by Kelsey MacEachern T’16
As a Canadian, there are few events that make me feel truly patriotic and proud. The Winter Olympics is one. The World Junior Hockey Championships is another. However, my patriotic sensibilities have been roused here at COP21, where Canada is taking a stand as a global climate leader. The new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is showing strength with his bold proclamations that “Canada is back” and initiating broad changes to the country’s current environmental targets. Specifically, Trudeau introduced the following five-point plan that Canada will use to address climate change:
- Policies that support the development of a low-carbon economy, including a national carbon price
- Working groups that include municipal, provincial and indigenous leaders
- Financial assistance for developing countries for climate adaptation and mitigation projects
- Utilizing climate change as an opportunity to incentivize and drive an innovative, efficient economy
- Committing to rigorous science-based decision making
While the details of the plan have not been fully fleshed out, the overall feedback towards Canada’s plan has been positive, both back at home and here in Paris.
In a breakout session that I attended on “the new role of climate finance, policy & law”, Canada made another strong impression. Canadian David Runnalls, distinguished fellow and former acting director for the Environment and Energy Program at the Center for International Governance Innovation, stood out among very strong call-to-action speeches from the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez; the President of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno; and Bianca Jagger. Runnalls proposed four key ideas, detailed below, for tackling climate change from an economic perspective that strongly resonated with myself and the audience, even going so far as to state that “this is really an economic conference”.
- Integrate climate change and sustainability into the international architecture for financial system reform
- Runnalls suggests that getting over the short-termism of markets is critical to encourage substantial investments in clean tech and other climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Additionally, in a view that is supported by many economists and climate change activists alike, fossil fuel companies are believed to be overvalued. This is due to the fact that the companies are valued based substantially on the value of their known fuel reserves and the expectation that these reserves will eventually be tapped and sold. However, if an agreement is reached to cap warming at 2 degrees Celsius, as is proposed, global emissions from fossil fuels will be capped at a level that will prevent a substantial portion of these reserves from being utilized. This is the concept of unburnable carbon or fuel, which will never be able to provide revenue for the fossil fuel companies.
- Claw back subsidies that have been given to the fossil fuel industry.
- Including permitting the damage caused by fossil fuels, Runnalls suggested that the fossil fuel industry has been subsidized by an equivalent of $6 trillion per year globally. While not proposing to begin fining the industry, he suggested that now is the time to eliminate any additional subsidies.
- Price carbon properly so as to adequately account for negative impacts.
- Runnalls does not expect far reaching carbon pricing initiatives to be agreed upon at COP21, despite global leaders and major banks clamoring for it. However, without a price put on the negative externality of carbon emissions, it will be difficult to induce behavioral changes in the market.
- Introduce government procurement programs biased towards technologies and behaviors that we want.
- Governments, particularly those in the west, have significant purchasing power, which can be leveraged to help drive changes in the market.
Canada certainly seems to be back, but I will wait until formal agreements have been established until I break out into my usual patriotic (hockey) cheer…. GO CANADA GO! GO CANADA GO!
Photos: Kelsey embraces Canada; breakout session on “The new role of climate finance, policy & law”, with Bianca Jagger is at the podium and David Runnalls fourth person from left.