Guilbeault says he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about UN climate summit – National | Globalnews.ca
Canada has two “very heavy weeks” ahead as the government gears up for negotiations at the United Nations climate change conference, says Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.
International officials are set to meet in Scotland starting Sunday as they try to ramp up efforts to curb global warming, with the risk of failure hanging over their heads amid mounting tensions over unmetfunding promises.
Guilbeault saidhe is “cautiously optimistic” about how talks will progress, citing a joint report from Canada and Germany this week that they expect rich countries to step up on a pledge to provide developing nations with US$100 billion in annual aid to tackle global warming _ a decade-old commitment that has so far fallen short.
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“That being said, it’s not always enough to show up. We can’t always agree,” he said at a virtual news conference Friday.
“These are difficult negotiations. Everyone is not necessarily ready to do more or do more faster,” he added in French.
The UN summit, known as COP26 and delayed one year by COVID-19, is intended to finalize the rule book for the Paris accord, including how carbon emissions trading can work between countries and what each country has to report about progress toward climate goals.
Major hurdles remain. Emissions from the burning of oil, coal and natural gas have continued to rise, except for a small dip due to the pandemic.
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Over the next decade, countries are slated to emit at least 28 billion more tonnes of carbon pollution each year than the cap required to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 C, a UN report said this week.
As recently as Tuesday Australia, a major coal and gas producer, pledged to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, but said it will not enshrine the target in legislation, relying instead on consumers and companies to take on the task.
Guilbeault said sometimes there is a tendency to see climate conferences as being like hockey or football games, where some countries emerge winners and others losers.
“When in reality, I think the most prudent approach to take when there are negotiations on climate is to see it as a continuum. Sometimes it goes better, sometimes not quite so well,” he said in French.
The Trudeau government vowed in April to slash Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels within the next decade. In the recent election campaign, the Liberals also pledged to reduce the oil and gas sector’s methane emissions by 75 per cent below 2012 levels.
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On top of these promises, Guilbeault pointed to Canada’s co-chairing with Germany of the UN task force on how to meet the conference’s goal of massive climate funding for poorer states.
“The international community had very little faith in us, and I think that is clear evidence that the situation has changed,” Guilbeault told reporters in French.
The former environmental activist noted he had been to many previous UN climate summits, where he said Canada did not play a prominent role.
The world’s wealthiest countries failed to meet a 2009 goal to provide the developing world with US$100 billion in climate aid by 2020 _ and won’t get there for another two years, a new analysis showed Monday.
The news threatens to cast a pall over the climate talks in Glasgow, which run this weekend through Nov. 12.
The climate finance plan outlined Monday stemmed from a collaboration between former environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Germany’s state secretary for the environment, Jochen Flasbarth. The two were asked in July by COP26 president designate Alok Sharma to figure out countries’ precise financing pledges through to 2025.
The duo spent the past three months wrangling new commitments out of various governments, with Sweden and New Zealand offering fresh pledges and Italy among the most notable holdouts. Canada has promised to double its climate aid to more than $1 billion a year for the next five years.
Guilbeault has found himself having to reckon with his past role as a Greenpeace activist since being sworn in as environment minister Tuesday.
He expressed opposition to pipelines in years leading up to his election as a Montreal MP in 2019, when his announcement as a candidate came just three days after the Trudeau government re-approved the Trans Mountain expansion.
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“When I came into politics in 2019 we had already bought a pipeline,” said Guilbeault, referring to the government’s decision later that year to purchase Trans Mountain.
“I’ve said since then that I wasn’t going to rewrite history. I think what’s important is to look at what we’re doing to reduce emissions in Canada.”
Guilbeault also uttered indirect support for the Liberal stance on Line 5, a cross-border pipeline that Michigan aims to shut down. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he favours a negotiated settlement in the dispute between the state and Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.
“My government has announced in the past that we support the continued operation of Line 5,” Guilbeault said, when asked if he backed the twin line that runs along the lake bed beneath the ecologically sensitive Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Pushed on the question, he continued: “Being part of the government, I support my government’s position.”
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One glaring in-person absence from the UN summit will be China’s Xi Jinping, who has not left China for nearly two years as part of the country’s pandemic measures.
“We recognize in Canada that we must do more, and all the large emitters around the globe, including China, which is the largest one, must do more to fight climate change. So it would have been desirable for the Chinese president to be there,” Guilbeault said.
China is the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, followed by the United States and the countries that comprise the European Union.
Canada, along with the U.S. and Australia, is among the top three biggest carbon-dioxide emitters per capita in the world, according to a recent UN scientific paper.
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