In 2015, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was reached – a landmark environmental deal hailed as the first universal accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). It replaced the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and escalated global efforts to find alternatives to fossil fuels in an effort to halt Earth’s rising temperatures.
The Kyoto agreement exempted developing countries like China and did not include the United States, two of the world’s leading emitters of GHGs, an absence that weakened its effectiveness and four years later led to Canada becoming the first nation to opt out.
Amid a media scrum outside the House of Commons in December 2011, then Minister of the Environment Peter Kent said, “We remain committed to negotiating an international climate change agreement that works. That means getting a pact that involves all major emitters.”
Since the first countries signed the Paris Agreement in December 2015, 195 nations have come on board. Replacing the defunct Kyoto Protocol, the Paris deal signals broad international commitment to keeping the rise in global temperatures below two degrees, a level beyond which scientists think there could be catastrophic consequences.
This past May, a group of scientists working on behalf of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a report on the unprecedented decline and potential extinction of species, co-authored in part by University of British Columbia professor Kai Chan. It’s a roadmap for how to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, beginning with stricter rules for global carbon emissions, reduction in emissions from land use like agriculture and deforestation, and investing in technologies that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Over the next 10 years, Canada has pledged to cut its emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels. To help achieve these targets, the federal government introduced a carbon tax. Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan opposed the government’s carbon pricing scheme and chose individual paths; in provinces that already had other carbon pricing measures, such as Alberta, B.C. and Quebec, nothing changed, since they have models Ottawa deems acceptable. The topic continues to be debated, while global emissions continue to rise.