First Enlightenment, then the Laundry: What the Paris Climate Agreement Means for Canada

This article originally appeared on Desmog blog and was written by Carol Linnitt. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s, and are not necessarily reflective of the views of GreenPAC.

If you’ve been watching headlines about the historic signing of the Paris Agreement this past weekend, you may be understandably confused. Does the world’s first climate treaty represent the beginning of the end for fossil fuels or a mere free-market cop out?

Both arguments hold some truth. That’s because the agreement is more form, less substance. That’s what it was intended to be. The real meat of the deal remains entirely undetermined because it has yet to grow on the bones of the treaty.

What countries like Canada actually do to implement the intended outcome of the Paris Agreement — to keep temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions — will determine whether the torrent of analyses we’re seeing, dire or otherwise, have any merit.

“There’s this Buddhist idiom that says: first Enlightenment, then the laundry,” Glen Murray, Ontario’s Environment Minister, said at the climate summit in Paris. “This has been the Enlightenment and now we all have to go home and do the laundry to make sure this happens.”

Same Finish Line, Different Starting Lines

Ontario received praise in Paris for its complete phase out of coal-fired power plants in 2014 and Murray spent time advising other jurisdictions, including Alberta, how they could do the same.

Yet, Ontario’s bold climate move — more than 25 per cent of the province’s power previously came from coal — and Alberta’s new climate plan highlight just how disparate efforts to limit wildly different amounts and sources of emissions are from province-to-province.