Negotiators completed agreement on rules for implementing the 2015 Paris climate treaty on the weekend, but delayed for another nine months new commitments for more aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries are now looking to a United Nations summit next September in New York, where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on national governments to announce new, more stringent GHG targets to avert the most catastrophic effects from climate change.

That UN session will come as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to be campaigning for re-election, with the vote scheduled for late October. Mr. Trudeau’s national climate agenda – notably the planned carbon tax – looms as a major campaign issue as federal and provincial conservatives argue the levy imposes too high a burden on households and businesses and is ineffective at reducing emissions.

After two weeks of talks in Poland, negotiations established the “rule book” that implements the international climate treaty, which aims to limit the average increase in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees C and avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. It establishes procedures to allow countries to monitor and verify one another’s climate actions and whether they are sufficient to meet national targets committed to under the Paris accord.

“I am pleased countries around the world came together to agree to rules for transparently reporting how all countries are fulfilling their commitments to reduce emissions and tackle climate change,” federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said. “To increase our ambition for climate action, we need clear and transparent rules.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has set the clock ticking for the United States to withdraw from the Paris treaty in 2020, but American negotiators continued to work within the United Nations process to set down international rules.

Environmentalist advocates and some national negotiators were alarmed that the UN meeting did not reflect the need for urgent action that was signalled in October’s report from an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which concluded the world must limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees C and needs to take immediate and drastic action in order to do so.

At the beginning of the talks, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia combined to block the adoption of that IPCC report. The final agreement reached late Saturday merely “welcomes” its timely completion and “invites” countries to “make use of the information” it contained. The U.S. delegation also made a presentation on the benefits of fossil fuels.

The Canadian government was dealt a major setback in its effort to establish rules under the Paris accord for the trading of market-based emissions credits, which would facilitate a global marketplace. Brazil blocked the completion of that chapter and negotiators will work to finish it at next year’s Conference of the Parties (COP), to be held in Chile.

The COP is a formal process under which the Paris accord was negotiated; the Secretary-General’s summit scheduled for September is a political gathering that aims to increase leaders’ commitment to address climate change as an urgent global challenge.

The secretary-general’s summit “is now positioned as a critical juncture for world leaders to articulate how their next national climate plans will respond to dire warnings of the latest IPCC report,” said Helen Mountford, vice-president of the Washington-based environmental think tank, World Resources Institute. “Countries need to go back to their capitals and start doing their homework to get ready.”

However, Canada has yet to indicate how it will meet its current commitment to reduce GHGs by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The challenge has become even greater after Premier Doug Ford cancelled Ontario’s cap-and-trade system and the more than $1.5-billion a year in emission-reduction programs that it supported.

Canada’s Green Party Leader Elizabeth May slammed the national negotiators, including Ms. McKenna, for failing to reflect the urgency of global challenge. She argued all countries should immediately produce new emissions targets that are consistent with the 1.5-degree goal. National commitments made to date would leave the world on a path to more than three degrees of warming by 2100, which scientists say would have a disastrous impacts.

The Globe and Mail, December 16, 2018