The Paris Agreement came into effect on November 4th, 2016. We took this opportunity to interview an Associate Professor at the McGill School of Environment, Dr. Elena M. Bennett. Dr. Elena M. Bennett is an eminent person when it comes to climate change and her outlook on the Paris Agreement can be transposed to agrology.
Please note that the comments below are Dr. Bennett’s and that they don’t necessarily reflect the Order’s position.
- What does the Paris Agreement consist of?
The Paris Agreement builds on the Convention on Climate Change to bring all nations together to undertake the necessary and ambitious actions to combat climate change. The central goal is to strengthen global collaboration to keep global temperature rise below 2oC above pre-industrial levels.
Within that overarching agreement, there are a number of specific points, including issues of funding and financial flows, technology and capacity building that are addressed in some detail.
- What should we retain from the ratification of the Paris Agreement?
One of the things I retain from the ratification, and from the process, is the hopefulness and ambition that went into the agreement. It really was a process of all nations coming together to say ‘this is important, and we must do something’. That bodes well for our ability to actually take the actions outlined in the more specific points of the agreement, and for individuals, communities, and sectors to also undertake the necessary actions (and to do so in a way that furthers their goals rather than presenting undue challenges).
- The countries that ratified the Paris Agreement agreed on different targets including limiting global warming to less than 2o According to you, is this a reachable target?
I don’t know whether it is reachable or not, but many scientists believe that it is reachable. What I do know is that, if we don’t at least try to set ambitious targets, we will fail in our goals to reduce the impacts of climate change on our societies and our well-being. My sense is that a less ambitious goal would have been less inspiring, and that the inspiration that people draw from such an agreement is really important to making forward progress on combating climate change.
- Do you think that the rapidity with which the Paris Agreement came into effect is a good sign?
I guess I don’t see the process as necessarily very rapid. Yes, the Paris meeting itself was rapid, but there were many years of build-up to that meeting in which Costa Rican leader of the process (Christiana Figueres) traversed the planet meeting with colleagues and building coalitions to help smooth the process of the meeting. And before that, there were meetings in Copenhagen, Kyoto, all the work of the IPCC to synthesize, and others to undertake the science to understand what climate change is, why and how it is happening, and what our most effective strategies are for addressing it.
- What are the impacts of the Paris Agreement on the citizens?
I think there are a few impacts.
First, with the ratification of the Paris Agreement, we saw a major shift in the way many citizens seem to feel about our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the impacts of climate change. Things that seemed unreachable or overwhelming a year before suddenly felt possible. Ultimately, that means that not only will nations act to halt climate change, but individuals, communities, and cities, sensing possibility and action, may do more as well. (And maybe, if we see possibility to address climate change, we will address other important environmental and social issues as well.)
Second, we hope for an impact in terms of reducing the impacts of climate change. If we act quickly and decisively, we can reduce the amount of sea level rise that will happen in coming decades, as well as other impacts of climate change in human well-being, all around the world.
And finally, of course, there will be many more subtle impacts of making the necessary changes to meet the 2 degree limit. Those might include changes in the way that we get our energy, changes in the way that we transport ourselves and our products, perhaps changes in the way we grow our food. Some of those might be somewhat difficult, or involve giving up things we currently enjoy, but my bet is that many of those changes will bring with them other, unanticipated benefits. Changing the way we grow our food, for example, might also mean more nature recreation in agricultural landscapes, which would in turn mean more interaction of suburban home-owners with farmers, all of which can bring about a lot of good.
- What impacts has the Paris Agreement on Canada’s environmental and agricultural politics?
I am not entirely sure how it will affect Canada’s politics in particular, but to be sure there is a window of opportunity here and it remains to be seen how the agricultural sector, and Canada’s agricultural sector in particular, will take advantage of that window to do the things that we need to do to stop climate change in a way that brings other benefits to the sector as well.
Will agriculture promote carbon (C) storage in soil? Will it promote more local food systems? Will it reduce nutrient use, perhaps favoring more recycled (e.g., manure) sources of fertilizer? How can it do these things in a way that benefits farmers and the farming community? The window is open now to find answers to those questions.
- What means will the Canadian government have to put in place to reach its greenhouse gas’ reduction targets? Do you consider agriculture to be a strategic sector?
I consider all sectors to be important, and certainly agriculture has a role to play.
One of the biggest roles of global agriculture in climate change is through land clearing, which isn’t as big of an issue in Canada as it is elsewhere, especially in the developing world, but there certainly are ways that Canadian agriculture could benefit from Canadian attempts to meet Paris targets, such as by focusing on being a storage sink for C (in soils) or by improving nutrient management or animal husbandry.
- What are the opportunities and threats for Canada’s and Quebec’s agricultural sectors?
I think one of the biggest opportunities is to re-examine some of the policies in agriculture that don’t work – for climate or food or farmers – and thinking about how to make those better for multiple outcomes. That should, ideally, have us aiming for policies that increase agricultural resilience. That is, are there policies we can put in place that will help Canada’s agricultural sector thrive for centuries to come while positioning Canadian agriculture as a bulwark against climate change? I think we can also look at policies that might help increase the interconnectedness of Canadian agriculture. Could those who are most successfully integrating efforts to reduce climate change into their farming practices become ‘model farmers’, helping to educate the next generation? Are there ways to use re-thinking our agricultural policies to help provide more funding for eager, young farmers who want to be environmentally-friendly but lack resources to do so, and sometimes even resources to acquire land on which to farm?
- Do you consider Quebec’s agricultural sector to be in a good position in order to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement?
I do. I think Quebec’s agricultural sector is relatively strong in many ways, and is well-supported by food consumers who are interested in its products and its long-term well-being. It will take some effort, and possibly change, but I believe we can do it.
- According to you, what does the election of Donald Trump represent for the Paris Agreement?
I think the election of Donald Trump means that the power to bring about change will have to lie in the hands of the people. We clearly cannot wait for the US government — or possibly any government — to take leadership on this. Instead, every individual, each community, all sectors are going to have to step up to figure out how they can contribute, or even lead the way to a better world.
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