Action on climate change: Mitigation is not enough

Larry Hughes

For anyone who has been calling for action on climate change, the reaction of Canada’s federal politicians to last weekend’s Paris Agreement is undoubtedly a welcome sight. However, addressing the problems associated with climate change will take more than a policy based on “renewable energy good, fossil energy bad”.

The original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which came into force in 1994 committed its signatories to design and implement national and regional programs containing measures “to mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases” and “to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change”.

Despite the importance given to adaptation by the UNFCCC (the recent Paris Agreement has 47 references to &ldqo;adaptation” and 23 to “mitigation“), it is usually presented as a problem faced by less-developed countries prone to the effects of sea-level rise and drought affecting food production. While some of the risks may differ, developed countries such as Canada are not immune to the threats to physical, biological, and anthropogenic systems caused by climate change.

Given the growth in global emissions since 1990, the International Energy Agency’s projections for future growth in fossil fuels over the next 20 years, and the Paris Agreement’s loosely defined objective “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, any federal climate policy will need to be developed with provisions to both mitigate future emissions and adapt to past and ongoing emissions.

Submitted to Globe and Mail (20 December 2015)