“I Predict All-Nighters’: Elizabeth May at COP25

Former Canadian Green Party leader and regular Policy contributor Elizabeth May will be filing all week from COP25 in Madrid. This is her first dispatch.

Elizabeth May

Dec. 9th, 2019

MADRID — The governments of the world have met every single year since 1995 to add precision and ambition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — all the while failing miserably.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the signatories to the UNFCCC — also known as the Conference of the Parties (hence COP) — does this to advance, at an excruciatingly slow pace, progress under the UNFCCC, which was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. A “party” is any nation that has signed and ratified the 1992 climate treaty. All nations on earth have done so.

In 1992, every nation accepted the science and committed to reducing greenhouse gases to avoid levels that could be “dangerous.” Canada was in the lead back then, when former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made a commitment to freeze our level of emissions at 1990 levels. Instead, globally, we have burned more fossil fuels between 1992 and today than between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and 1992. Canada’s emissions are now 17 percent higher than they were when we made the pledge at Rio.

So, here we are in Madrid. Today, Monday, marked the beginning of the second week at the 25th COP. While every COP has the same rhythm, some are more intense than others. Negotiations are predictably slow. Major sticking points remain around Article 6 — the last remaining section of the Paris Agreement needing clear rules of application. Article 6 deals with global carbon markets — an area where lax rules could undermine the whole agreement. As the high-level negotiations on Article 6 get underway, it occurs to me that our best outcome might be to leave the article dormant. We’ll see how the negotiations unfold. I predict all-nighters.

Meanwhile, there were some rays of hope. Today, in the midst of the annual COP “Fossil of the Day Awards,” a rare “Ray of the Day” was awarded to Denmark for completing its climate legislation. This huge achievement cleared its last hurdles on Friday. The law — like the one Justin Trudeau promised in our recent election campaign — commits Denmark to carbon neutrality by 2050. Like Trudeau’s pledge, Denmark’s law commits to legally binding targets at five-year intervals.

The first of Denmark’s intervals starts where we should — in 2020. And unlike Canada, Denmark is serious about reaching 2050 neutrality. Its climate pledge is to cut its emissions 70 percent below its 1990 levels by 2030. Canada’s target is still 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

More good news from New Zealand, where Green Leader James Shaw is the Climate Minister. Working closely with Labour leader and prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, they managed to gain all-party support for their law — passed in early November. It also commits to carbon neutrality — or close to it — by 2050 with an independent Climate Change Commission setting targets derived from science in five-year increments.

Catching up with James today at COP25, he stressed how important it was to have achieved a bipartisan consensus on the NZ law. Knowing that all parties are onside “really drives the market,” he told me. It is already shifting investments in a big way.

So, rays of hope are wonderful to find. Canada’s new environment and climate change minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, arrives tomorrow. Against the odds, I keep hoping Canada will surprise.

Elizabeth May is the former leader of the Green Party of Canada.

Click here to read the article as it was originally published in Policy Magazine.