Tom Mulcair: Trudeau commits to the climate at COP26

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SAINT-SAUVEUR, QUEBEC – The recent Glasgow conference and this week’s “Three Amigos” meeting in Washington will give Canada the opportunity to fulfill its original promise to play a leading role in the fight against climate change .

“Canada is back, my good friends”! This was wishful thinking from Justin Trudeau as he spoke at the Paris Climate Conference shortly after his election in 2015.

The reality turned out to be trickier than that.

When Trudeau returned to Canada, he quietly announced that he would stick to Stephen Harper’s goals and deadlines and we never even met them.

NAFTA was the first major international trade agreement to tackle the complex problem of the environment. U.S. lawmakers rightly feared manufacturing jobs would be shipped south to Mexico, where lax environmental rules would make mining cheaper for many.

A side environmental agreement was signed and an Environmental Cooperation Commission, headquartered in Canada, was created. Overall it is a success.

Joe Biden also made important environmental promises when he was running for president a year ago. His plan, presented in detail, included new rules to tax “free riders” at the border.

Countries that refuse to meet their international obligations to reduce greenhouse gases would see financial sanctions attached to their exports. If American companies were now to internalize these environmental costs, one would expect everyone to do so. It was pay now or pay later. But everyone would pay.

Once again, reality turned out to be trickier than theory.

In Biden’s first year in office, as the pandemic ended and the economy intensified, the United States burned 100 million more tonnes of coal than in Trump’s last year. A spectacular and dangerous failure.

Canada’s numbers for 2021 (not officially available for two years) will in all likelihood be just as disappointing, for the same reason, even though we burn much less coal per capita.

There is nothing new in the idea of ​​punishing thugs who do not respect international environmental rules. At the start of the Kyoto Protocol, the then French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, realized the economic folly of respecting international rules when your trading partners do not. He simply said that countries which did not respect this agreement should be taxed.

It took several years to get there, but Trudeau’s statement in Glasgow that all countries should have a carbon tax similar to Canada’s brought the notion of Villepin back to the fore. It is now understood and is beginning to be accepted.

If another country produces aluminum or steel using electricity produced by burning coal, disregarding its international obligations, your country should be allowed to level the playing field by charging the polluter. . Dirty steel or aluminum should not be protected by international trade rules. He should be taxed and therefore discouraged. Countries whose manufacturers bear the costs of compliance have the right to have those costs imposed on outliers.

This is where the “Three Amigos” come in.

Nobel Prize-winning economist William Nordhaus uses the abbreviated term “climate clubs” to describe agreements where jurisdictions partner with rules to reduce greenhouse gases by rewarding or penalizing the good or the bad. results. The Western Climate Initiative between California and Quebec is a good example.

Given our long experience of mutual relations and the fact that the environment has been part of our trilateral trade relationship from the start, it would be natural for Canada, Mexico and the United States to show the way and become the most important ” climate club. “

As was the case with international free trade agreements, other jurisdictions would be encouraged to follow suit and start enforcing environmental standards at the border.

There has been a lot of debate as to whether Glasgow was, on the whole, a success or a failure.

I think it was a success.

For the first time, no one was even trying to question the science. This battle seems won. Climate change in general and global warming in particular are caused by human activity. Failure to act by reducing greenhouse gases will have a devastating effect on ecosystems, biodiversity and, ultimately, human life.

This is the easy part. Now the hard part begins.

When India balked at signing a deal that spoke of a “phase-out” of coal, arguing instead for a “phase-out”, many saw it as a capitulation. I see it as refreshing honesty. Unlike Paris where everyone signed on the dotted line, gave high fives, came home and… did nothing, Glasgow is real.

India knew it did not yet have the manufacturing depth or economic resilience of China to quickly introduce green and renewable substitutes for coal. It was simply telling the truth.

Emerging economies can and should gain support from countries whose advanced industries have been polluting the planet for much longer. However, reducing their greenhouse gases is an obligation, not an option.

Glasgow was a turning point for Canada on the world stage. The superb performance of the new Minister of the Environment Stephen Guilbeault, who is well respected internationally, made a strong impression on us and Trudeau.

We are now fortunate enough to play a role we have not been accustomed to since the early 1970s when John Turner and Pierre Trudeau adopted a “sustainable development” approach internationally, long before the term came into existence. be invented.

Precisely because we are such an important energy producer, Canada’s ability to prove that it can be done will help force the hand of other laggards, like Australia. The planet and future generations will be the beneficiaries.

Tom Mulcair was the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.


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