Canada’s main contribution was an anti-coal campaign  

COP23 concluded this past Saturday in Bonn, Germany. The conference disappointed protesters who were demanding immediate and significant change, particularly those waiting for Canada to take leadership in the wake of the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. 

It has been twelve months since Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States, and nearly six months since he formally withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.  

The Paris Agreement was drawn at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015. This agreement bound a total of 190 countries to a limit of 2°C in global temperature increase above pre-industrial levels.  

The withdrawal of the U.S. from this international agreement has sparked a reconsideration within the Canadian government of how to fulfill its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) under the Paris Agreement. In the INDC released by the Canadian government following COP21, it was concluded that, by 2030, the nation would achieve a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 30% below the 2005 levels. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces the challenges of making progress towards this INDC, while avoiding damage to trade relations with Canada’s southern neighbour.  

COP23 was the first summit to take place since President Donald Trump announced the U.S. revocation of the Paris Agreement. The conference concluded on Saturday, November 18th, after a two-week series of presentations and meetings between more than 190 countries. COP23 marked the beginning of a two-year period during which the countries bound to the Paris Accord will compile a rulebook for implementing the agreement.  

Representatives from the U.S. government were present at COP23, as technicalities within the Paris Accord will keep the U.S. from officially withdrawing until 2020. The U.S’s agenda at the conference, however, was focused on the promotion of fossil fuel use. Their key presentation centred on the use of “clean coal,” a resource that President Trump has been praising publicly.   

Canada has historically occupied a laggard position in climate policy—an impression that was largely the part of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s widely perceived disinterest in climate efforts. When Trudeau replaced Harper in 2015, he contrasted Harper’s perceived apathy for climate policy with his colourful rhetoric that promised climate change action in Canada. Within the same month as his election, Trudeau and his cabinet participated in COP21, where they sided with a target limit of a 1.5°C rise in temperature, as opposed to 2°C. Trudeau’s point was clear; from here on out, Canada would be a serious actor in climate policy.  

Activists at the conference, notably the organization 350.org, spent the two weeks lobbying for an immediate transition to a 100% renewable economy. Most protestors, along with many NGO representatives at the conference, were disappointed because, despite Canada’s rhetorical vows to place political priority on climate change policy, the most significant contribution Canadian government made to COP23 was the announcement of an anti-coal alliance with the EU and the Marshall Islands. To add to the disappointment, Trudeau was not present for COP23.  

While the anti-coal alliance is commended as a reasonable step in the direction of sustainable economies, it is speculated that it falls short of the more drastic transitions that may be required for Canada to meet its INDC by 2030. Canada’s role in the coal market was not significant to begin with; the nation is responsible for less than one percent of global production and consumption of coal. To many environmental economists, scientists, and members of the public, this offering is an empty one.  

COP24 takes place next year in Katowice, Poland.