Confront Climate Change Challenges Together

By Yuk-kuen Annie Cheung, Phd, RPP


The Climate Change Agreement reached in Paris last December will be open for signing in April. Meanwhile the high-spirited excitement generated by intense international media coverage of the Paris meeting, arguably aided by the terrorist attacks of a few weeks prior, has since had to compete for air-time with a number of international crises – many also terror-related. The security implications of climate change have recently gained greater visibility, not least south of the border. Climate change as a security issue still lacks the immediacy of an impending attack, however, making international action more challenging. One could be forgiven for wondering whether the December Agreement will ever be ratified by the minimum 55 countries (producing at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions) needed for the Paris Agreement to be activated in 2020.

Despite strong evidence of climate change in record breaking temperatures and unusual weather patterns, plus a growing awareness of the impact of climate change on our everyday lives, disturbances arising from geopolitics and the brewing global financial crises have overtaken much of the air-time and our immediate attention. Perhaps this may again be explained by the common excuse that, as a society, we are not accustomed to including environmental factors in our understanding of the world and how it functions. We tend to regard most environmental consequences in isolation, or merely as tertiary climate change impacts. Other concerns have higher priority. At this juncture, it should be pointed out that Canada is quite exceptional internationally, thanks to the recent installation of a Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The Obama Administration too is firmly keeping climate change on its political agenda, especially making it a key aspect of cooperation with Canada.

Although it may be a cliché, it is meaningful to remember that climate change and its many consequences are highly political and cross-cutting. They traverse both domestic and international policy agendas. If climate change is the cumulative consequence of public and private decisions, then an effective problem-solving strategy must undertake the full scope of public policy development. This would encompass urban and rural planning, public health and safety, economic restructuring, indigenous affairs, job creation, innovation and research, and the list goes on. Canada’s 2016 Budget seems to recognize this. Yet a shifting of the embedded values in public service, too, is essential. In a recent interview given by Mr. Michael Wernick, Canada’s top bureaucrat, he urged the Canadian public service to reorient its organizational culture and focus towards “results achieved rather than simply work done.”

Most climate change impacts ignore man-made borders. The task at hand for addressing these impacts involves strong public and private sector commitment to locate and revisit past assumptions and decisions, before making plans for renovation, to retrofit, or simply taking a detour. Needless to say, there are both financial and technological limits to contend with in undertaking the task. That is also the reason why it makes sense that the Paris Agreement is a voluntary international commitment, not having binding enforcement mechanisms. Alternatively, signatory countries are encouraged to provide their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat on a periodic basis and to log progress of their NDC performance continuously, with the pledge made at the Paris Conference marked as the initial National Determined Contribution. As such, the aspiration captured in the Agreement is enforced only by the spirit of mutual trust. Together Canada and the U.S. are encouraging the G 20 members to join and sign the Agreement.

Cooperation and collaboration, among nations and non-state actors, are the official instruments to achieving NDC goals. The Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA), a side-event in Paris, has brought a sizable and impressive mix of companies, investors and civil society representatives to the event, garnering 11,000 commitments on the NAZCA platform. The organizers also reported that the “transition toward a low-carbon and resilient economy” has attracted investment of hundreds of billions dollars. The expectation is that these investments and commitments will have impact on 1.25 billion persons globally, reaching 150 regions and 2,250 cities. Not only will these actionable outcomes sow seeds of hope for sustaining the efforts in addressing climate change challenges, they will also encourage improvement in global collaboration and steer international and domestic relations towards a more cooperative tone.

As well, NDCs are norm-changing drivers, though the ultimate instrument of change lies in the values employed in decision-making in both public and private domains. For instance, public funding investment in job creation would give priority to those plans, programs, projects, that are related to addressing climate change deficits (renovation, retrofitting, or removal). Investment policies offering special credits to research, innovation projects or programs have a climate change adaptation component.

Apart from garnering NDCs recognition, changes in productivity and consumption patterns will offer a huge “clean development” economic opportunity. This encompasses a paradigm shift in every sphere of life, work and play. It is not as daunting as it may sound, because, as the NAZCA suggests, it is already happening. Meanwhile the economic market drivers embedded in these changes ought to be better appreciated and explored.

The recently released White House statement entitled: “U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership”* is worth careful reading. The statement establishes an extensive U.S.-Canada collaboration. Regarding the Arctic, Canada had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sweden on science and technology cooperation in 2010, and this has led to the parties’ bilateral Arctic science agreement of December 2015. In fact, many countries have made similar international arrangements in the past decades: In 2007 Canada and India concluded a Joint Statement on Environmental Cooperation for facilitating public-private partnerships. In 2014 the U.S. and China reached a bilateral agreement on climate change. Canada too reached a bilateral framework statement with China in 1998 for promoting cooperation on environment in the 21st Century; and more recently the Canada-China discussion has turned to the promotion and funding of “‎innovation-driven collaborations in the green technology sector”.

Considering the multiplier effects that can be produced through sound management of these overlapping relationships, Canada should strive to attain economies of scale by fostering tactical partnerships. These collaborations should be beneficial for all parties in advancing climate change mitigation research and innovation, in generating productivity, and in promoting green development. Confronting climate change will prove to be a good job creator both in Canada and elsewhere around the world. Canada should lead in the ratification of the Paris Agreement and should show leadership in cultivating and consolidating meaningful cooperation capacities globally.



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