Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 20, 2009
Climate change, Copenhagen and care for creation
Journey to Justice
The year 2009 will be remembered as "the year of Copenhagen."
In the Danish capital in December, a new climate change treaty needs to be negotiated. It will guide national responses to the post-Kyoto period, providing a map for global environmental sustainability - or disaster.
As Canadians know, our country was the only nation on Earth to ratify Kyoto and then officially renege on the commitment to apply it. Worse yet, in recent years, Canada has been accused of blocking progress towards international progress on climate change, winning the Colossal Fossil award from frustrated environmentalists on more than one occasion.
RASPBERRY TO THE ENVIRONMENT
The January 2009 federal budget read as if the environment didn't matter. That budget eliminated financial support for wind energy, threw more money at AECL (to support nuclear power which is currently being questioned by Western Canadian bishops) and cut support for climate change research.
The home retrofit program was announced with tax rebates, none of which were dependent on spending for solar, geo-thermal, better insulation or energy-saving building. It was a lost opportunity.
When a Liberal government ratified our support for the Kyoto Accord, Canada promised to cut emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels. The Harper government is far short of Kyoto, relying on intensity-based target reductions to get the country to reduce GHG emissions by 20 per cent over 2006 levels by 2020.
But these targets are pipe dreams. According to Environment Canada, we have actually raised emissions 26 per cent over 1990 levels.
Let's face it: although Canada has not taken the opportunity to advance a climate change policy of any substance (no suitable targets, no carbon credit market, no carbon offset system), we will soon get one.
For better or worse, we will have President Obama to thank. Ottawa will quickly adopt a made-in-U.S.A. cap and trade system as soon as Washington can announce it. Unfortunately, this may not be enough.
A global movement for climate change action is growing, and proposing Oct. 24 as a planetary day of action. Called 350.org, these environmentalists argue that climate change is proceeding so rapidly the Copenhagen conference will have to adopt much more serious targets than once thought necessary.
They advise that targets of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (or warming of two degrees Celsius that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change supports) are out of date and greatly increase the risk of catastrophic climatic changes.
350.org argues that Earth's atmosphere already holds 390 million parts of carbon dioxide, and that this must be cut by mid-century to 350 ppm.
Pope Benedict's recent encyclical, Charity and Truth, states that "the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly, . . . promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet."
There is no question that failure to negotiate, and then implement an appropriate international global accord to fight global warming will leave the poor to suffer first and worst. OXFAM Canada estimates that 26 million people have already been displaced because of climate change, and 375 million people may be affected by climate-related disasters by 2015.
A viable climate regime must take steps to mitigate the problem, adapt to the damage already done but also safeguard the right to a sustainable development (especially for the poor of the world who have done least to cause this crisis).
Canadians should face up to the fact that we have common but differentiated responsibilities from other nations, based on our relative wealth as well as our massive contributions to the problem.
One fascinating study of Greenhouse Development Rights released on Earth Day, suggests that Canada, with 0.5 per cent of global population, should accept to carry 2.9 per cent of global financial responsibility for climate change adaptation.
That would move us substantially beyond the "no regrets reductions" of changing light bulbs and undertaking other measures that don't really hurt. (Total costs in this scenario could reach $685 per Canadian per year.)
Vandana Shiva's book Soil Not Oil rants against the "eco-imperialism" imposed upon the poorer populations from Western "development" models. Her solution is the creation of "carbon democracies" where the gap in energy use and GHG emissions between rich and poor are reduced.
She reminds us that we need to change our minds before we can change our world.
Pray and act so that we change our minds before December in Copenhagen.
(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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