Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 19, 2009
Environment heaves a sigh at gov't neglect
Last month, the environment uttered a huge sigh.
During economic downturns, the Earth usually gets a break. Human beings tend to mine less, manufacture less, pollute less, cut fewer trees and burn less energy while vacationing, even as the price of fuel falls.
Yet, last month, if the Canadian environment listened to our policymakers, its sigh was not one of relief.
Only one year remains before a climate change deal must be reached at Copenhagen in December 2009 to guide the post-2012 planetary effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Last month the international community gathered in Poznan, Poland, for yet another round of climate change negotiations.
Canada had been declared a “colossal fossil” at the December 2007 talks in Bali, Indonesia, due to its insistence on blocking consensus. With Alberta’s Jim Prentice as the new environment minister, would Canada step up to the plate at Poznan?
Sigh. Unfortunately, not.
In 2007 in Berlin, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asserted, “Climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” That same year in Sydney the PM opined, “We need to take action. We owe it to future generations.” Only two months ago, he stated, “We cannot separate environmental and economic policy.”
The best scientific minds now agree that industrialized countries need to target reductions of greenhouse gas emissions of between 25 to 40 per cent of their 1990 levels by the year 2020. Yet, the reductions target of the Harper government remains at a totally inadequate three per cent.
Canada has not been keeping its environmental promises – by 2006 we were already 30 per cent above our Kyoto target (set for the 2008-12 period.)
At Poznan, officials from two other countries specifically singled out Canadian officials for opposing science-based targets in the negotiations text. It is one thing to refuse to cut emissions at home, but worse behaviour to actually block progress in international climate change negotiations.
And with the Dec. 10 release of the Fourth Annual Climate Change Performance Index, Canada placed second last, behind all other OECD countries.
This index ranks the 57 countries that together are responsible for 90 per cent of global energy-related emissions. It ranks a country’s emissions level, trends and climate policy – and discovered that only Saudi Arabia behaves worse than “the True North Strong and Free.” Even the USA, thanks to some enlightened policies in several states, has now moved ahead of Canada.
With such a tawdry record, you’d expect a national outcry for change. Canadians have every right to be outraged. And every reason to act.
On Jan. 27, the Harper government will bring down a new budget, and propose massive new spending to stimulate the economy. Canadians should insist Ottawa prepare our economy for greenhouse gas constraints, as we move to privilege a clean energy infrastructure.
Twenty of Canada’s leading environmental and conservation organizations have laid out recommendations concerning precisely how to do this, as part of the Green Budget Coalition’s Recommendations for Budget 2009 (www.greenbudget.ca).
Through “ecological fiscal reform” measures, Ottawa could use incentives and “fee-bates” to shift our buying and usage patterns for major purchases (autos, heating systems and appliances) towards products whose use would create more positive impacts on the environment and human health.
Rewarding energy efficiency and renewable energy schemes, paid for partially by ending subsidies to fossil fuel production, would create jobs and position Canada towards a sustainable future.
THE CHURCH SPOKE
Also in December, the prophetic Church spoke. Ninety-two bishops, archbishops and cardinals from 38 countries signed an appeal entitled, A Call for Climate Justice.
Two outstanding Catholic organizations, Caritas Internationalis and CIDSE, prepared the document, which stated, “It is our moral obligation to take urgent action to tackle climate change and to do so in support of those most affected.”
Although for some inexplicable reason there were no Canadian signatories, Canada’s bishops in March 2008 had written a pastoral letter on the environment where they noted that it is impossible to protect creation if entire continents continue to live in misery.
“We are more aware of this than ever,” stated the Canadian bishops, “but we behave as if we were blind, deaf and insensible.”
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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