For the first time in a decade, Canada will play a crucial role in climate change talks, says science journal Nature.
Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who arrived in Paris on Sunday, was quickly tapped by France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius to be one of 14 people to help carve out a deal to limit global warming at the UN’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) talks.
Joining McKenna will be Brazil’s environment minister Izabella Texeira, Tine Sundtoft of Norway, the U.K’s Amber Rudd, and Jochen Flasbarth from Germany, amongst others. The ministers are looking to wrap up the discussions by December 11.
“It is the first time in a decade that Canada has been asked to help with such negotiations,” notes Nature’s Chris Cesare.
On Sunday, negotiators from 195 countries presented a 48-page draft, and a general air of optimism surrounded the talks, despite the fact that it contained more than 900 areas of disagreement, including a lack of consensus of how quickly to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Some warn a deal will not be easy.
“All the difficult political issues remain unsolved, and will be solved by the ministers,” said the European Union’s Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete at a news conference. “Next week is the week of compromise; it’s a difficult week.”
Others, however, note that the failed Copenhagen conference of six years ago failed to even come up with a draft.
“The situation couldn’t be more different from Copenhagen … when delegations were more interested in grandstanding,” said Richard Black, Director of the non-profit Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, and a former BBC science writer.
McKenna was appointed Minister of Environment and Climate Change by new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on November 4, after defeating long-time NDP incumbent Paul Dewar in the riding of Ottawa Centre. She studied French and International Relations at the University of Toronto and completed a master’s degree in International Relations at the London School of Economics and a law degree at McGill. McKenna is a noted social justice lawyer and once provided advice to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor.
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A spokesman for McKenna said she would lead informal discussions on certain parts of the agreement. Fabius has said that each of the 14-strong team will be assigned a certain theme.
McKenna said Canada would support limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The United Nations, however, says current emissions reductions commitments would not even reach the agreed upon 2 Celsius mark. The “1.5 or 2” issue has become a major talking point around the conference.
Canada’s role in Paris marks a sharp contrast to Canada’s recent history in international discussion. At the 2009 talks in Copenhagen, then prime minister Stephen Harper said Canada would match the United States in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, something it ultimately backed away from.
But on November 30, as part of COP21’s opening address Trudeau signaled that that era was over.
“Canada is back, my friends,” he said. “We’re here to help.”