Joe Gunn

December 10, 2012

On Nov. 20 the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) sent a letter requesting action on climate change to Environment Minister Peter Kent. Citizens for Public Justice, an affiliate member of the CCC, helped draft this document.

The 25 Christian churches involved in the Council's Commission on Justice and Peace (including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) urged the federal government to take leadership at the UN climate conference in Doha, Qatar, in three crucial areas:

  • Developing a credible plan to reach Canada's stated greenhouse gas reduction target by 2020 (and then act on it).
  • Announcing a commitment to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries through new grants (rather than loans).
  • Developing a national energy strategy that ensures a healthy, sustainable future for Canada.

From Nov. 26 to Dec. 7, Doha will serve as the site for COP18, the United Nations' 18th meeting of political leaders on climate change. Ironically, Qatar is the country with the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

While Canadians may assume we have a better track record than such countries, according to the Pembina Institute, Albert's per capita GHG emissions are 28 per cent higher.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is the only internationally binding agreement that commits countries in the Global North to cut their GHG emissions. However, Kyoto expires at the end of 2012, and the countries of the world need to decide on a second phase that starts on Jan. 1, 2013, and define whether this commitment will end in 2017 or 2020.

For the Doha meeting to be successful, three things need to happen: the "level of ambition" must be raised so as to increase the short-term pledges and targets of Northern countries in a second commitment period; an effective work plan to negotiate the new agreement must be agreed upon; and stronger financial commitments must be made to assist Southern countries to respond to the climate crisis under the Green Climate Fund.

While several European countries and the European Union itself have agreed to participate in Kyoto's second phase, the economic crisis there augurs ill for serious action. Several countries like Canada, Russia and Japan will not participate in the second phase, and the United States never ratified the first phase.


Obviously, there is a real gap between the action needed and the low political will that many of the rich countries are exhibiting to date.

Following the COP15 negotiations in Copenhagen, Canada formally adopted a 2012 target of reducing our emissions to 17 per cent below our 2005 level. Unfortunately, Environment Canada's 2012 assessment of progress toward this target finds that existing measures get us only halfway there.

Canada is not on track to meet its goal, say many critics, because of Ottawa's enthusiasm for massive expansion of the Athabasca oilsands, where (again according to Environment Canada) emissions are expected to triple by 2020.

In spite of the damage that climate change will cause, Kent announced Canada's withdrawal from the first phase of Kyoto after last year's COP 17 in Durban, South Africa. The CCC letter requests a further meeting with the minister, following on Kent's meeting with faith community leaders in Durban.

At an ecumenical seminar in Toronto last weekend, 60 members of different faith communities thought long and hard about how to get the message out. This event, called Faithful Citizens, featured keynote speaker Willard Metzger of the Mennonite Church Canada, who attended the Durban climate conference in 2011 and met with Kent there.


Metzger lamented that the churches still have no strategic plan, no outreach, no education nor organizational capacity in place to match the scale of the climate crisis we are facing. "I invite and I need members of my faith community to elevate this concern," he said.

A workshop lead by CPJ at this event came up with several suggestions for how Canadians can reflect on, and use, the letter on climate change. The CCC has offered (on Facebook) 10 ideas for action, including writing to Minister Kent, emailing our Church leaders to express appreciation for their support of this letter and writing op ed pieces for religious and secular media.

There's no need to wait for permission – we can all act faithfully today.

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)