The most common question I’ve been asked since returning to Halifax from the Bonn climate talks, which ended last Friday, is, “What was the most inspirational thing that happened?”

The United Kingdom’s emissions are dropping year by year. China has committed $600 billion into green technology. There were 100 passionate young people present, ensuring the presence of another generation was seen and heard. The United States is fully participating at the negotiating table. Rich and polluting countries support the science that a 25 to 40% emission cut below 1990 levels by 2020 is completely necessary, and that we may need to go even farther.Picture 1

Inspirational notes aside, the resounding feeling coming away from the talks, is the deep rumbling craving for one simple attribute: Ambition.

Don’t get me wrong, the Bonn climate talks certainly moved forwards – like how my little sister moves forwards out of bed to the kitchen for breakfast at 6am. I want the negotiators to rush to their United Nations meeting desks with an ambitious level of tenacity, focus, and recognition of opportunity – because, the climate knows, we need it.

What is it that is missing? How can a driving desire for success be created? Is there a deeper level of emotion that needs unearthing? Do governments crave praise? Support? Love? Good will? Public demand? Is there more incentive needed?  I’ve adopted Canada’s negotiators. And I’m fiercely concerned about our country’s position based on the past 2 weeks.

Here’s why:

1.  K Y O T O    L A I S S E Z  – F A I R E     P R O T O C O L

The 1st commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is 2008-2012. The 2nd one is likely to be 2013-2017. In Bonn, countries were supposed to agree on an aggregate target (the weighted average of the reductions to which developed countries should be committing.)  This didn’t happen, though discussions towards it did – a total of 20 organized meetings, to be exact.

Canada’s contribution was suggesting keeping an “open option” of “X% reductions by 2020″, which received support from one country (Japan). Interestingly, in 2007, Canada and over 170 other Kyoto Protocol countries agreed to a minimum of 25% emission cuts below 1990 by 2020 in the Bali Action Plan, the document guiding these negotiations. So why the ambiguous X? Because Canada is concerned with “burden sharing”how much is truly fair for Canada to take on as an emission target? (Wouldn’t it be the same as any other developed country?)

In these same Kyoto Protocol meetings, Canada talks about their targets in the words of “20% below 2005 levels by 2020″, which translates to 2.7% below 1990 levels by 2020. It’s as though all the countries are playing Poker, and Canada is playing Solitary at the same table.  There were 42 small island states and 27 EU countries that called on Canada for lacking ambition and for playing with the numbers to make our 2020 target look strong, versus its weakness in actuality.

Side note: Numerous countries put forward amended drafts of the Kyoto Protocol. This fulfilled an important process step, which is a deadline of tabling legal text six months before the end of the Copenhagen meeting this December. There will be 3 more negotiating sessions between now and the Copenhagen meeting, with the next one taking place in Bonn in August. The time remaining is very short given the amount of work left to be done.

Progress must happen much more quickly than it did over the last two weeks to have a chance of forging a strong agreement in Copenhagen. Developing countries have stated that progress in the other negotiating track, where actions from developing countries will be agreed to, will not progress so long as industrialized countries block forward movement in the Kyoto track.

2. W H A T    T H E    W O R L D    W I L L    B E    L I K E    W H E N    I ‘ M   6 4

This is the gist of the work plan of the working group on Long-Term Cooperative Action is.  It’s one of the two main negotiation tracks working towards a Copenhagen agreement. It includes negotiations on a “shared vision” of achieving future emission reductions and the four “building blocks” that countries identified in 2007 as the key elements of an agreement: reducing emissions (mitigation), adaptation, financing, and technology transfer/capacity building.

Just before the Bonn session started, the LCA chair produced a negotiation text based on countries’ submissions. During the first week in Bonn, countries provided general comments on that text, and in the second week they submitted new text to the chair’s draft. The operating principle of the session was that countries could only add, not take away — and the result was that a 53-page document will likely become more than 200 pages long when the chair puts all the additions together.

Countries will meet in Bonn again in August to start working through the expanded text by combining ideas, deleting them, or drafting new additions. Canada did submit new text related to adaptation, technology and mitigation, but those have not been made public. Canada also committed to provide its “fair share” of financial support for climate action in developing countries.

However, Department of Foreign Affairs briefing notes obtained through Access to Information legislation indicate that Canada “seeks to leverage financial and technological assistance to extract binding emissions reduction commitments from the emerging economies,” a position that runs counter to Canada’s legal obligation under the UN climate convention to provide this financial support. The briefing note cited dates from 2008.

3.  O H    C A N A D A ,    P L E A S E    S T A N D    O N    G U A R D   F O R    T H I S :

What do we need to move forwards? How can the Canadian government redeem ourselves to be on an acceptable playing field?

In order to restore credibility and make a constructive contribution in Copenhagen, Canada needs to dramatically strengthen its level of ambition on climate policy. The two most important policy changes needed for our country are:

  • Adopting a far stronger national emission reduction target that aims to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution to the levels that scientists tell us are needed to avoid dangerous climate change. A national target for Canada will be credible when backed up by a convincing plan to meet it. The centre piece of that plan would be a price on greenhouse gas emissions implemented through regulations.
  • Providing our fair share of climate financing. A range of estimates show that tens of billions of dollars in new public financing will be needed to support mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries, and new analysis from the Pembina Institute shows that Canada’s contribution would be about 3–4% of the total. Using conservative estimates, Canada’s “fair share” works out to approximately $2–6 billion per year.

4.  W E L L ,   H E R E ‘ S    W H A T    W E   R E A L L Y   T H I N K :

This is truly incredible. A coalition of environmental groups released their own document entitled A Copenhagen Climate Treaty. This treaty proposes the actual legal text for a strong and equitable Copenhagen agreement, which is exactly what countries are trying to develop themselves. The legal structure of this treaty would include an amended Kyoto Protocol and a new Copenhagen Protocol.

The document also lays out the reductions needed from developed countries, the actions needed from developing countries to curb emissions and adapt to changes, and the funding and technology support that developed countries would deliver to developing countries. Side note: Canadians Claire Stockwell and Dale Marshall contributed to the project.