Canadian experts weigh in on what Trump's climate moves mean here

The United States and Canada are countries linked by language, culture, trade and ecosystems. After U.S. president Donald Trump announced he would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Canadian experts have been working through what that might mean here.

Some states and cities in the U.S. say they are moving forward, with or without the federal government

President Donald Trump has pledged to revive coal, one of the worst environmental pollutants, but some experts don't believe he can. (Associated Press)

The United States and Canada are countries linked by language, culture, trade and ecosystems. 

After U.S. President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord — a non-binding agreement ratified by 148 countries in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — the Canadian prime minister reiterated his views.

"Canada will not back down from our commitment to fight climate change," Justin Trudeau said on the heels of Trump's announcement.

But that doesn't mean Trump's move can't complicate things here.

Catherine Potvin, a McGill professor who specializes in climate change and tropical forest conservation, told CBC News that Trump's move means that "a reduction in emissions is clearly going to be a bit slower."

But she said in terms of environmental impact in Canada, "I think the decision of stopping to be involved in the water quality of the Great Lakes was a more immediate, tangible concern."

In March, the Trump administration proposed drastic cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, part of his cuts to environmental programs. It's smaller moves like this one where Canada could see some repercussions, Potvin said.

Still, in the example of the Great Lakes, states bordering the ecologically important bodies of water have undertaken their own efforts to ensure they are protected, such as New York State Great Lakes Protection Fund.

In terms of climate change, Potvin said she thinks Trump's move is "slowing us down, but not as much as one might believe."

Different views at state, local level

States and local governments could actually mitigate any negative environmental impacts pulling out of the accord might have on the environment to the north of the U.S./Canada border, some experts say.

That commitment to fighting climate change at the state and local level is already evident: shortly after Trump's June 1 announcement, many states, including California and New York, reaffirmed their plan to try and meet goals set out by the Paris climate accord, which aims to limit the increase in global temperature to "well below" 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

As well, a group of 274 "climate mayors" representing 58 million Americans at the local level, issued a statement after Trump's announcement, saying, "we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities' current climate goals … and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy."

California Gov. Jerry Brown and other governors, as well as mayors, spoke out after Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris deal. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

Kathryn Harrison, a professor at the University of British Columbia, said that, even if any effects could be felt here, she doesn't think the U.S. withdrawal will impact Canada immediately. 

Harrison, a political science professor, also expressed doubt around the president's commitment to reviving the coal industry.

Trump, both on the campaign trail and as president, has pledged to bring back coal-mining jobs. In March, he rolled back climate change regulations imposed under former president Barack Obama, with a view to ridding mining operations and oil companies of rules his team deems to be "job-killing" and overly broad.

"He's not going to bring back coal," Harrison said. "It's not going to happen."

Many industries have already made the move to renewables and Trump has no power to make them return to coal. As well, the cost of renewables has dropped and continues to do so. 

Under the Paris agreement, which allowed countries to set their own targets, countries aren't allowed to just walk away immediately. Harrison said it could take as long as four years to withdraw — and by then, there could be another administration in place that feels the accord is worth sticking to.

Still, Trump's pullout of the agreement could have effects down the line.

"The U.S. greenhouse gas emissions aren't going to suddenly jump up overnight," Harrison said. "But they could level off and start going up again."

Canada's own shortcomings

But when it comes to the question of meeting the Paris goals, however, Canada has issues of its own.

Harrison said that regardless of Trump's withdrawal from the agreement, the U.S. is likely to meet their 2020 standard, which aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels. And that's a better performance than Canada which is likely fail to reach its 2020 goal, also at 17 per cent.

"We're not on track to meet the Paris agreement goals. Not at all," Harrison said. "Canada's emissions have been increasing steadily since we started tracking them in 1990 with the exception the period of global recession."

Much like Canada's southern neighbours, it's at the provincial and local levels where most of the climate action has been, not the federal. 

So if any environmental protection is to be made, it will have to be at state, provincial and local levels. 


Nicole Mortillaro

Senior Reporter, Science

Nicole has an avid interest in all things science. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books.