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Justin Trudeau Is Bringing Stephen Harper’s Emissions Plan to the Paris Climate Talks

On Thursday, climate protesters are planning a "climate welcome" outside Canada's prime ministerial residence, 24 Sussex Drive, to remind Justin Trudeau of his commitment to the environment.

On the eve of his swearing in, Canada's next prime minister already has climate critics on his doorstep.

On Thursday, climate protesters are planning a "climate welcome" outside Canada's prime ministerial residence, 24 Sussex Drive, to remind Justin Trudeau of his commitment to the environment. During the election, Trudeau dazzled Canadians with big talk of bringing the provincial premiers to the Paris climate conference on November 30 and keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius, but environmentalists point out he is going to Paris with outgoing prime minister Stephen Harper's lackluster emission targets in hand.


One of the climate protesters who plans to be outside Trudeau's door Thursday says the world is looking to Canada's next leader to pull his weight on climate change, but he's already behind on his targets.

"There's an ambition gap between where politicians are and where they need to be," said Cameron Fenton, an organizer with climate group "And there's an expectation for Trudeau to close that gap."

Originally submitted to the United Nations in May by outgoing prime minister Stephen Harper, Canada's current climate commitment, known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Paris talks aim to set a legally-binding international agreement for greenhouse gas reduction, but Trudeau is not planning to set new emissions reduction targets until after the talks are over. The government intends to "take action on climate change by convening a First Ministers meeting after the Paris Conference," Liberal spokesperson Cameron Ahmad said in an email.

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Ahmad would not say how Canada's new leader intends to negotiate at the Paris talks if he is setting targets after the talks conclude. "I can only point you to the platform commitments at this point as we are still working to form a government on November 4 and present a new cabinet to Canadians," he said.


Paul Heinbecker was Canada's head negotiator in the 1997 Kyoto negotiations and Canada's former representative with the UN. He says Canada's negotiators will likely proceed with Stephen Harper's plan until they're instructed to do otherwise.

But according to the UN, Canada and other countries must do more to pull their weight if the world wants to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Ahead of the Paris talks, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released a report last week that found the emissions reduction commitments by 146 countries, including Canada, are not enough.

The report paints a scary picture: while climate scientists agree global warming must stay below a two-degree Celsius maximum, the 146 submitted INDCs — which represent 86 percent of the world's emissions — are only enough to cap global temperatures at 2.7 degrees of warming by 2100.

That number is "by no means enough," executive secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres said in a release, "but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs."

Canada's baseline is 2005, but governments that are serious about reduction targets use 1990 as their starting point, said Erin Flanagan, oilsands analyst for the Pembina Institute. Ontario, Quebec and the European Union use 1990 as the benchmark.

Canada's 2030 timeline is too far down the road, Flanagan argued. Many countries are aiming for 2025 as their target year. Others are setting their sights on 2030, but using 2025 as an interim target.


Related: Canada's Carbon Cutting Pledge Is Criticized for Being the Weakest Among Leading Economies

Canada's commitment also looks weak next to the US and EU targets. According to the World Resources Institute, the EU and US plan to reduce their emissions by about 2.8 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030. Canada would only achieve 1.7 percent per year if it follows its current plan.

Even with Stephen Harper's old climate targets in hand, Heinbecker said Trudeau can expect to be "cut some slack" by other governments. "I don't think there is going to be any outcry, except by the non-governmental organizations who will never be satisfied anyway," he said.

Heinbecker said Trudeau is already sending a "very strong" signal to other governments that his government takes climate change seriously.

"The fact that Trudeau and the premieres are going to Paris together in a Team Canada fashion and bringing along some of the opposition … signals that we are going to take this important primordial issue a lot more seriously than we ever have before," he said.

But Fenton predicted Trudeau won't be afforded the same patience on the street.

"Given that 2015 is on track to being the hottest on record, they're going to be facing a much more urgent push from people all around the world…. I think they're expecting an easier ride than they're actually going to get," he said.

Follow Hilary Beaumont and Ashley Renders on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont @iamrenders