Catherine McKenna has been named as Canada’s new minister for environment and climate change under incoming Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, just weeks before UN climate talks in Paris kick off.
A first-time MP representing Ottawa’s centre riding who was elected last month, McKenna takes over from Conservative Leona Aglukkaq and will lead Canada’s delegation to Paris, where governments are expected to agree a new global treaty to combat climate change.
Trudeau has vowed that Canada would be more proactive in the negotiations, compared to its diminished role under former Tory PM Stephen Harper, who withdrew the country from the Kyoto Protocol in late 2011.
“Canadians expect their government to be responsible around climate change and addressing the impacts of the environment we’re facing around the world right now,” Trudeau said on Wednesday after being sworn in as the country’s new PM.
“Canada is going to be a strong and positive actor on the world stage, including in Paris.”
Previously Canada had had a minister of environment, with climate change falling under the remit of the ministry of natural resources. However, under Trudeau the responsibility for cutting greenhouse gas emissions now becomes an explicitly environment ministry issue.
Trudeau also named former Liberal party leader and Canadian environment minister Stephane Dion as foreign affairs minister and chair of a special cabinet committee for environment, climate change and energy. Dion lost the 2008 federal election to Harper after campaigning on a platform that included a pledge to introduce a national carbon tax to shift the country towards a low-CO2 future.
McKenna, who worked as a human rights lawyer and lecturer at the University of Toronto, will also be tasked with rolling out a more ambitious climate change strategy to be announced by the PM before the end of the year.
But she will likely face a sizeable challenge in getting Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions down as, according to Canadian media, the policies brought in during the Conservatives’ 10-year rule will result in a small annual decrease of around 40 million tonnes by 2020.
CBC, citing government documents obtained under the country’s freedom of information act, reports that existing federal efforts, including coal power regulations and support for carbon capture and storage (CCS), will contribute less than a third of what is needed to meet Canada’s 2020 emissions reduction target.
It has pledged to cut its GHG output by 17% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, which works out to a reduction of around 124 million tonnes per year.
The difference will likely need to be shouldered by the provinces and, to a lesser extent, cities and municipalities.
The documents highlighted the fact that simpler policies abandoned by Harper, including support for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and emissions regulations for cars and light trucks, were more effective, and that the country still has no clear strategy for curbing CO2 from its swelling oil and gas sector.
Under Aglukkaq, Canada also proposed to offset more than 60 million tonnes of CO2 from its fossil fuel industry by applying more lenient emissions accounting rules to its swathes of forests.
In its INDC submitted ahead of the Paris talks, Canada also pledged to cut its GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 by 2030, aligning its goal with that of the US.
By Mike Szabo – firstname.lastname@example.org