Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 16, 2009
Canada rains on global warming concerns
Ottawa defers to U.S. policy while developing countries walk out during Canada's address in Thailand
Journey to Justice
Saturday Oct. 24 marked the International Day of Climate Action, when thousands of Canadians joined citizens in 170 countries around the globe in a show of public support for environmental action. A rainy "Fill the Hill" event took place in Ottawa that day.
The participants were clearly frustrated with Canada's record on climate change. The Globe and Mail headline of the previous day screamed: "Ottawa dashes hope for treaty in Copenhagen."
In April 2009, reports named Canada the worst among the G-8 countries for actually increasing emissions. In terms of negotiating international change, the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, "Canada has not been seen as sitting at the table. . . . Canada should be doing much more."
Tim Flannery, Australian scientist and author of the best-selling book The Weather Makers, visited Parliament Hill and called Canada's position, "singularly unhelpful." And in mid-October at climate talks in Thailand, dozens of developing countries even walked out during Canada's address.
Officially, Canada is still committed to the Kyoto target to reach six per cent below the 1990 level of greenhouse gas emissions during the 2008-2012 period. Yet, as of 2009, Canada's emissions were actually 26 per cent above the 1990 level.
Worse yet, the current federal government's target is now only to lower emissions to three per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. But no serious observer thinks Canada will achieve this target, which is very far from what the planet needs to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.
Parliament recently threw away the chance to arrive in Copenhagen with a stronger position. A private member's bill, C-311, The Climate Change Accountability Act, authorizes government regulations to meet the science-based target of 25 per cent below 1990 levels, and levies penalties for those contravening such targets.
On Oct. 21, the House voted on whether to extend the environment committee's review of the bill for another 30 days (thus making it impossible to pass before the Dec. 7-18 UN Conference in Denmark) or to move to the next stage (that is, send the bill to the Senate.)
The Conservatives voted as a block to stall the bill. The NDP and Bloc Québécois voted to move the bill onward. (Indeed, a very similar bill had been introduced by NDP leader Jack Layton and passed Parliament in 2008, but failed to receive royal assent before the last election.)
Thus, the votes of the Liberal members defined the issue: and they split their votes. 42 Liberals, starting with former leader Stéphane Dion voted with the government to return this pressing environmental legislation back for more study.
Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice is consulting industry and the provinces, but no one expects great detail to be released before Copenhagen. Ottawa is unabashedly waiting for Washington to announce its own policy, and then plans to climb on board. However, the US policy could sideswipe Canada, especially if the Obama Administration adopts low-carbon fuel standards - which could limit exports from the "dirty" oilsands projects in Alberta.
The members of the World Council of Churches have been working together on climate change issues since 1988. These Christians have called for an "effective and equitable global climate policy regime built on the ethical imperatives of justice, equity and solidarity."
A 2009 Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change states, "The nurturing and respect for life is a central doctrine of all faiths on Earth. Yet today we are endangering life on Earth with dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions. . . . We recognize the science of climate change, and we call for global leaders to adopt strong, binding, science based targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases."
Canada's Catholic bishops have been silent in regard to Copenhagen, but intervened three times in 2001 to encourage Ottawa to ratify the Kyoto Accord.
In June 2009, on the eve of the G-8 meeting, then CCCB President James Weisgerber wrote to Prime Minister Harper to say that protecting the poor living in the Global South and protecting the planet are not competing causes, but "moral priorities." He said, "concrete commitments should be agreed upon and mechanisms should be created to mitigate additional climate change."
Canada is studiously avoiding the tough measures needed to address global warming and the threat it presents to our future health, security and economic development. Without tangible results at home, the federal government will lack the credibility to convince developing countries and developed partners to limit their own emissions.
Canada must contribute its fair share of financial resources to allow poorer countries - which have produced such small quantities of carbon emissions, but which stand to suffer the vilest consequences of global warming - to adapt greener technologies and protect their environments.
Canadians must demand environmental justice in Copenhagen - but only if we first get the climate right in our own home.(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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