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Collaborative approach will be key to realizing Canada’s climate change obligations

The Paris COP21 Climate Change Summit has culminated in an agreement that commits governments to the long-term goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by the second half of this century.

The agreement mandates reviews of emission reduction plans starting in 2018, signalling a commitment by all countries to phase out fossil fuels and reduce emissions to zero by the end of this century, making renewable energy a global priority.

“While gaps exist for enforcement, financing, and the ratcheting-up of targets, there are now steps in place for future reviews that will address these issues,” said CLC president Hassan Yussuff.

Yussuff led a delegation of 35 Canadian trade union leaders to the Paris Summit that worked with unions from all around the world and liaised with environmental and human rights groups and other NGOs. Delegates attended daily briefings with the federal Environment minister and Canadian negotiators, and met with premiers, municipal leaders and with provincial and federal Environment ministers to push for firm commitments at all levels.

As well as campaigning for ambitious emissions reduction targets, the delegation advocated for human rights – including indigenous rights – and the right to a just transition for workers to be enshrined in the binding text of the agreement.

“We were disappointed that mention of these rights was relegated to the agreement’s non-binding preamble,” said Yussuff.

While the delegation is concerned that the final agreement does not go far enough, it is committed to collaborating with government and industry to continue the discussion about a just transition.

“We were pleased to see our government play a positive leadership role at this summit, and to see it working cooperatively and inclusively with provincial and municipal governments, and with environmental, labour, indigenous and other civil society groups,” said Yussuff.

The Canadian trade union delegation was pleased that the Canadian government promoted more ambitious global warming limits, progressive emission reduction commitments on five-year cycles and annual contributions to the global climate fund. In addition, unions were encouraged by the government’s promise to introduce a pan-Canadian framework for climate action within 90 days of the Summit.

The Canadian government also committed to its own emissions assessment by 2018, ahead of most other countries, and pledged $2.6 billion for the support of adaptation and emission reductions, prompting other wealthy countries to do the same.

“The collaborative approach we saw in Paris must continue as Canada moves forward to meet and realize its commitments. Governments at every level, as well as business, labour and civil society organizations all have a responsibility to work together and act urgently and decisively to protect this planet’s future,” said Yussuff.

“Canadian unions are committed to doing their part to fight climate change; and we will work with governments and employers to ensure a just transition to a carbon-free economy that supports displaced workers and creates millions of decent, green jobs,” he added.

The need for collaboration and a just transition strategy were key issues for COP21 union delegates. On December 3, the CLC partnered with the Climate Action Network and the Green Economy Network to co-host a forum on how Canada could fight climate change by creating one million climate jobs.

The forum provided an opportunity for federal, provincial and municipal politicians, and trade union and environmental leaders to discuss how to create new, green jobs and incorporate training and education for workers displaced by the transition to a low-to-zero carbon economy.

The CLC is a member of the Climate Action Network, whose statement in response to the COP21 text is available here.

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