Climate change is a global commons challenge and as such requires collective action and cooperation among states. Although domestic policies and local measures are needed to advance climate action at the national level, international cooperation remains crucial for climate protection. Absent a collective commitment to mitigate climate change within state territories, some nations may behave as “free riders” or jeopardize the efforts undertaken by other nations by continuing to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases.
International cooperation on climate change began at the end of the 1980s. The centrepiece of international climate law is the United Nations climate regime, which encompasses three multilateral treaties: the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement. Like many states, Canada has been involved in this multilateral law-making process from the beginning. However, over these four decades of climate diplomacy, Canada’s position in climate negotiations has varied greatly.
This paper considers the level of consistency between Canada’s domestic action and its international climate policy, from the 1980s to today. This review suggests that while great inconsistencies characterized Canada’s international and domestic positions on climate change for two decades, these inconsistencies tended to subside during the years of the Harper government, although not in a way that was favourable to climate protection. The last part of the paper discusses whether, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s leadership, Canada could for the first time adopt a federal climate policy consistent with its willingness to be, or at least appear to be, a leader in the international climate arena.