Canada’s Response to US Climate Change Policy

Canada’s Response to US Climate Change Policy


The problem of climate change and its negative impacts is widely accepted across the scientific field. Further, there is a general consensus on the causes of climate change with human activity being the largest cause of climate change. The phenomenon requires a collaborative approach in dealing with it both proactively and reactively. As such, several adaptation and mitigation measures are proposed to help build the resilience of affected groups. Canada has been actively responding to the effects of climate change at both local and international level. This essay explores the current policy responses employed in Canada with a focus on both local and global contexts of these responses. The international agreements related to climate change action are reviewed in relation to the case of Canada. Further, the paper explores Trump’s policy on climate change and proposes necessary action from Canada in relation to this shift in policy. Finally, the possible implications of such responses are outlined with a focus on the existing relations and collaborations between the two countries.

Overview of Current Policy Response

It is quite clear from scientific evidence that climate change is among the biggest threat of the modern world. The phenomenon is characterized by increased drought incidences and flooding of coastal areas. Further, the continued melting of ice caps in the Arctic coupled with the varied impacts of climate change provides evidence on the need for action. While all these impacts may not affect Canada, there is a chance that the impacts of climate change impact on the country indirectly. Following these facts, Canada has been actively involved in attempts to contain the effects of climate change through both mitigation and adaptation strategies. In fact, the Canadian government announced plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emission levels in the years following 2009. The government set the targets levels at 17% and 30% below the levels of 2005 for 2020 and 2030 respectively (Mildenberger et al, 2016). As at 2013, the country had only succeeded in attaining levels that were 3% lower that emissions in 2005. That notwithstanding, Canada is generally inclined towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emission and the eventual response to climate change.

Canada implemented the federal climate action plan in 2016 marking a major milestone in the fight against climate change in the country. The implementation of this action plan means that the country can for the first time have an all encompassing and integrative national climate plan. The full implementation of the plan has the potential of helping the country meet the 2030 greenhouse gas emission targets. Despite the seemingly big achievement, the country must strive to perform better owing to a number of factors that hinder its response to climate change. For instance, the country has the weakest emission targets among the G7 countries and its attainment would only translate to a poor performance relative to other countries (Suffling & Scott, 2012). Further, the country has a huge landmass with a significantly low population thus increasing the demand for transportation energy. The net effect is that there are higher greenhouse gas emissions per capita that is contrast to countries that have higher population densities. Further, its greenhouse gas emission profile is affected by the extremely variable climate that results in the use of more energy in space heating. In the end, the country has to do much more to contain the effects of climate change ad reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the challenges affecting the country, Canada has managed to use both mitigation and adaptation strategies in curtailing the effects of climate change in the country.  In terms of mitigation responses, Canada strives to reduce the volume of atmospheric concentrations while minimizing the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere (Scott & Lemieux, 2005). Further, the country has passed legislation geared towards the increased use of energy that is derived from non-fossil fuel sources. In this regard, the country has phased out the generation of coal-fired electricity and implemented Ontario’s power feed-in tariffs. The benefit of such strategies is that they help in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for each unit of energy generated. The country has further adopted adaptation responses including reactive and proactive measures to ensure the resilience of citizens to the impacts of climate change. An example of such a strategy is the enforcement of building and construction standards to increase the resilience of buildings to the harsh and extreme climate in the country.

Local level Responses

Despite the country’s significant challenges in addressing the impacts of climate change, Canada has managed to attain considerable success in this front. In Canada, the challenge of climate change is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments (Harding & McCullum, 1997). Each of the two levels of governance has a role in the control of pollutants and agents of climate change. The provincial governments have control over the extraction of resources, the supply of electricity and energy development. Further, these governments determine the building codes, land use and transportation infrastructure to be developed within their jurisdiction. In contrast, the federal government has control over emissions that affect the national greenhouse gas emission including carbon dioxide. In addition, the national government controls agents of climate change in relation to trade between the provinces and the impacts on the trans-boundary environment. The Environmental Protection Act of 1999 confers the federal government with powers and responsibilities to set the concentration levels of greenhouse gas emissions from different facilities, equipment and vehicles (Smit & Skinner, 2002). The Canadian government further uses its programs, spending and taxation in addressing the issue of climate change.

The two levels of government agreed to collaboratively tackle the problem of climate change in 2014 through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. The established body developed new ways of facilitating actions geared towards response to climate change at the two levels of governance. The provinces have set their own targets with regard to climate change thus facilitating effective approaches to climate change based on the unique circumstances in each province. For instance, Ontario has implemented power feed in tariffs while phasing out the generation of coal-powered electricity within the province. In other provinces, Canada has seen the enactment of regulatory frameworks for industrial emissions requiring minimal emissions in these provinces. In Nova Scotia, the government has put an absolute cap on electricity emission while other provinces have seen increased regulations for gas and oil generation (Burton, 2005). The national government spearheads efforts to tackle climate change with the establishment of an endowment fund at the exposure of projects that reduce carbon emission. The overall change in strategy has seen the country adopt and update its strategies with regard to climate change response.

International Responses

Canada realizes that climate change has no boundaries with its impacts being manifested in countries that do not cause it. In this regard, the country is part of the wider international community fighting the impacts of climate change through such avenues as adaptation and mitigation strategies. First, the country is a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change having ratified the agreement in 1992. Canada voluntarily fulfills the obligations by committing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. As one of the developed countries, Canada has the responsibility of cutting down greenhouse gas emission at the international level (Ford et al, 2007). The ultimate goals of this obligation is to ensure that emissions are stabilized thus maintaining healthy food production and ensuring sustainable development of the global economy. The obligations under the convention require Canada to implement regulations and policies to help in mitigating the climate change phenomenon. In addition, the country is involved in undertaking climate observations and research through its satellites and the sharing of this information with other parties of the convention.

The contribution of the country at the international level is also attained through the annual submission of inventories of emissions. The country is committed to the implementation and attainment of the provisions in the convention by helping in research and development. For instance, Canada is involved in taking stock of the global levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere (Davoudi et al, 2009). In addition, the country honors its obligation of building the capacity of developing countries. The country helps in the promotion and financing of environmental friendly technologies for use in developing countries. Through the Kyoto Protocol, Canada explores a myriad of mechanisms geared towards the reduction of emissions in other countries. The country financially supports reduction of gas emissions in other developing countries and credits itself for the same thus fulfilling its commitment. Further, the country is involved in carbon trade thus facilitating the reduction of gas emission in other countries. Ideally, Canada is at the forefront in terms of global responses to climate change; both adaptation and mitigation measures.

Overview of Trump’s Policy

The election of Trump as the President of the United States has complicated matters with regard to climate change and global warming. It is widely reported that the new president considers the phenomenon a hoax and that no effort should be made towards climate change. Perhaps the writing on the wall should have been clear as the new president did not include any policy priority on climate change during his campaigns. The president’s policy on climate change is inclined towards a destruction of the US’s strategy to tackle climate change. In a bold move, the president has insinuated that getting rid of the Climate Action Plan is a key priority in the administration. According to him, such policies are burdensome to the United States and have negative implications on the energy industry.  The Climate Action Plan has in the past served as the national plan for tackling issues of climate change and was ratified in the Obama administration. It is not surprising therefore that the white House website has archived a range of information related to climate change. Generally, the new administration has a negative policy towards climate change responses.

Trump’s administration further suggests limiting the role of the Environmental Protection Agency to issues related to the protection of air and water. By encouraging the use of coal-generated electricity and the use of shale gas in the US, the administration has nothing but negative attitudes towards climate change actions. In addition, the current administration has its sights on the dismantling of the Paris Agreement that had set targets for countries to reverse the impacts of global warming. According to the president, the country should not waste its financial resources on issue of climate change but should instead use the money to ensure clean water and air for the world. Most of the policies proposed by the current administration presumably ignore the issue of climate change. Even the appointments made by the current administration are strongly inclined towards energy production with little regard for climate change issues. Still, the government has stated its intention to keep public land within federal control thus limiting responses to climate change. These actions will obviously have an effect on the relations between the US and Canada.

Proposed Responses

The changing US policy on climate change is a big blow to Canada and its efforts to fight climate change. Prior to the current administration, the two countries had signed over 40 international agreements on climate change with the provinces and states of the two countries signing another 100 agreements (Mearns et al, 2009). Just recently, the two federal governments had embarked on the signing and ratification of the Paris Agreement in efforts to respond to climate change. Obviously, Canada must rethink its responses to climate change with the change of policy witnessed across the border. While changes to climate change response would have economical impacts between the two countries, it is worthwhile to deal with climate change issues. Canada’s extreme climate gives it no option but to respond to climate change to avert the negative effects associated with the phenomenon. First, the country should ratify the Paris Agreement and domesticate the laws to ensure minimal emissions from facilities, equipment and vehicles. The regulations should encourage the use of environmentally sound generation of energy through a shift from, coal fired electricity production.

The country should also change its policy with regard to the transportation of oil through pipelines across the waterways. The border between the US and Canada is perhaps most volatile as it covers four of the five Great Lakes and several other rivers and lakes (Hinzman et al, 2005). The federal government of Canada should thus outlaw any pipelines traversing through the water bodies so as to safeguard the lives of citizens living off the waters. The government should also introduce tougher tests on vehicles and equipment to ensure that minimal emissions are allowed. In terms of mitigation, the government should educate the population on the need to reduce carbon emissions. As such, programs should be initiated to inform the people of better ways of dealing with climate change and global warming. In addition, the government should employ the use of subsidies and tax reliefs for organizations and companies that meet their minimum emission targets. This will encourage more companies to minimize the level of emissions in a bid to benefit from the tax relief. Finally, the federal government should initiate an endowment fund to provide grants to people and organizations with projects geared towards tackling climate change.

Potential Implications

The use of strict measures in dealing with climate change will obviously have implications on the relations between the two countries. Currently, the US is the largest trade partner for Canada accounting for billions of dollars in annual foreign exchange. The new US administration is working on the premise of bringing more jobs to the American people and increasing their energy capabilities. It is expected that the policies will negatively impact on the trade between Canada and the US. The application of the recommended climate change responses could thus provide impetus for the US government to sideline Canada in its dealings. First, implementation of the provisions in the Paris Agreement and the disbandment in US would mean that the US has an advantage in terms of production. Essentially, Canada would lose some of its business to US companies thus leading to loss of jobs in the country and the decline of exports to the country. The limitation of gas emissions in production would require companies to incur more cost of production and transfer the same to the consumer. As such, products from Canadian firms would be more expensive compared to US products thus limiting sales revenue. In the end, Canada would lose business and jobs thus resulting to negative economic growth.

The response of banning the use of coal generated electricity would also have negative implications on the development of Canada. An over reliance on renewable sources of energy can only mean more investments thus incurring heavy costs on the price of energy. Ultimately, the cost of production will be much higher in Canada compared to the US leading to the outsourcing of production processes. In addition, the banning of non-renewable energy sources would also limit the amount of energy generated thus availing little power to industries. The motor industry would feel the same effect with the implementation of tough rules on vehicle emissions. However, the responses to climate change could also have positive impacts on Canadians in general. For instance, the establishment of an endowment fund would provide the much needed capital for projects targeted at the vulnerable people in society. The native communities that live along the Canada-US border stand to benefit from such projects through their active involvement (Pearce et al, 2009). Further, education programs initiated in response to climate change will benefit the poor communities and empower them through increased resilience.


The evidence of climate change and its negative effects are well documented in literature. There is a need to respond to issue of climate change through adaptation and mitigation strategies. The current response from Canada is quite appealing and commendable both at the local and international levels. However, the extreme nature of Canada’s climate coupled with the special circumstances in geographic and historic aspects of the country calls for more rapid responses. Furthermore, the change in climate change policy in the US following the election of Trump as President compounds the situation. Canada must do much more to respond to the effects of climate change both within the country and at a global stage. Part of these responses is to domesticate the Paris Agreements and cut on greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the federal government needs to establish an endowment fund for projects geared towards climate change action and education of the vulnerable populations. However, these responses have negative implications on the relations between Canada and the US. Nonetheless, these can be averted through efficient energy utilization and production processes.



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