There were very few successes to come out of the disappointing Copenhagen climate summit (COP-15) last year. The non-binding “Copenhagen Accord”, however, did acknowledge the importance of limiting the level of global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. There is a significant understanding throughout the global scientific community that warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius will lead to the creation of uncontrollable feedback loops and runaway global warming. These feedback loops include the melting of arctic permafrost and the release vast quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, along with the drying out of the Amazon rain forest and the melting of polar ice caps.
Despite recognizing the urgent need to hold global warming in check at no more than 2 degrees Celsius, the international community has taken very few steps to actually make this outcome happen. Indeed, the few steps forward have been offset by the many steps backwards. Although we understand in very fine detail the relationship between increased greenhouse gases and the threats which they pose to our economy, environment, and security, most nations have failed to follow through on measures meant to curb the reduction of carbon being spewed into our atmosphere.
Governments, including Canada’s, while acknowledging the need for action, have continually failed to protect the future of their citizens by outlining a plan which will actually lead to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada agreed to an emissions reduction target of 25% of 1990 levels by the year 2020. Canada, under Stephen Harper, has proven to be the only signatory nation to the Kyoto Protocol to abandon its international commitment to reduce emissions. Our current target for emissions “reduction” is intensity based, and will actually lead to an outcome of 3% above 1990 levels by 2020. We can only reach even that woeful target if there was a concrete plan in place to reduce overall emissions. Currently, we have no plan, and the Conservatives maintain that they will not develop a plan until the United States makes the first move.
Inaction is often justified by governments by referencing the false dichotomy that economic growth can not be constrained by environmental factors, such as reducing emissions. In fact, without reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can expect as a certainty a significant disruption to our local and global economies, caused by the impacts of a changing climate. The impacts of runaway climate change, if we let it happen, are sure to negatively impact our economy, our health, and all aspects of our society. Indeed, climate change poses a significant national security threat to Canada, due to expected global food shortages triggered by climate events. Almost every aspect of our society will be stressed by the impacts of climate change.
Lately, elements within the government have begun discussing climate change, albeit in a way which disguises the anticipated negative impacts within a cloud of misdirection. The Conservatives have engaged in a climate change branding exercise, through the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy. This Owellian marketing campaign would have Canadians believe that climate change will be an economic boon, as melting northern sea ice and permafrost will open up access to vast oil, gas and mineral resources, create shipping lanes through the Northwest Passage, and allow farmers to plant crops farther north than ever before. Indeed, in this happy world of make-believe, the devastation wrought by a warming planet will be offset by investment opportunities for Canadians.
Critically, the Conservative’s “Climate Prosperity” branding exercise fails to take into consideration the need to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius in order to avoid the impacts of runaway climate change. They would have us believe that the hotter it gets, the better off we’re going to be, save for some minor inconveniences such as “increasing demand on peacekeeping and diplomatic resources from conflicts over water and food scarcity in parts of the world.” In other words, that means war over a lack of food and water throughout the world.
Later in November, nations will gather in Cancun for the United Nation’s sponsored COP-16 climate summit. Expectations for a successful outcome are low, due to a lack of engagement between national governments and their citizens on the issue of climate change. While people throughout the world are clamouring for their governments to take action, our governments largely continue to ignore the wishes of their citizens.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been a particularly obstructionist force at past climate change conferences in Bali and Copenhagen, and we can expect Harper to advocate for a do-nothing approach in Cancun. Such an approach is not what the majority of Canadians expect out of their government. We expect our government to demonstrate real leadership, which includes setting realistic and appropriate targets for reducing emissions, and developing a plan to achieve results. Canada, as a major greenhouse gas emitter per capita, must do its part to help limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
While Canadians will hope for the best in Cancun, the reality is likely to be that our Conservative government will continue to fail us all. Their failure is certain to impact our economic fortunes in the years to come.
(Note: An edited portion of this blogpost has been submitted to the Sudbury Star as a letter to the Editor for publication)