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.

Part of Series

Marking 150 years since Confederation provides an opportunity for Canadian international law practitioners and scholars to reflect on Canada’s past, present and future in international law and governance. This series of essays, written in the official language chosen by the authors, that provides a critical perspective on Canada’s past and present in international law, surveys the challenges that lie before us and offers renewed focus for Canada’s pursuit of global justice and the rule of law.
The project leaders were Oonagh E. Fitzgerald, director of the International Law Research Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI); Valerie Hughes, CIGI senior fellow, adjunct assistant professor of law at Queen’s University and former director at the World Trade Organization; and Mark Jewett, CIGI senior fellow, counsel to the law firm Bennett Jones, and former general counsel and corporate secretary of the Bank of Canada. The series was published as a book titled Reflections on Canada’s Past, Present and Future in International Law/Réflexions sur le passé, le présent et l’avenir du Canada en matière de droit international in spring 2018.