After COP24 in Poland, the work continues in earnest at home

Blog - Dec. 16, 2018 - By Isabelle Turcotte

Pembina Institute staff Isabelle Turcotte and Binnu Jeyakumar were in Katowice, Poland from December 2 to the 15 to follow the development of the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and what this means for climate action in Canada.

This year’s United Nations climate conference (COP24) wrapped up on Saturday night, with two weeks of tense negotiations on developing the detailed instructions for implementing the Paris Agreement coming to an end. Despite disruptive countries like the USA and Saudi Arabia, Canada and others constructively attempted to balance interests of parties and drive towards consensus on many issues. COP24, however, is about more than debates over text. As noted by Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, this meeting of leaders was an important display of cooperation and an embrace of multilateralism. Only by working together can nations tackle the global problem that is climate change.

In the end, the conference did deliver the promised rulebook that will instill confidence and provide transparency on how parties will track the progress achieved towards meeting their Paris Agreement pledge. Some progress was also achieved to provide rules for tracking and mobilizing climate finance to enable climate-resilient pathways in developing countries. However the work of developing the rules to ensure carbon markets increase ambition remains unfinished, and therefore absent from the rulebook. 

In parallel with the negotiations, government and private sector leaders, labour groups, investors, researchers, youth,  Indigenous Peoples, and environmental NGO representatives crowded the side-event and press conference rooms of the Katowice venue to talk about climate action. Their stories echo the voices of thousands of stakeholders from across the globe who have shared their experiences, dreams, and solutions to climate change through the process of the Talanoa dialogue over the past year. Launched by the COP23 Fiji Presidency, the Talanoa dialogue is a participatory process to help make wise decisions to inspire a global response to the threat of a changing climate which culminated at CO24 with the Talanoa call to action.  The message delivered by the Talanoa dialogue is clear: never has the resolve been greater to boost collective and individual climate ambition.

Canadian voices were numerous and diverse at COP, and pushed parties to ensure the ambitious and inclusive spirit of the Paris Agreement was reflected in the rulebook. Catherine Gauthier, executive director of ENvironnement JEUnesse was here reminding parties that climate change is one of the greatest threats to human rights for her generation and that the Canadian government has both the capacity and responsibility to act. Tara Peel, a member of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, was here to make sure we build support for workers and communities affected as we make the transition to low-carbon energy. Graeme Reed of the Assembly of First Nations was here to push parties to respect, promote, and advance their respective obligations to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

At the conference, we also heard from some of the 70 jurisdictions across the world that have put a price on pollution as part of a serious and comprehensive plan to tackle emissions and promote innovation. We heard from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that no tool can be left on the table as we strive to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial level to avoid the worst of climate change. Globally, the momentum around a price on pollution is as strong as ever.

Among other key highlights of COP24, the Government of B.C. was honoured as a winner of the United Nations Climate Action Award by Momentum for Change for being the first government at any level in North America to reach carbon neutrality in the public sector. B.C.’s offset purchases have been leveraging private sector investment in clean technologies and jobs since 2010. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development called on policymakers to provide the enabling conditions to speed up the implementation of proven technologies and business models needed to reduce harmful GHG emissions. In an event on the future of energy, Suncor highlighted the role of carbon pricing to effectively and efficiently reduce emissions and underscored the importance of policy continuity to offer investment certainty and promote innovation.

It was a big two weeks for the transition away from coal. Canada’s Minister Catherine McKenna and the UK’s Minister Perry celebrated the one year anniversary of the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA): an initiative they had launched one year ago in recognition that shifting away from coal power generation is essential for clean air; healthy communities; sustainable economic growth; and a safe climate. In one year, the PPCA membership has grown to 80 — members include governments at the city, state and country level, utilities, and financial institutions. Canada continues to lead by example — this past week the federal government finalized its coal regulations and is now officially on track to phase-out coal-fired power by 2030. For more on Canada’s bold action on coal transition, read my colleague Binnu Jeyakumar’s blog.

The next weigh station for Parties of the Paris Agreement will be the September 2019 United Nations Climate Summit, on the margins of the General Assembly in New York. The event will focus on finance, energy transition, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities and local action, and resilience and adaption. Most importantly, its aim is to provide a focus point for parties to increase ambition leading up to Summit and feeding into the 2020 cycle of UNFCCC. At next year’s climate conference COP25 in Chile, countries must demonstrate how they will go beyond their current Paris Agreement pledges and bend the emissions curve consistent with the warnings of the IPCC 1.5 report.

Now that COP24 is over, it’s time to get back to work. Canada has come a long way, and there’s an across the board recognition that we have a ways to go — but the knowledge and momentum to get there. Let’s continue to put in place Canada’s climate plan — the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change — and to make sure that the jobs of the clean economy continue to be created right here at home.


Isabelle Turcotte

Isabelle Turcotte is the director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, and is based in Ottawa.


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