John Baird at COP16

This week marks the 16th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP16), currently taking place in Cancun, Mexico. This year’s conference has seen world leaders follow up on decisions made (or avoided) at last year’s Copenhagen summit, and once again try to come to an agreement on what can be done on an international level to protect the environment from further climate change.

In these talks, Canada holds a unique place, as a country who ranks among the highest of emitters, but is also one of the wealthiest countries, and therefore has the most means to take action on many of the suggested environmental policies.

However, since abandoning the Kyoto protocol, Canada’s position has been somewhat uncertain – are we for, or against, an international agreement to help combat climate change?

To find out how Canada sees itself on the global stage at COP16, and what actions our government can be taking at home in the future, we spoke to Canada’s Minister of the Environment John Baird in an exclusive interview during his stay in Cancun.

Although Minister Baird has been called ‘the reason Canada withdrew from Kyoto’, his outlook for the future of climate protection in Canada is optimistic:

“I think we’ve been playing a constructive role. I think the areas where we’ve been having some success is with REDD+, something that Canada’s been working on since 2005.”

REDD+, an abbreviation for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, focusses on conserving forests and carbon sinks and promotes the sustainable management of forested lands. For Canada, a country known for its forestry and natural woodlands, REDD+ and its principles will be playing a large role in our future. Not only is deforestation responsible for 70% of worldwide human caused emissions, but fighting it is also “one of the most inexpensive ways to combat global warming and to see carbon reductions,” according to Minister Baird.

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“The deforestation issue is a great initiative for Canada,” said Baird. “It’s great for Canada because we have the Boreal Forest, the world’s largest carbon sink, and preserving forests has been a long-standing bipartisan Canadian policy, back to the age of Macdonald. It’s part of our culture.”

But the COP16 is about more than just making changes within our own borders – it’s also about holding other nations accountable for their emissions, and ensuring every country reports, verifies, and attempts to curb their own emissions.

“We’re working hard on reporting and verifications. We think all big economies should be taking on the same reporting and verification of carbon emissions. It only makes sense.”

You don’t have to look any further than the horrendous air pollution that has become an every day fact for China and India to see his point. These two countries have previously avoided taking any serious action against climate change due to their ‘developing’ status, but that should no longer be an excuse. Baird commented, “Not for countries like Ethiopia, or Haiti, or Tuvalu, but all the big emitters should take on good strong reporting and verification projects. Canada already does that, and we welcome others to do it as well.”

Among those others, according to Baird, is the United States, who this year have shown a stronger interested in moving forward with actions against climate change. “One huge difference in this conference [compared to Copenhagen] is the Americans are active, and engaged… It’s great to have the American government moving the file forward.”

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In general, the path that this conference should take is expanding on the framework established at last year’s Copenhagen summit. “The Copenhagen Accord includes 80% of the world’s emitters,” said Baird, “while Kyoto only posts obligations on about 27% of the world’s emitters. Obviously, it’s essential.”

By the sounds of it, Canadians shouldn’t expect to see a groundbreaking agreement reached at this year’s Climate Change Conference. After all, Kyoto doesn’t expire until 2012, and our nation has little interest in that Protocol anymore anyways. But one thing that is clear is Canada’s path for doing our part inside our borders, and out: fighting deforestation, reducing human caused emissions, and working together with the biggest polluters in the world to ensure they are accountable for their detrimental impact on the environment.

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