As U.S. transitions from climate laggard to climate leader, Canada could be hard-pressed to keep pace


The Biden-Harris administration has proposed climate investments that could dwarf Canada's actions, both at home and abroad, unless we continue building national momentum towards change, write Richard Florizone and Helen Mountford.

U.S. President Joe Biden, seen on a screen on the left, listens as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his statement from Ottawa following a virtual meeting of the two leaders on Feb. 23. The leaders committed to collaboration on climate initiatives.(Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

With a flurry of executive orders starting on day one of his administration and through other decisive moves since then, President Joe Biden has been letting the world know that the United States is ready to transition from climate laggard to climate leader.

The question is, will Canada keep pace?

In recent years, while President Donald Trump stumbled backwards, Canada has been forging ahead: implementing a national price on carbon pollution, regulating a phase-out of coal-fired power, and investing in zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure and public transit.

These actions put Canada ahead of the U.S. on national domestic climate policy. However, the Biden-Harris administration has now proposed climate investments that could dwarf Canada's actions, both at home and abroad, unless we continue building national momentum towards change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged that Canada will reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which will require aggressive action between now and 2030 to get on the right path. As a first step, in December the government announced a hike in the federal carbon price to $170 a tonne by 2030 — an ambitious goal that puts Canada at the global forefront in pricing carbon pollution.

Next, it must set an enhanced 2030 target that aligns with the net-zero commitments outlined in a bill tabled to Parliament in November 2020, and finally pass this bill into law. This will allow Canada to take immediate action to reboot the economy post-COVID, while also seeking out new opportunities and pathways to achieve net zero by 2050.

Canadian business leaders have a defining role to play here, and will have to move quickly to make the transition that the government and global investors are calling for, supported by new federal programs such as the $3-billion Net-Zero Accelerator Fund.

However, Canada doesn't have to drive all the necessary changes on its own. With the recent signing of the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership, both countries have recognized that taking greater climate action benefits far more than the environment.

WATCH | Trudeau, Biden commit to collaboration on the environment and economy:

In addition to more aggressive targets on emissions, the roadmap calls for the two countries to align efforts to create jobs in the clean economy, including measures aimed at taking global leadership in battery development and production.

Other opportunities waiting to be seized include:

  • Boosting Canada's clean energy sector, which grew 25 per cent faster than the broader energy sector from 2007-2017 and is a major job creator;
  • Modernizing and enhancing the productivity of key industries, such as steel and cement, to remain globally competitive;
  • Pivoting to new products, as Canada's auto manufacturing sector is doing for ZEVs, and capitalizing on the country's mineral resources in new ways.

These domestic actions are key to building a clean, resilient and prosperous future for our two countries. Notably, however, the roadmap was relatively silent on climate action abroad, which is now a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.

This "away game" will become a critical point of U.S. cooperation with Canada, which is among its most important allies.

Canada and the United States have a responsibility to support those who are least responsible for the climate crisis, but hit hardest by its impacts: developing countries. That means providing robust financing to help those countries adopt clean energy, protect biodiversity and adapt to the increasingly devastating impacts of a changing climate.

Today, America is officially back in the Paris Climate Agreement. Let’s get to work.


In 2019, developed countries were expected to increase their initial contributions to replenish the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was set up to help developing countries take climate action. Many European nations led the way by doubling the pledges originally made in 2014.

Canada chose instead to keep its contribution level at $300 million – after adjustment for inflation and currency fluctuations, this is less than what it pledged in 2014, and one of the lowest contributors per capita by any major funding country.

Canada's overall climate finance provision, including funds provided though the multilateral development institutions, lags behind its peers in the G7. Only the U.S. has contributed less on a per capita and percentage of gross national income basis, and this is set to change.

John Kerry, the U.S. Presidential Envoy for Climate, said recently that, "domestic action cannot possibly be enough if we don't together forge an international strategy to … drive greater ambition from every country, every sector and ensure that the clean energy future we need is global in scope and scale."

WATCH | Biden outlines how the U.S. and Canada will work together:

Indeed, the Biden administration is expected to soon bump up its international climate finance commitments. Canada must do the same, or risk becoming the worst climate-finance performer in the G7 across all metrics.

Canada can step it up by increasing its contribution to the GCF; supporting developing countries through stronger and more flexible bilateral partnerships; scaling up funding to global initiatives that reach and empower the most vulnerable; and strengthening institutions for climate risk management, such as IISD's National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Global Network.

In April, in advance of the COP 26 climate talks in November, President Biden will host a Leaders' Climate Summit. This presents a perfect opportunity for the U.S., Canada, and other nations to demonstrate their commitment to a healthier, safer, more prosperous future for their own citizens as well as those in developing countries.

Canada should be proud of its progress on climate in the past four years without a U.S. partner, but now the ambition of the Biden administration has raised the bar for action and investment. We can seize that opportunity for cooperation, and for a cleaner and more prosperous world.

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