Pembina Institute

A bit more optimism on the road to Toronto

Heading into this weekend's high-profile G8 and G20 summits, the main climate story in Canada had been Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to downplay the role of climate change on the leaders' agendas.

But with just a day before the summits get underway, Environment Minister Jim Prentice has added some promising news to Canada's international climate story, thanks to the long-awaited announcement of the government's contribution to "fast start" climate financing.

A crucial element of the international climate talks, "financing" means the dollars that rich countries have promised to provide to poorer countries so that they can tackle climate change, both by adapting to the impacts of global warming and by reducing their own emissions. At last December's Copenhagen climate conference, developed countries committed to provide an amount "approaching" US$30 billion for the period 2010 to 2012, as a first step toward more funding after 2012.

Canada finally announced its contribution today and, as our response pointed out, it got the number right. The government committed to provide C$400 million a year in 2010, which is Canada's fair share of the US$10 billion a year in fast-start funds identified in Copenhagen. (In situations where only developed countries provide funds, like this one, Canada's traditional share is about four per cent of the total.)

But today's announcement didn't include some key information, so we'll be digging into the details to learn more in the coming weeks.

First, it's not clear whether all of Canada's 2010 contribution will be "new and additional" money, as the Copenhagen Accord requires. Minister Prentice said that the contribution is "additional" — but he didn't explain what it's additional to. (Anyone who works on climate change becomes totally obsessed with baselines and additionality. It's just an occupational hazard.)

In our view, climate financing needs to be additional to the funds that Canada has committed to Official Development Assistance (ODA). That's because climate change hasn't made reducing poverty any easier or any less important, so aid dollars are still needed as much as ever (robbing Peter to pay Paul just isn't a viable solution). That's the baseline we use; we're going to be looking for clarity from the government about the baseline it's using when it calls its contribution "additional."

The financing news also left out another key piece of information, which is where the money will go. (The government says it'll be announcing that in the coming months.) There are some really good funding mechanisms that we'd like to see Canada support, starting with the innovative Adaptation Fund - a new UN fund that gives developing countries direct access to adaptation dollars.

So Canada's government made a promising, but incomplete, announcement on international climate change policy this week. (My colleague Tim Weis is analyzing its domestic climate policy announcement of the week - future regulations on coal-fired electricity — in a separate blog post.) But it's only Thursday, and there's a lot more climate drama to come before this week is over.

That's because Canada's G8 and G20 summits offer a huge opportunity to provide momentum to the global climate negotiations. A motivated government would use the privilege of chairing these summits to move these groups of key countries forward, laying the groundwork for progress at the UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, in five months' time. As we outline in our G8 and G20 backgrounder, the summits could tackle some critical climate issues. For example:

  • G8 countries could deliver on their fast-start financing pledges, making sure that their contributions are truly new and additional
  • The G20 could implement the decision they made last fall to phase out fossil fuel subsidies
  • Both groups of countries could increase their level of ambition on cutting greenhouse gas pollution, because all independent analysis of countries' planned emission cuts shows that we're on track to far exceed 2˚C of global warming — the danger threshold that most governments recognize.

As a Canadian, I would also like to see my government show leadership on climate change at these summits, and treat it as the top-priority international issue that it really is — rather than dismissing it as a "sideshow" or deciding that we can wait for other countries to act before we do.

Harper has come under pressure from a long list of international leaders for downplaying climate change in the run-up to these summits. (Our backgrounder has the full list of critiques.) By attempting to minimize the climate content of these summits, Canada has wasted months of preparation time, which the government could have used to lay the groundwork for a successful outcome on climate change.

But things can happen fast when 20, or even eight, world leaders gather together under the spotlight of the world's media. And this week's announcements show that Canada's government is clearly feeling the pressure to deliver on climate change.

So cross your fingers for climate progress in Toronto. It's not over till it's over.

UPDATE: Clare Demerse speaks about the expectations of climate change advocates at a G8/G20 news conference in Toronto, on June 25, 2010. (Video courtesy of Climate Action Network Canada.)

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