10/11/2016 09:47 EDT | Updated 10/11/2016 09:48 EDT

We Need To Move From Climate Commitment To Climate Action

LARS HAGBERG via Getty Images
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a press conference in Ottawa, Ontario, September 21, 2016. / AFP / Lars Hagberg (Photo credit should read LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

By Deborah Glaser

Last Wednesday, climate ambition became climate action. That was the message heard around the world as Canada and the European Union approved the Paris Agreement ratification. With this step, the global agreement has effectively crossed the threshold to enter into force.

The agreement, which aims to limit further warming to well below two degrees Celsius, signals a significant shift in global cooperation and the recognition of the need for urgent action on climate change. For Canada, it means that we really are back. We've stepped onto the global stage and positioned ourselves as leaders in the transition to a sustainable low carbon future.

But make no mistake. While we should celebrate today, we still have a long way to go. We need to move from commitments to action. Canada's official development assistance (ODA) must begin to reflect a coherent policy that does not sacrifice advances in the fight against climate change with business as usual carbon-intensive investments.

Last Monday, Trudeau announced a national carbon pricing plan that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. Just the week before, however, he approved the massive Pacific NorthWest LNG energy project that environmental leaders such as David Suzuki warn could undermine all our climate commitments.

We need to rethink our countries of focus and differentiate them from designated countries of climate vulnerability.

Overseas, the legacy of the Harper government includes current megaprojects worth tens of millions of dollars in Tanzania and Mozambique and promotion of Canadian mining interests at home and abroad. We cannot spend tens of millions of dollars promoting a low carbon future while also spending tens of millions promoting extractives.

With the Agreement in full force, Canada can pivot its approach to international assistance to reflect real policy coherence. We need to support small-scale, decentralized clean energy programs that promote pro-poor, gender sensitive projects. Such programming would provide the added benefit of complementing the Green Climate Fund's call for investments in renewables that promote North-South partnerships toward the uptake of clean energy.

We need to rethink our countries of focus and differentiate them from designated countries of climate vulnerability. After all, climate vulnerable countries and their needs are often different than countries of focus in terms of their development assistance. The Philippines, for example, faces huge threats from climate change and extreme weather events, while Afghanistan remains one of Canada's largest recipients of ODA for humanitarian relief and recovery.

To support such efforts, the $2.65 billion Trudeau pledged last November to help developing countries tackle climate change must be additional financing, separate from ODA, to be sure that it gets to the communities that need it most. Going a step further, Canada should increase its funding even more.

Based on precedents, Canada's contribution could grow to $4 billion by 2020 to represent a three-per-cent to four-per-cent contribution of the US$100 billion promised in the Paris Agreement. This funding, if made available to civil society and public-private partnerships, could provide a pathway for much needed innovation in addressing climate change.

Such lofty goals will require an immediate time-bound whole of government approach that works across all levels -- global, national, provincial and municipal -- to build the political will necessary for this kind of transformation. It will require creative partnerships and immediate involvement from stakeholders across government, civil society and private sectors. It will require new ideas and new technologies, along with bold leadership. Leadership that Canada must wield responsibly in its commitment to a low carbon, sustainable future both at home and abroad.

Deborah Glaser is the Senior Policy Analyst at the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) and Founding Secretary of the Mediterranean Cities Climate Change Consortium (MC-4), an international network for building resiliency to climate change among cities in the five Mediterranean-climate regions.

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