UW Panelists Discuss US-Canadian Relations Post-COP21

On February 1st, the Faculty of Environment and the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo hosted an event to revisit the climate change summit COP21 and to discuss next steps. The panel was moderated by Jean Andrey, Dean of Faculty of Environment, and the panelists included the Mayor of Kitchener Berry Vrbanovic, Professor and Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives Ian Rowlands, Master’s Student Alexandra Graham and our very own Kiribati delegate, MDP Candidate Laura Maxwell.

Panelists with the President of the University of Waterloo, Feridun Hamdullahpur

After opening statements from each panelist, the floor was opened to questions. One question in particular stood out from a U.S student studying at the University of Waterloo on exchange. Her question was about Canada-U.S. relations with regards to climate change targets and the Keystone Pipeline. At COP21, it was made clear that the U.S would not sign an agreement that is legally binding for fear that it would alienate the Republican-led Congress. For Canada, the enthusiasm was palpable as our new liberal government announced that they are back to table with regards to emissions reduction strategies after withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol in 2011. As the agreement has now been signed, what are the next steps for both of these countries and what does this mean for the pipeline?

First, it is worth mentioning that Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) were submitted back in May 2015. For Canada, the conservative government that was in power would not seek any meaningful regulatory action on the highest industrial emitters: the oil and gas sector. Climate Action Tracker viewed the INDC as “inadequate”. In Paris, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was well received and committed to an ambitious agreement.  For our U.S counterparts, several efforts have been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) with plans to work with China on this issue. With the summit behind us, we are now anxious to see what specific actions will be taken by both parties to fulfill commitments to combat climate change.

As for the Keystone pipeline, it remains a hotly contested issue for both Canadians and Americans. Since its announcement, many groups have voiced concerns on the potential environment effects from land use for many aboriginal groups in the area to disasters, like that of train disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. After President Obama has rejected the pipeline, Prime Minister Trudeau hopes for a fresh start and seeks to continue work with the President on climate change issues. As some rejoice, others like the Trans-Canada Corporation are reviewing their options. This is not likely to be the last time that we will hear about the pipeline. Moreover, with an election looming in the U.S., issues surrounding climate change and the pipeline will be revisited as a new administration is set to take office late this year. With a new government, Canada has voiced a cooperative position on combating climate change. We can hope that the new U.S President will continue what has been accomplished at COP21 and proceed with all initiatives to reduce GHG emissions and achieve a temperature goal of 1.5 degrees.

Panelist Laura with fellow MDP Candidates and Professors




Kadra Rayale is a first year Master’s Student in the Master’s of Development Practice program. Kadra is attending COP21 as one of four student members of the Republic of Kiribati’s delegation. Her research interests include forced and voluntary migration trends and climate change.


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