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Canada's key role at COP26

Canada's key role at COP26

Canada's key role at COP26

In interview with Prof Mark Winfield

By Caryn Ceolin

Posted Oct 31, 2021, 3:41PM EDT.

Last Updated Oct 31, 2021, 5:06PM EDT.


  • World leaders are gathering in Glasgow for COP26 to confront what climate scientists warn is the disaster ahead.
  • Experts want to see more ambitious national emissions reduction targets and climate financing put on the table.
  • The non-participation at COP26 of leaders of heavy-polluters China and Russia, “is very, very problematic.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other world leaders flew to Scotland on Sunday for high-stakes climate talks, under pressure to take more decisive action to slow the warming of our planet.

The leaders are gathering in Glasgow for a United Nations climate conference, known as COP26, to confront what climate scientists warn is the disaster ahead.

“We’re looking for the participating countries to put more ambitious targets on the table in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mark Winfield, professor of environmental and urban change at York University. “We’re also looking for a firming up of commitments around financial assistance to countries in the Global South, who may be in difficulty in terms of energy transitions and increasingly dealing with the impacts of climate change.”

The 26th conference formally opened as the Group of 20 summit in Rome drew to a close. There, heads of government from G20 nations, which account for about 80 per cent of global emissions, agreed to take “meaningful and effective” action to cap global warming at the 1.5 degrees Celsius level.

But the final statement offered few concrete commitments, to the disappointment of climate activists and the Canadian prime minister.

“There’s no question that Canada, along with a number of other countries, would have liked stronger language and stronger commitments,” Trudeau said at the Italian summit. “But we did make significant progress on recognizing 1.5 degrees as the ambition we need to share.”

“The prime minister made climate change one of the central themes of his re-election campaign, and Canadians have clearly signalled that climate change is the number one issue on their minds,” said Hélène Emorine, a senior researcher with the G20 Research Group. “I think it would not be possible for the prime minister to come back from his trips abroad without clear deliverables.”

Emorine told CityNews she was hoping for a G20 commitment on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, which would help affirm the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C.

“The G20 first made this commitment in 2009, but in 2019 collectively, it contributed over $75 billion to fossil fuels,” Emorine said. “According to our research, this is an area where Canada particularly has been a laggard.”

The 1.5C threshold is considered the danger line between averting a catastrophic acceleration of severe weather events and triggering lasting changes to life as we know it.

“Canada has already put substantial national commitments on the table,” said Winfield, who points to Trudeau’s pledge earlier this year to reduce Canada’s emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030. Initially, Canada was aiming for a 30 per cent reduction.

Canada is also working with Germany to raise $100 billion a year to help developing countries tackle climate change.

“It’s now questions of operationalizing these commitments,” Winfield said.

He explained to CityNews turning promises into action would require a tightening of the rules around reporting emissions by countries.

But he added the non-participation at COP26 of leaders of heavy-polluters China and Russia, and India’s refusal to commit to a net-zero emissions target, “is very, very problematic.”

“Then you’ve got the situation with [President Joe Biden], who I think personally is very committed to action…but he’s got this problem where he can’t deliver because he can’t get climate legislation through Congress,” said Winfield. “It could be a difficult time at the COP to see real progress.”