About the Author:
Kevin Saludares is a Mindfirst blogger and an M.Eng candidate in chemical engineering at the University of Toronto Department of Applied Science and Engineering.
On January 21, 2016, Mindfirst hosted a seminar titled “What Happened at COP21: Outcomes from the UN climate negotiations in Paris.” It examined the unique challenge each country faces in combating climate change, the key outcomes and implications of the Paris Agreement, and how the global problem of climate change is perhaps the most complex problem that humanity has to tackle today.
Canada has a unique challenge when it comes to climate change. Facing this challenge will require talent and expertise from a wide variety of people with different backgrounds. Before 2014, Canada’s emissions totalled 726 Mt CO2 equivalent. 25% of those emissions came from the oil and gas sector and 23% came from the transportation sector. In the U.S., carbon emissions totaled to 6673 Mt CO2 equivalent. 31% of those emissions came from the electricity sector and 27% came from the transportation sector. In 2014, annual emissions from the oil sands in Canada totaled 55 Mt, which is less than the combined annual GHG emissions of the top three highest emitting coal-fired plants in the U.S. From an emissions context, all countries around the world emit different amounts of CO2, but it’s important to understand the source of those emissions, what sector is producing them, and how they are being emitted. Energy can represent a small or large portion of GHG emissions. CO2 emissions can also be dependent on a country’s GDP, population, or in most cases, the technology available and industry practices. When it comes to climate change, every country has its own unique challenge to face.
In December 2015, a legally binding Paris climate agreement was adopted: a truly historical moment for the world. It is the first legally binding, global climate change agreement referencing emission reduction goals, and it includes 188 of 196 UNFCCC parties. The ambition behind the agreement is based on a statement from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, which stated that a temperature increase of 2˚C would create significant consequences for global climate, and could exceed the carrying capacity of the planet. During the talks, negotiators decided that efforts will be made on their part to limit temperature increase to 1.5˚C. The acknowledgement and inclusion of indigenous peoples, human rights, all levels of government, and various other actors also play a role in the moulding the final agreement. To achieve mitigation targets, all countries will submit successive, increasingly ambitious emissions reports (INDCs) which they intend to achieve. For markets, there will be a cooperative approach between countries to design new market mechanisms that will help them meet their targets. The financing that comes with this agreement inside COP has a floor of $100 billion per year, where the CDA would contribute $2.65 billion over 5 years. The agreement will open for signature in April 2016 for all 196 parties of the UNFCCC, and it will enter into force only if 55 countries that 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions ratify.
The Paris Agreement, if ratified, will not only encourage the federal and provincial governments of Canada to work to reduce emissions, but will also affect the operations of major Canadian companies, operating under new market mechanisms. Countries around the world, especially in Europe, and several Canadian provinces including Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia have already implemented, or are in the process of planning, their own carbon economies, whether it be a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax.
In summary, the UN climate negotiations in Paris are a significant step toward combating the global problem of climate change. It is a complex, multidimensional problem for both developed and developing countries around the world, and will involve coordination between governments, companies in every sector, and the general public. With a new federal leadership in Canada, people are excited to see Canada taking a more active and constructive role in climate change action through the First Ministers’ conference in November 2015. By educating future generations about climate change, making the most of current and future technologies, and creating well-defined, effective policies, climate change can be tackled one day at a time. Countries must do what works within their jurisdiction, and do it now in order to prevent worst consequences of climate change for the world.