This article examines the implications for Canada of the U.S.-China climate change agreement and Prime Minister Harper’s reaction to it.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

World issues, environmental studies, politics

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What are the implications of the agreement for Canada?
  • What are the Conservative government’s reactions to this agreement?
  • What claims are the Conservative government using to defend inaction?

New Terminology:

GHG (greenhouse gases), “game changer”

Materials Needed:

Access to the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Ever since Barack Obama became president Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken the position that, in order to protect the Canadian economy, Canada has to follow the lead of the United States in any efforts to address climate change. To do otherwise, Harper has claimed, would put Canadian businesses at a distinct disadvantage. Many respected critics disagree, however, arguing that Harper is simply hiding his disregard for the environment behind this smokescreen.

This lesson will have the students examine the position that Harper took in 2008 by reading a news report of that time, review, in general, the stated U.S.-China climate change deal and discuss what they believe Canada must do in light of this agreement. The students will then be in a position to evaluate any action or inaction by the Harper government as a result of this new U.S. direction.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students if they know why the Harper government has maintained that Canada must be in harmony with the United States on any major action to address climate change.
  • Get their responses and then either provide them with a copy of this 2009 news article – Canada Must Follow… – or provide access to the article.
  • Once they have read the article ask them what they know of the recent U.S.-China climate change agreement.
  • Review the following basics of the agreement if the students know little of the details:
    1. China committed to slowing the rise of GHG emissions and stabilizing them by 2030.
    2. The United States pledged to reduce its emissions by 26% of 2005 levels by 2025.
    3. Previously, the United States had agreed to reduce its 2005 emissions levels by 17% by 2020 – something Canada also agreed to but has little hope of accomplishing.
  • Ask the students to suggest what implications this agreement should have for Canada.
  • Provide the students with a copy of the news article and allow them time to read it.
  • Divide the students into five home groups and have the group members number themselves off 1 to 5 with one group starting with 1, another group starting with 2, another group starting with 3 etc.
  • Once the students have numbered themselves off re-form the students into expert groups according to their number and assign the appropriate numbered question to the group with that number.
    1. What is the Conservative government’s reaction to this U.S.-China agreement?
    2. What has Canada done to address its commitment to reduce by 17% 2005 GHG emissions level by 2020?
    3. Why is Canada being seen as a “climate change laggard”?
    4. What is the likelihood that Canada will meet its climate change commitments? Why?
    5. What should Canada do now that there is this agreement between the U.S. and China?
  • Inform the groups that they are to research their question, become experts on the topic and then return to their home groups to teach the others what they have learned.
  • Provide the remainder of the period for the expert groups to complete their work.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Begin the second period of the lesson by reconvening the home groups and having the experts present their material to their fellow group members.
  • Once this has been completed, reconvene the class as a whole and conduct a general discussion during which the students can voice any opinions or raise questions about what they have just learned.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • The students will be able to identify the basics of the U.S.-China agreement on climate change.
  • The students will be able to identify the Conservative government’s reaction to this agreement.
  • The students will be able to suggest what they think Canada’s actions should be given this new climate change agreement between the United States and China.

Confirming Activity:

  • Once the general class discussion has concluded use the remainder of the period to have the students write a short piece identifying what they personally believe Canada needs to do to improve its efforts to address climate change and recover its standing in the international community.