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Legault Invited to UN Climate Ambition Summit

Many unpleased with Premier’s current climate commitment

Quebec Premier, François Legault, was set to give a speech at the first United Nations Climate Ambition Summit held in New York this past week. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, invited Legault to attend the UN General Assembly and to participate in the Summit held on Wednesday, September 20. He was invited to present Quebec’s efforts in fighting climate change at the Summit and to participate in a discussion with members of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. Legault was the only Canadian premier to be invited to the Summit.

The purpose of the summit is to highlight “first mover and doer” leaders within the government, businesses, local authorities, and civil society who have established set actions, policies, and plans to reduce carbon emissions on both a global and local level. In doing so, Guterres hopes to inspire climate justice by  demonstrating the feasibility of cutting emissions. Additionally, the Summit aims to accelerate their goal outlined in The Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Legault’s 2023 Plan for a Green Economy 2023-2028 Implementation Plan has drawn recent political and international attention and was the basis of his invitation to the summit. Legault’s plan has a nine billion budget and is based upon five main axes: mitigating climate change through a reduction of Quebec’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, building the “economy of tomorrow” by focusing on electrification, adapting to climate change, creating a predictable environment, and accelerating research and development. Other aspects of Legault’s initiative include a target of reducing GHG emissions to 37.5 per cent below its 1990 levels by 2030 and aiming to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Additionally, they hope to have two million electric vehicles on the roads by 2030. 

Although Legault did not end up speaking at the Summit, he did give a speech at a meeting held on  September 19 for the representatives of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, a group of governments working to decrease gas and oil production of which Quebec is a member. At this conference, Legault explained his 2030 initiative including Quebec’s plan to make green aluminum, green steel, and electric buses using clean energy. He stated Quebec has “the lowest rate in Canada and the lowest in the United States” of greenhouse gas levels per person. 

However, not everyone is as pleased with Legault’s actions against climate change. The belief among many environmental groups, including Greenpeace Canada and Greenpeace McGill, is that while Quebec has made some important strides, more needs to be done to qualify Legault’s invitation to the UN Summit. Greenpeace Canada stated its worry both that the goal of a 37.5 per cent reduction in GHG emissions should be updated to 65 per cent and that based on Quebec’s current climate actions, emissions are not “being drastically and rapidly reduced“ enough, meaning that “Quebec is not on track to meet its 2030 target”. They pointed out that in contrast to Legault’s Green Economy Plan, emissions in the transportation sector have seen a rise as of late. Greenpeace McGill echoed this concern that although “Quebec has consistently been a climate leader,” that “given Legault’s reluctance to develop productive and changemaking climate policy, we don’t necessarily consider him to be the best representative of climate interests.” The main issue they emphasized is the plans’s failure to facilitate system-level changes: “it is not enough to simply hope that innovation will allow us to circumvent issues that are, at their core, systemic.” 

Other political and environmental groups in Quebec, including the Parti Québécois, has questioned whether these plans made by Legault are performative. There is also skepticism around the execution of said plans on a local level and in the long run. In terms of Quebec’s representation as a strong leader in climate change, Greenpeace McGill noted that there are many important leaders and groups working in Quebec who “would be able to better explain the goals and ideas of the local climate movement, such as members of our Indigenous community” than the Quebec government. 

As the UN Summit concluded, Guterres stressed their goal to inspire more businesses, governments, and leaders to act by highlighting green initiatives at the event in what he called a “Summit of Hope,” which was intended to illustrate the feasibility of climate change action by spotlighting green initiatives. The Summit outlined that the next best steps will be aligning local and international policies with possible and science-backed targets to expedite decarbonization and more climate justice actions. The goal of keeping temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius will require the establishment of policies and regulatory architecture to enable this transition. There will be much work that must be done on behalf of the government, financial authorities, and regulators to ensure these actions are being put into practice. At the UN Summit, many leaders who were initially invited to deliver speeches were sidelined due to a lack of action in their plans. This was a means of moral pressure delivered by the UN. Following this, there will be a great deal of pressure on governments, including Legault and the Quebec government to be able to implement his climate change plans, with many international and local leaders watching closely.