If voters oust Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, they’ll be voting for a whole new climate policy — and potentially tipping the scales of December’s Paris summit on global warming.
For years, Canada and Australia have been the climate villains the world has loved to hate. They’ve been the ones giggling in the corner at each year’s round of climate talks, trashing renewable energy, boasting about their reserves of coal and oil sands, and giving the diplomatic middle finger to serious emissions cuts.
This summer a panel led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued, “Australia and Canada appear to have withdrawn entirely from constructive international engagement on climate.” A story on the website Road to Paris by the journalist Leigh Phillips was even blunter: “They are what could be called the Bad Boys of climate change.”
But all that might be about to change.
On Oct. 19, Canadians will vote in one of the tightest elections in the country’s history. The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are polling so close with Justin Trudeau’s more progressive Liberals that it’s impossible to call who will come out ahead in Monday’s vote. The further-to-the-left New Democratic Party, led by Thomas Mulcair, is in a close third. “No disinterested source is predicting a majority for anyone,” former newspaper publisher Conrad Black wrote in the National Post last week.
And though climate change has not loomed large in the election, if Harper’s Conservatives lose their ability to govern, the country would likely find itself with a profoundly different climate policy — and one that could potentially influence how world powers choose to negotiate and implement a post-2020 global climate change agreement at the COP21 summit in Paris this December.
To ensure their hold on power, the Conservatives need to win at least 170 seats in the House of Commons. Any less would mean a minority government. And in that scenario it’s likely the Liberals and the NDP would form a governing coalition.
Both opposition leaders [all three opposition leaders] promise to fix Canada’s reputation at the December climate talks in Paris. “It’s time we get clear targets, and we started respecting them,” Mulcair said in August. His rival seems to agree. “We will go to Paris united as a country in our desire to reduce our emissions,” Trudeau said last month. Trudeau has also promised to work with the provinces to put a market price on the country’s emissions, while Mulcair has called for a national system of cap and trade — all policies that economists think can shrink emissions while growing the economy.
Moreover, they’re both a far cry from Harper’s dismissal of efforts to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions as “job killing.”
If Canadian voters do decide to oust their climate change bad boy, they won’t be alone.
If Canadian voters do decide to oust their climate change bad boy, they won’t be alone. Harper’s partner in crime, Australian climate skeptic Prime Minister Tony Abbott, was replaced last month by Malcolm Turnbull, who in 2010 warned “the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic.” He told an interviewer in May that “we should seek to restrain the growth of greenhouse gases.” In what direction he chooses to take the country on climate is still unclear, but at the very least he seems to have a more informed understanding of the issue than Abbott.
All of which is to say that there’s a decent chance that Canada will enter the climate negotiations in Paris prepared to play a more constructive role than at previous talks. And though it will be joined by an Australian leader still tied to the weak climate target set by his predecessor, many observers expect Turnbull to play a less combative role than Abbott. “My feeling is there’s been a bit of a sigh of relief from the international community, at least in climate circles,” said Erwin Jackson, deputy CEO of the Climate Institute, an Australia-based think tank.
So just how might these two countries — whose combined emissions represent less than 3 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions — tip the balance at Paris?
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Foreign Policy: How Canada’s Election Will Decide the Fate of the World