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In 1992, Canada joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) along with 153 other nations. By 1994 the agreement became official with currently a universal membership with 195 Parties. As a signatory, Canada is part of the Conference of Parties (COP) and annually participates in their sessions and negotiations. 

Within the COP, Canada is part of the Annex I countries meaning our government is committed to lowering GHG emissions to a target set below its 1990 levels. They had to allocate reduced annual allowances to major GHG emitters within their boarders. These operators can only exceed these set levels if and when they buy emission allowances. If not, they will have to offset their excess by methods that have to be agreed upon by all parties to the UNFCCC.  Canada is required to report on its actions to meet its commitments by submitting an annual inventory of its GHG emissions by April 15 of each year. Apart from reducing its climate change impacts, Canada is also supposed to provide monetary and technical aid to developing countries to negate the affects of climate change. 

In 2005 Canada hosted COP11 in Montreal attended by over 10,000 delegates making it one of the largest international climate change conferences and one of Canada’s largest international events ever. This event saw the agreement of The Montreal Action Plan to "extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol beyond its 2012 expiration date and negotiate deeper cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions." Then Environment Minister, Stéphane Dion said it would provide a "map for the future."

In 2009, COP15 took place in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was also the only COP attended by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His national statement, delivered by then Environment Minister of Canada Jim Prentice, made no commitments to reduce emissions, no specific funding amount and no apology for Canada’s role in climate change. Canada’s national statement was referred to as an “insult to the world” especially to the most vulnerable countries adversely affected by climate change. 

After chaotic negotiations, Canada signed the Copenhagen Accord. Under the agreement, the Canadian government committed to doing its part in mitigating climate change by reducing GHG emissions by 17 percent below the 2005 level by 2020.  This accord outlines Canada’s provision along with other industrialized countries towards the fast-start financing. This initiative is to help developing countries reduce emissions.

In 2011, Canada signed an international agreement to take steps to ensure that carbon emissions would remain below 2°C at the UN climate talks in Cancun in 2011. However there was no mention of this target at COP19. 

“Canada has unilaterally walked away from its international climate commitments including the Kyoto Protocol and the 2009 Copenhagen Accord” said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a German climate science research organization. 

COP 19 in 2013 saw world leaders backing away from the 2015 target for a global climate treaty that was to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Canada was not on track to meet its previous commitment to GHG reductions. Former Irish president Mary Robinson said, “Canada is one of the countries that has benefited from fossil fuel growth and has a responsibility to give leadership.” She said countries like Canada must “leave that bitumen, oil and gas in the ground” if the word is supposed to tackle climate change. \\

At COP19, Green Party leader Elizabeth May was part of the Afghanistan delegation because she was not allowed by the Harper government to be part of the Canadian delegation. 

At COP20 in Lima, Peru, then Environment Minister Hon. Leona Aglukkaq who represented Canada mentioned “under the fast-start financing initiative the government of Canada fully delivered on this commitment to provide $1.2 billion in funding to support a range of projects to help more than 60 developing countries adapt to climate change and increase renewable energy.” As part of COP, Canada has also committed to helping developing nations adapt to climate change. So far, Canada has provided $300 million to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a UNFCCC fund dedicated to supporting developing nations in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change. 

In 2014, in a speech at the UN Climate Summit at the United Nations in New York, Aglukkaq said that Canada was doing its part to reduce GHG emissions. She referred to emissions in the transportation and electricity sectors and made no mention of reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector, the largest source of GHGs in Canada. 

In May 2015, Aglukkaq also announced Canada’s “ambitious” target of reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and submitted the target to the UNFCCC. However when asked for an exact a number by the parliamentary committee, her staff were unable to provide a concrete number in megatonnes to support that target. 

Visit to follow our reporting from COP21 in Paris to see how Canada’s climate change commitments may or may not change under our new government. 

Naomi Roy is an artist and a fourth year Planning student at the University of Waterloo. 

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