Harper’s inaction and hypocrisy on one of the most important challenges facing the world—climate change—were on full display this week at the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the help of France, placed the fight against climate change front and centre and attempted to secure a commitment to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. Prime Minister Harper with the help of Japan only reluctantly signed a pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 2050 and reach zero carbon emissions by the end of this century. The irony will not be lost on any who have watched Canada on the climate change issue over Harper’s decade in power.
Canada has won the Colossal Fossil Award for doing the most damage to climate talks in a given year five years in a row (up to 2013).
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan accused Canada of being a laggard on climate change. In December 2014, Ban Ki-moon “strongly urge[d] Canada to become very ambitious and visionary for the global future of people and the planet.”
At the 2010 Copenhagen conference a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said “Canada is effectively negotiating in bad faith, undermining the whole agreement… At least everyone else is trying to reach their Kyoto targets. Canada is doing absolutely nothing.”
In the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Liberals committed Canada to a 6% reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 1990 levels. Soon after Harper’s election in 2006, Canada withdrew (the only country to do so) and by 2008 emissions had increased by 24%.
The impacts of climate change are already being observed across Canada’s diverse geographic regions. Canada’s forests are expected to be among the most vulnerable in the world. Both fire frequency in Canada’s boreal forest and the total area burned have increased over the last 20 to 40 years. These forests support countless species and ecosystems and are among the many examples of at-risk habitat.
Warmer temperatures are also expected to expand the ranges of forest pests, such as the mountain pine beetle, normally controlled by intense cold snaps in winter. Over 50% of B.C.’s commercially valuable pine timber has already been lost to an epidemic infestation in British Columbia’s Interior forests.
Climate change is taking a high toll on Arctic ecosystems. Ice cover in the Arctic Ocean has decreased from roughly 75 per cent in the mid-1980s to 45 per cent in 2011. The early breakup of sea ice and longer period of open water hampers polar bears’ search for food. Female polar bears now weigh an average of 230 kg—they used to weigh 295 kg.
Climate change also threatens the health of our children through increased disease, freshwater shortages, worsened smog and more. These impacts also pose incalculable economic risks.
“Climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier: it will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict,” said the report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies.
There is no question we are killing our planet slowly – and perhaps not as slowly as we may have once thought. Climate change is a fact and human impact is a factor.
Addressing this issue will require all of us—it is beyond political parties. It is a matter of intergenerational justice: we cannot do nothing or only what is easy and leave the tough choices—and horrific consequences—to our children.
Our ability as a country to find the right balance between fueling our economy and protecting our environment, and to listen to divergent voices, will be tested as debate on climate change heats up.
We need to ask: what we mean by ‘sustainable development,’ and what sort of reliance will our country, and the world, have on fossil fuels moving forward?
We need a national strategy to wean us off our energy dependency on fossil fuels, and seriously consider our carbon footprint. Carbon is a long term, accumulating problem, and we must stabilize—and eventually stop—our emissions. To do that we must encourage alternative forms of green energy. We need to invest more in science and research. And we must create incentives for investments in green energy and clean tech, while becoming less reliant on natural resource extraction to drive our economy.
Justin Trudeau has committed to making critical investments in growing the clean energy sector to help reduce climate change and create high-paying, cutting edge jobs. Canada’s clean technology market was $11.3 billion in 2012—only 1% of the global $1.1 trillion market.
He is also committed to joining in and contributing to provincial governments, industry, and civil society efforts to build a national energy strategy within an overall framework that includes a policy to put a price on carbon pollution.
The reality is that combating climate change will take all of us—it is the major issue of our time. Canada must become a global leader on climate change. As much as the current government would like to ignore climate change, it will not go away. We cannot mortgage the lives of our future generations, and leave it to the Prime Minister’s granddaughter to figure out. We need a plan, we need leadership and we need action now.