Expert insight on the Paris climate conference

Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015

Globe surrounded by buildings representing major cities around the world. There is a map of Paris in the middle.

By Linda Scales and Johanne Adam

COP 21, the Paris climate change conference will be taking place from November 30 to December 11. Many heads of state and government will attend, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and most, if not all, of the premiers.

The Gazette wanted to gain some insight into the event, so we turned to some of our experts here at uOttawa and asked them the following question: What are your hopes and desires for Paris 2015?

John M. Last, OC, MD

Emeritus professor, University of Ottawa
School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine

Canada has a great deal of lost ground to make up. The Harper government’s feeble targets for greenhouse gas reduction were the lowest of any developed nation, so low as to be derisory. It will probably be impossible to set realistic revised targets before the main Paris conference but I believe it should be possible to specify provisional revised targets.

In addition, Canada should be able to offer funds to support the efforts of the poorest developing nations.

Antoni G. Lewkowicz

Professor, Department of Geography
President, International Permafrost Association

I look forward to Canada becoming part of the pack. I do not think that it’s reasonable to expect the new federal government (and our new minister, Catherine McKenna) to become an international leader in relation to climate change policies in four weeks. But, at least, assisted by some of the progressive policies put in place by provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario, Canada can stop being at the back.

We have a single planetary atmosphere, and so, we need global action. Whether COP21 will lead to important progress is unclear, but with the U.S. interested, the chances are better than they have been for many years.

Brigitte Morin

BSc Environmental Science — Climate Change, uOttawa
Waste diversion coordinator

I sincerely hope that as a team, world leaders will be able to come up with realistic targets to decrease the current rate at which we are producing CO2, and that they will actually work towards attaining these targets.

I also hope media coverage will highlight the importance of this conference and climate change, because education is needed! It seems like the general population, in Canada at least, is not taking any of this seriously since we do not experience visible and highly problematic environmental impacts, contrary to other countries.

Jonathan Rausseo

LEED Green Associate Campus sustainability manager
Office of Campus Sustainability

The Paris 2015 conference could be a turning point for the global response to human-produced climate change. My hope is that through the negotiations, the parties are able to establish a clear target with rewards for those who comply and penalties for those who do not.

Ultimately, though, I care about what happens afterwards. Can Canada create meaningful targets and a clear mechanism to achieve our goals? If we can do that I will be very happy.

Anthony Heyes

BA MA (Cambridge) PhD (McGill)
Full professor of economics
Full professor, Institute of the Environment
Senior (Tier 1) Canada research chair in environmental economics
Department of Economics

What I am looking for will be binding targets from key players, backed up by meaningful mechanisms for review-and-verification. The UNFCCC has a really poor track record on surveillance, yet there is no reason why it should be behind other international bodies like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, who are much more robust in their practices. Am I optimistic? More than I have been for a while. Primarily because the Obama administration looks serious about leadership. The United States have been pushing the transparency agenda hard over the past year, and progress on transparency is the key precondition for credible commitments. With a Democrat president looking likely to be returned to the White House in 2016 we can hopefully look forward to some continuity on this file.

The other area that needs rethinking is the way in which climate science and social science is done. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process has become politicized and has lost credibility at a critical time. Whether this is a topic of discussion at Paris or after, the IPCC, with its convoluted approval processes, is no longer fit for purpose and needs to be either replaced or heavily remodelled. Science should be left to the scientists without the meddling of bureaucratic fingers, and faux consensus should not be the objective.

Philippe J. Crabbe

Department of Economics, Faculty of Social Sciences
Natural resources (oil, gas, water), energy, environment (climate change, sustainable development)

Joseph Stiglitz, Noble laureate in economics, said that the Paris conference would be a “charade.” The reason for his frustration, no doubt, is that an agreement based entirely on voluntary commitments can only have a limited effect on climate, since their cost could be high for some countries while the benefits of any voluntary commitment by these countries would be diffuse. Since all countries would benefit from these commitments, it just takes one country to “freeload,” to wait, be a freeloader, to do nothing while reaping the benefits of its neighbour’s commitments.

The “charade” will probably not take place. The large countries, the big polluters, have an interest in making commitments, because they’re in a position to reap the benefits themselves: that’s the case with China, which must solve its air pollution problem, and to a certain extent, North America, whose west is suffering from drought.

Sharon O’Sullivan

Associate professor, School of International and Global Studies 
Associate professor, Telfer School of Management
Institute of the Environment, University of Ottawa

My hopes for COP21 are that government and industry stakeholders develop policies (with teeth) that would improve businesses’ responsible management of our environment.

Specifically, all governments should change their approach to subsidizing diverse economic sectors, notably by the cessation of all subsidies to the oil and gas sector, other than those targeted at the incorporation of cleantech into their processes.

An international oversight committee should be established to ensure that subsidies are directed as promised within the oil and gas sector: increased subsidies to the cleantech sector to enable it to be globally and locally competitive and  concrete incentives to our “dirtiest” manufacturing sectors to reduce their carbon footprint.

I hope that Canada’s business schools agree that business students at all levels be required to pass a national eco-literacy exam, so that they not only graduate with an awareness that climate change is happening, but so that they also graduate with basic eco-literacy regarding the interconnected web of consequences.

Canada’s myriad business professional associations (e.g., HRPA, accounting and finance professional associations, Canadian Marketing Association, etc.) should also respond to the conference by publicly announcing how their professionals can contribute to environmental sustainability.

Finally, I hope to see substantially improved engagement with our Aboriginal communities in the shift toward clean energy.  Many Aboriginal communities live in Third World conditions, on land that is ripe for clean energy projects. Co-ownership in new clean energy projects would be a win-win outcome (for their communities, and for Canada’s clean energy supply). Our government should put significant resources behind the development of Aboriginal capacity for this purpose.

Adam Oliver Brown

B.Sc. (Environmental Science)
H.B.Sc. (Ecology and Evolution), Ph.D. (Ecology)
Professor, Dept. of Biology
uOttawa Sustainable Development Committee

I don’t think Trudeau has any apologies to offer for the last decade of inaction and obstruction of climate progress by the Harper government, but I do think that Canada will be seen to have some making up to do on the world stage. Canada can demonstrate our expression of good will by consulting and communicating with other nation parties and by committing to real action for carbon reduction here at home over the next several years.

Back to top