Paris, Canada wouldn’t have achieved what it has, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told an online webinar Thursday.

“Canadians were really tired of inaction,” he said. “The pan-Canadian framework was something that came out of the Paris agreement.”

The federal Liberals have implemented a carbon tax, signed agreements to reduce methane releases, promised a clean-fuel standard to cut vehicle emissions, announced $1.5 billion in funding for electric buses and charging stations, and helped phase out coal-generated power.

“The Trudeau government is the only federal government Canada’s had that is implementing the pricing and regulations that actually reduce emissions,” Jaccard said.

Wilkinson promises even more.

“We know that more ambition will be required.”

More is needed than just a new set of targets, Stewart said. Canadians who depend on the fossil fuel industry need help with the transition.

“There’s a whole bunch of people who are going to be hurt badly if we don’t do this properly,” he said. “The rest of the country is going to be supporting Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland.”

Jaccard said some way may be needed to prevent countries that aren’t limiting emissions from having a trade advantage. Tariffs that penalize products from high-carbon jurisdictions are being discussed both at home and abroad, he said.

“How do you get any kind of collective action when there are easy rewards for cheating? You have to have penalty mechanisms.”

Paris made a real difference and progress is out there, said Jaccard.

“I react strongly to people who say it’s too late. The evidence doesn’t support it.

“It’s harder, which means we’ve taken longer to act on it, but I always knew we would act.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2020.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham has ambitious plans for the airport. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer Regional Airport revenues climb in 2020

Bringing in more business is the 2021 goal, says director

City council will have to wait longer to hear back from administration on possible alternative sites — if the homeless shelter is moved from Red Deer downtown. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alternative sites for homeless shelter will be explored by the City of Red Deer

Council gave administration more time to return with a report

Quentin Lee Strawberry was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with stabbing death of Joseph Gallant in March 2019. (Photo from RCMP)
Updated: O’Chiese man found not guilty of 2019 stabbing death of Red Deer man

Quentin Strawberry found guilty of assaulting murdered man’s common-law partner

(Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer property tax bills are in the mail

Red Deer 2021 tax notices are on their way. Red Deer property… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander (36) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during first-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Edmonton Oilers' Dominik Kahun (21) celebrates with teammate Connor McDavid (97) after scoring the third goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

Canada , left to right, lead Briane Meilleur, third Val Sweeting, skip Kerri Einarson, and second Shannon Birchard discuss strategy against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. Both of Canada's teams were shut out of the medals, marking the first time ever that Canada did not reach the podium at either the men's or women's worlds in the same season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Canada's Tyler Ardron, right, tries to block the kick by Italy's Callum Braley during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match in Fukuoka, western Japan, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kyodo News via AP
Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

John Velazquez, right, rides Medina Spirit ahead of Florent Geroux aboard Mandaloun to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Darron Cummings
Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Canada forward Liam Millar (23) moves the ball past Bermuda defender Eusebio Blankendal (2) during the second half of a World Cup 2022 Group B qualifying soccer match Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Raoux
Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Most Read