The Paris climate summit went into overtime last weekend, but the results were worth the wait. Just about every national government on Earth put their names to a binding agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees C.
Canada, for a change, helped break down barriers between nations by championing a 1.5 degree C target, which ultimately worked its way into the agreement as an aspirational goal.
Appropriately, Canada's delegation to Paris included First Nation and municipal leaders. First Nation communities, especially those in northern regions, are finding that they are on the front lines of climate impacts. Municipalities are discovering that, like it or not, they're going to be the ones to do much of the heavy lifting to limit warming.
Climate models consistently show that northern regions are the most vulnerable to climate impacts. Globally, we've already experienced average warming of almost 1 degree C since pre-industrial times, but that warming hasn't been uniform throughout the Earth's climate system.
#ONclimate, Ontario's Climate Change Strategy, released by the provincial government shortly before the Paris climate summit, estimates that Northern Ontario could see a rise in average winter temperature of 4 to 9 degrees C by 2050.
Indigenous peoples living in Ontario's north are already feeling the effects of a warmer world. Warmer winters mean a shortened season for ice roads that many First Nation communities rely on for the transport of goods.
With more moisture in the air, severe weather events such as ice storms are expected to become more frequent. Melting permafrost in the Hudson Bay Lowlands - one of the world's largest wetlands - could alter significant northern ecosystems and release a considerable amount of new greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, exacerbating the crisis.
Although the international community agreed to limit warming between 2 and 1.5 degrees in Paris, we don't yet have a road map to get us there. When international commitments to limit warming were plugged into computer modelling before the Paris talks, it was found that the world was on a path of approximately 2.7 degrees C of warming by the end of the century (see: "INDC's lower warming to 2.7 degrees: significant progress, but still above 2 degrees C," climateprogresstracker.org, October 1, 2015.)
Clearly, nations like Canada, which promised only a 30 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, have lacked the ambition required for success.
If Canada is to demonstrate a serious willingness to limit warming to the 1.5 degrees our government championed in Paris, it will require embracing system-wide changes impacting governments, businesses and the economy. Pricing carbon pollution and prohibiting new fossil development in the tar sands won't be enough. We'll need to electrify our transportation and home heating systems, while aggressively pursuing energy conservation.
This task should not scare Canadians. Instead, we should embrace this challenge as an opportunity to create a healthier, more prosperous society. A serious commitment to reduce warming will lead to job creation, as we undertake the task of retrofitting our energy and transportation systems and our built environment.
In this emerging environment, cities are strategically positioned to be leaders. Ontario's transportation sector is responsible for 35 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and our buildings account for an additional 19 per cent. Complete communities that encourage transit, walking and cycling, and built at higher densities, use scarce resources more efficiently.
Cities are already finding that low-carbon, people-centred communities are driving local economies in a way that suburban sprawl never did.
Our vulnerable northern communities are counting on global action in line with the Paris agreement. If we are serious about limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, the world we'll create by 2050 won't be recognizable to us today.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)
Originally published in the Sudbury Star as "Sudbury Column: We must be part of transformation," on December 19, 2015 - without hyperlinks.
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