The US and China Agreement is a Gamechanger

But where does this leave Canada?

In this Issue #2

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  • The US and China Agreement, why does it change the game?
  • Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century
  • A global carbon budget
  • Canada’s position on climate change
  • Featured network: C40

On November 11, global headlines proclaimed a historic agreement on climate change by US President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The agreement commits the US to reductions of – 26-28% compared to 2005 levels by 2025, while China announced it will peak it’s emissions by 2030 and increase the portion of renewables in its energy mix. As an example of the magnitude of this announcement, the renewables commitment by China will require an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacities by 2030. This is close to the total current electricity generation capacity in the United States. While these targets don’t prevent the two degrees of warming scientists indicate is necessary to prevent dangerous levels of climate change, they do represent a fundamental shift in the tenor of climate change negotiations. That is why this agreement was a surprise to everyone. China and US represent the largest sources of GHG emissions, approximately 40% of the global total. For years they have been at loggerheads as chief rivals at the climate change negotiations, a relationship that came to the head at the Copenhagen climate change meeting. This announcement represents a transformation from antagonists to collaborators and injected hope into an ongoing divide between developed and developing countries over who should be responsible for reducing GHG emissions and who should be responsible for paying for GHG reductions. President Obama further enhanced this trust by pledging $3 billion for the Global Climate Fund, a mechanism to transfer financial resources to developing countries in order to catalyse climate finance. Canada recently pledged $300 million to the same fund. Can this agreement be implemented? The Republicans plan to block Obama’s pledge using every tool in their toolbox. The administration responds by indicating that it doesn’t need any new powers to achieve this target, the tools required are contained in the Clean Air Act. From China’s point of view, there is a desperate need to address air pollution and this commitment addresses that need. The agreement also impacts municipalities. US and China will launch a Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Initiative. Beginning with a Summit, the two countries will share city-level experiences with planning, policies, and the use of technology for sustainable, resilient, low-carbon growth. This initiative will eventually include demonstrations of new technologies for smart infrastructure for urbanization.

Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century

World leaders will soon be assembling to once again discuss policy to limit the global temperature increase to two degrees above pre-industrial conditions. As time continues to pass since this target was set, it is important to ask whether it does in fact remain possible for us to achieve. Ecofys , a global consultancy providing expertise in climate policy and sustainable energy solutions, recently set out to investigate exactly this. More specifically, they asked whether it would be possible from where we stand now to fully phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Their report indicated that the answer is yes. They noted that this can be achieved under the conditions of: continued development of current technologies, additional innovation, and the offsetting of the remainder with carbon sinks. The report continued by detailing out the specific sectors involved, the reductions options available within each, the modelling scenarios used, as well as the climate and economic forecast that might be expected should we decide to take this route.

A global carbon budget

The UN has issued a ‘non-paper‘ (otherwise known as a discussion paper) on aspects of a climate deal for countries to consider in Lima. A challenge that countries face is agreeing on an approach to halt emissions in time to prevent dangerous climate change. One of the options that the UN proposes is a carbon budget, and according to the IPCC, two thirds of the emissions that we can afford to emit have already been emitted. The sticky question is who would decide who gets to emit the last third? Other options that the UN outlines include carbon neutrality/net zero emissions by 2050 or full decarbonisation by 2050 and a maximum concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere below 350 ppm. The idea of decarbonisation is gaining traction with a recent and remarkable comment by the US climate change envoy Todd Stern acknowledging that the agreement is “going to have to be a solution that leaves a lot of fossil fuels assets in the ground”.

Canada’s position on climate change

No one is quite sure what Canada will do going into the talks in Lima. For some years, Canada has committed to moving in lockstep with the US, including standards on fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks and heavy duty vehicles and engines, regulating emissions from the coal-fired electricity sector and maintaining renewable fuel requirements in gasoline. Canada’s most recent GHG target, after pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, was aligned with the US, a 20% reduction relative to 2006 emissions by 2020. The US-China announcement means firstly, that Canada has fallen behind and secondly, that the Canadian government’s argument that ‘the largest emitters need to agree to targets’ no longer holds true. Furthermore, Canada is not on track to achieve the Copenhagen commitment despite pledging $300 million to the Global Climate Fund in November. Ontario and Quebec meanwhile, have announced a collaboration that will, among other things, share information on Quebec’s participation in California’s cap and trade program. All in all, Canadians do want action on climate change. A survey released by Environics last week found that just 1 in 10 Canadians is a climate change skeptic and that 78% are worried about the impact on their children and grandchildren. As the middle ground between government and it’s people, this puts municipalities in an empowered position to influence action on climate change by listening to its constituency.

Featured network:  C40

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is a network of large cities represented by their Mayors. Started in October 2005 in London UK, the network is made up of those who prioritise action on climate change and want cities to lead the way. It now works in partnership with global entities like ICLEI and the World Bank with a focus on ways to access financing for climate action, greenhouse gas accounting and uniform ways of reporting. The position of Chair rotates with previous including Mayor Bloomberg in 2010 and former Mayor David Miller of Toronto in 2008. Meeting recently during the NYC UN Summit, this platform has enabled Mayors, independently of government, to further the conversation around cities and climate change.

Next briefing
We’re in LIMA for COP20 with a live feed from the negotiations
The UNFCC negotiations related to cities
And always more!