Environment

Together, Canada, China and the EU Can Fill Trump's Climate Leadership Void

A critical summit offers the chance for 34 major world economies to raise their collective climate efforts—without the aid of the U.S.

(L-R): Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Photo Credit: L: 360b; C: Belish; R: 360b / Shutterstock

This weekend, environment ministers from more than 30 countries are meeting in Montreal at the invitation of Canada, the European Union and China. They may be just a short flight away from the Trump administration, but these governments are a world away in terms of their determination to speed up climate action.

The meeting takes place against the backdrop of catastrophic weather events, reinforcing the urgent need to increase ambition in responding and adapting to a changing climate. Nothing shows that more than the ferocious string of storms that just hit the Caribbean and southern United States—among the worst ever seen. This, just weeks after millions of people in South Asia were struck by the most devastating floods to hit that region in a decade.

Welcome to the new normal.

Over the 800,000 years leading up to the middle of the 20th century, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations never exceeded 300 parts per million (ppm). In July 2017, they reached 406 ppm. This increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is resulting in a rise in average global temperatures, with 2016 the warmest year yet.

With rising emissions, scientists expect more frequent and more severe weather events to keep coming.  Outside of the headlines, the chronic effects on lives and livelihoods are also dramatic – from lands becoming uninhabitable due to sea level rise, to the stress caused by increasing heat, failed crops or changing rainfall patterns.

Taking action on climate change has therefore never been more urgent.

Canada, the European Union and China are sending a powerful signal that they are willing to fill the leadership void created by the Trump Administration backing out of the Paris agreement. This weekend’s summit in Montreal offers the chance for governments to raise their collective efforts and demonstrate how they are leading by example.

A good case in point is the recent announcement to ban gasoline and diesel vehicles coming out of the U.K., France, India and Norway, which could dramatically change the demand for fossil fuels. Following such ambitious moves, China is also considering similar actions.

Meanwhile, Canada is implementing a national carbon price. The European Union is revising its emissions-trading system. China is launching a nationwide cap-and-trade system this year, while moving to scale up climate finance and take aggressive actions such as investing in zero carbon energy, near-zero emissions buildings and climate adaptation. Efforts towards linking these markets can broaden the coverage and improve emission reduction efforts.

The Paris agreement has climate finance as one of its key pillars. With U.S. federal support expected to decline, the international community must step in to fill the gap. In addition to financial support for developing countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change, industrialized nations should accelerate technology transfer that can support developing countries in their efforts to adapt to a changing climate.

Countries should also aim to integrate and link environmental outcomes with international trade. The three hosts, with others, should push for an agreement at the World Trade Organization Ministerial meeting later this year to scale up clean technology and clean energy trade through establishment of a club of like-minded countries working towards zero tariffs, the elimination of non-tariff barriers and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

This weekend’s meeting can demonstrate a commitment to working together, in particularly with lower-income countries. In a few months, France is expected to host a similar event, with another hosted by the state of California in 2018.

Such gatherings are symbolic, however, unless they are backed by strong political will and ambitious actions. There is an opportunity here for the international community to showcase in tangible form its unwavering commitment to moving forward on climate action.

Recent scenes of devastation—from Dhaka to Mumbai to Houston to Miami, and many other places—must serve as a forceful wake up call to us all.

We can’t afford not to act.

 

Pan Jiahua is Director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), based in Beijing.

Andrew Norton is Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), based in London.

Scott Vaughan is President of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), based in Ottawa.

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