It has been a year since almost 200 countries recognized “the need for an effective and progressive response to the urgent threat of climate change” and adopted the Paris Agreement. By doing so, the international community committed to keeping an average global temperature increase to no more than 2℃ and an ambition of staying below 1.5℃.
Despite a consensus on the urgency to correct our course, we are still on the wrong emissions path. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that keeping global carbon dioxide concentration to 450 parts per million (ppm) would give the planet about a 66 per cent chance of limiting emissions growth to 2℃. We have already passed 400 ppm—levels last experienced 4 million years ago—and are rapidly speeding towards 450ppm.
We must peak and bend global emissions as quickly as possible.
To this end, we were pleased to see the Canadian government, following the first ministers’ meeting last week, putting forward a comprehensive plan to tackling Canada’s growing greenhouse gas emissions, The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
The Framework signals that Canada is taking climate change seriously and is taking a leadership role in the fight against it. It is comprehensive, covers emissions across Canada’s economic sectors, and provides a path forward. It recognizes and builds on provincial and territorial measures, and can create new economic opportunities across the country. It also provides solutions that will have multiple benefits, beyond reducing emissions.
By phasing out coal, we can create conditions for building the cleanest electricity grid in the world—this would mean new jobs, cleaner air, and reducing energy costs in remote communities. The Canadian government is setting a path towards reducing energy waste in buildings and equipment, benefiting the environment, and saving consumers’ money.
Even so, no matter how successful mitigation efforts are, we are already seeing the impact of climate change in Canada. We need to adapt. During his recent visit to Ottawa, U.S. vice president Joe Biden paraphrased the president’s science adviser John Holdren, saying: “We can mitigate. We can adapt or we can suffer.”
The Framework is a significant step forward in increasing Canada’s capacity to adapt to climate change. It commits support to turn scientific knowledge into action, building regional expertise and adaptive capacity. Similarly, it commits to investing in infrastructure that builds resilience and to developing new climate-resilient codes and standards.
But while the Canadian government has begun to engage in planned adaptation, a number of gaps remain.
The gap that needs to be filled most urgently is a detailed government-wide vulnerability assessment of its operations and services. Canada also needs to mainstream climate change adaptation efforts into planning processes across all government departments, sectors, and levels of government. Integrating climate risk considerations into all policy-making and planning is vital to respond to the immense challenge climate change presents.
The federal government has shown strong leadership on mitigation and taken the first steps towards strategic adaptation planning. The next steps must be the development of a well thought out Canada-wide adaptation strategy—a national adaptation plan—guided by an overarching vision and set of objectives that reflects the complex implications of climate change. There is also a great deal of work ahead to ensure emission reduction measures are well-designed and implemented.
The next few years will be critical in getting it right.
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