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A Brief History of Canada's Climate Pledge Setting [its all about the PM]

Forgetting the past means we are likely to make the same mistakes again, or so goes the old adage. So, what can we learn from our GHG target setting in both the Kyoto and Copenhagen eras? Lots actually, but then again nothing -- its all about the PM.

Alignment has been part of the negotiated settlement since Kyoto. In the past UNFCCC target setting was driven strongly by peer pressure among leaders of the G7. For Kyoto, alignment with the US -7% target lead to Canada’s -6%, with a -1% allowance for natural gas exports (clean energy exprots). US alignment with Japan (-6%) however actually dictated Canada’s contribution through our alignment with the US. Copenhagen was a case of pure harmonization with the US.

The Prime Minister’s announcement in December 2014 that Canada would contribute to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a case in point how the peer pressure within world leaders can pivot political choices. The announcement by the Prime Minister to support the GCF with $300 million was a significant policy pivot, catalyzed by G20 commitments made by other world leaders at the Brisbane Summit in November 2014. The announcement caught the bureaucracy off-guard and was well in advance of their option analysis to be put before cabinet.

This move by the Prime Minister is a clear indication that anything can happen when world leaders get together and rub elbows.

The slow death of target setting consultation. From the earliest moments of Kyoto in the 1990’s, there was a good working relationship in Canada between industry, provinces and the federal government on national target setting However, as geopolitical peer pressure sought deeper Kyoto targets at the Kyoto Conference, fractures emerged as the prime minister strayed from the agreed position. In the lead up to Copenhagen, target setting consultations occurred to a much lesser degree than in the lead up to Kyoto.

Today, contribution setting consultation is totally absent in the development of Canada’s post-2020 national contribution.

This then is the lesson, where the negotiated settlements in Canada are lost to international negotiation and political dynamics. National level commitments that are offside with agreed outcomes then hurts the domestic cohesion built up around targets, most notably in the Kyoto era. This fracture of the Kyoto-era Canadian coalition still exist today, with mistrust between industry and provinces on one side and the federal government on the other.

Modelling insight barely informs target setting. Canada’s Kyoto target setting process did start from the Kyoto era with analytical modelling to see what could be done at what price. This continues today, with a strong brain trust build up inside and outside government to assess mitigation pathways. But at best analysis and modeling sets acceptable ranges or pathways while political settlements dictate final levels. Copenhagen is a case in point: modelling knowledge at the time knew alignment with the US on overall targets would be challenging given very different national circumstances yet it was politically expedient to adopt alignment.

Negotiating goodwill lost. Canada has lost much if not all of its goodwill accumulated in early UNFCCC negotiations. The loss of goodwill will make it difficult for Canada to propose contributions that are outside an accepted range, or to gain concessions within the iNDC setting process based on national circumstances.

The discussion below provides more detail on these points.

Canada’s target setting in the Kyoto era. In setting Kyoto targets, effort was not initially benchmarked to address global science concerns (i.e. 2oC for example), and instead the EU’s focus on reductions below 1990 drove the international target setting process. Of course the 1990 base year was convenient for the EU given deindustrialization in Eastern Europe and the U.K. But still, it was the EUs initial position that set the benchmark that ultimately influenced the selection of Canada’s Kyoto target. Also strongly influencing the outcome was an effort to align with the US, and the US’s ultimate alignment with Japan.

Initially the target talk in the lead up to COP 1 in Berlin in 1995 did not seek to differentiate effort between countries but instead looked to equivalency of effort between Annex 1 nations. The initial EU proposal of -15% below 1990 fixated initial thinking on the target range. Countries then went off and thought about what was achievable. Canada commissioned some initial modelling to reveal the implications of alternative targets and more or less diligently started a process to think about target setting, including a consultation process with industry and provinces. Consultations are characterized from that time as cooperative, with the federal government responsive to both industry and provincial preferences.

The Ozone Agreement became the governance model for implementation of a new global agreement, with a technical unit established that became the UNFCCC. As in the Ozone Agreement, targets were to be differentiated by developed countries first with developing countries to follow later. This bundling of target definition and architecture negotiation was to become the fixture of the COP process, including in the lead-up to Paris in 2015. This implies that before and after COP 21 in Paris, contribution setting is very much as important as setting the global policy architecture that is to emerge post-Paris.

In the lead up to COP 3 in Kyoto, it was clear that the price of membership in the G7 was to take on targets at Cop 3 under Kyoto. By this time, the -15% below 1990 of the EU had softened considerably to a range of -5% to -8%. But this range softened further as the US looked at its own compliance costs and talked a stabilization target.

At the time, the Canadian federal government was working closely with provinces and industry to determine a suitable target for Canada. It was more or less agreed that aligning with the US, as was to happen later at Copenhagen, would be the Canadian position. Also present in the lead up to COP 3 in Kyoto was a unified position with industry around market mechanisms that would underpin the global policy architecture.

But at COP 3 in Kyoto the then Prime Minister Chretien, literally within days of formally committing to a target, decided to show global leadership and pledged -3% below 1990.

This decision as it turns out has had long standing ramifications for climate policy in Canada, causing a split between major emitting provinces and industry on one side and the federal government on the other. Chretien’s unilateral move successfully alienated provinces and industry leaving the federal government to go it alone. Chretien's flip also turned indusrty aganst the process, which ultimaltey and paradoxically manifested as opposition to adopting the Kyoto market mechanisms to help implement the global deal.

As the hours ticked by prior to formal announcements in front of the COP, Canada gained a concession of 1% below the U.S for its natural gas exports to accommodate for that particular national circumstance. As it came time for countries to read out the targets to the COP, Canada scrambled to determine the final US number. As it turned out, the US sought to align with Japan, likely for competiveness reasons given US-Japan economic linkages at the time, and the US settled on -7%. This then meant that Canada would reduce the US target by 1% to account for natural gas exports to the US. The Prime Minster was informed, and when it came to read out Canada’s commitment, the now famous -6% was read into history by Chretien.

After Kyoto the global architecture needed to be negotiated to guide implementation, with Canada taking an active role in supporting global market mechanisms such as the clean development mechanisms and emission trading. But soured relations and the -6% target then meant that Canadian industry was alienated. Canada then entered a dysfunctional period that is likely with us to today with industry vocally questioning the environmental effectiveness of the emerging global carbon pricing scheme and hot air (GHG credits from Russian economic collapse). This bias against global reductions is a core theme in Canadian carbon policy to this day.

After COP 3 in Kyoto, the goodwill Canada developed in supporting an effective global framework started to erode as Canada looked for easy ways out within the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC to gain “free” reductions. Many countries observed that Canada was moving from leader to laggard as efforts to undermine the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol became apparent.

Canada’s target setting in Copenhagen. The story of target setting in Copenhagen continues the theme of international peer pressure on the Prime Minister to select a target that aligned with the G7. To this end, Prime Minister Harper choose to align with the U.S. on -17% below 2005 as a benchmark that could pass the political context of the time.

Of course, modeling efforts within Canada were much more advanced at this point relative to 1995 under Kyoto, with a mature and well established modelling brain trust within and outside the federal government to advise on what was achievable at what cost. One has to wonder, given the state of the modelling knowledge in 2009, why alignment with the US was chosen given the relatively higher Canadian abatement costs and different emission trajectories.

But perhaps in the post-Copenhagen world the bigger take away that impacts Canada’s post-2020 contribution setting is the total erosion of goodwill within the negotiations that Canada has engendered. With the departure from the Kyoto Protocol at Durban (Cop 17), Canada erased any goodwill it had left (put the boots to it actually).

A lack of currency within negotiations means that post-2020 contribution brought forward by Canada will be viewed with skepticism and likely offside with global efforts to hit the 2dC benchmark.

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