2015: A Big Year for the Climate

From The Catalyst Winter 2014

Canada is failing.

In October, the federal Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand, released a scathing report on our government’s environmental record. If it were a report card, Canada would certainly receive a failing grade and be sent to the Principal’s Office for the severe offense of breaking our word.

Concerning climate change, the Commissioner noted that Canada’s emissions are growing, not falling, and the 2020 targets agreed to under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord will be missed.

Why? Because, as the Commissioner herself said, “Environment Canada lacks…an effective planning process for how the federal government will contribute to achieving [our climate] targets.”

First, Canada’s coal-fired electricity regulations, which come into effect in 2015, will only deliver half of Ottawa’s promised reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is because they were weaker than needed and allow old generating plants to extend their lifespans.

Second, regulations on the oil and gas industry, promised for years by Conservative Environment Ministers, have been “repeatedly delayed.”

Finally, Ottawa has not developed GHG reduction plans with the provinces and territories, in spite of the fact that provincial actions account for 63 per cent of all projected emission reductions in Canada by 2020. Ontario’s phase out of coalfired electricity is one notable example.

As the Commissioner summarizes, “Current federal measures will have little effect on emissions by 2020.” Canada is failing. And we are paying for the failure.

In July 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said of climate change that “no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

But research from Blue Green Canada reveals investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, or public transit create six to eight times more jobs than comparable investments in fossil fuels. What’s more, breaking our promises to meet GHG reduction targets costs citizens in increased health costs due to carbon pollution and increased insurance premiums. In 2012, the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s report, Telling the Weather Story, said the rate of warming in Canada between 1948 and 2007 was about twice the global average, “likely responsible, at least in part,” for more severe weather events. They later said that the 2013 flooding in Calgary and two costly storms in Toronto contributed to $3.2 billion in insurance claims by Canadian property owners.

Change the System, Not the Climate

Naomi Klein’s new blockbuster book on climate change tells all in its provocative title: This Changes Everything. She argues that climate change could be the catalyst for change “from below” by creating a peoples’ movement in favour of a new “Marshall Plan for the Earth.” To do this, however, means confronting powerful economic interests that profit from climate disruptions and, more seriously, curtailing the frenetic pace of extraction of fossil fuels by the most powerful economic actors in world history – the oil lobby.

UN UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wants action, which is why he summoned world leaders to a Climate Summit on September 23. Sojourners Magazine wrote, “The Climate Summit is his altar call, his ‘come to Jesus moment’ for heads of state on climate change – and he wants the whole world to be his witness.” CPJ and World Renew Canada, along with an alliance of 140 different churches, asked Mr. Harper to attend the Summit. (He refused.)

Nonetheless, over 300,000 people marched in the streets of New York City in the largest climate protest ever. Several Christian denominations are studying divestment options – putting their money into “fossil fuel free” alternatives – which a 2014 report by the Responsible Investment Association said offer investors comparable financial returns.

While Ottawa Fiddles, the Planet Burns

The Environment Commissioner noted, “To meet Canada’s long-term emission reduction objectives, the federal government, working with the provinces and territories, will need to plan for further reductions beyond 2020. It has not yet done this.”

The way forward for Christians, as protectors of God’s creation, is clear. We have to encourage our government to develop a strategy for lowering GHG emissions in this country, including ending subsidies to oil and gas companies and introducing a price on carbon. We have to commit money and technological expertise for adaptation and especially mitigation efforts in the countries of the Global South.

Canada’s next federal election is currently slated for October 2015, with the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris following just two months later. These two events present Canadian citizens with crucial opportunities to put pressure on our government to change course.

During the next election campaign, CPJ will be active in making sure climate change is on the agenda. In Paris, the nations of the world must agree on new carbon reduction targets, as the Kyoto Accord expires. To be successful, Canada must show ambition in the negotiations, backed by hitherto-lacking carbon reduction at home.

The Environment Commissioner stated the obvious: “If Canada does not honour its climate change commitments, it cannot expect other countries to honour theirs.”

Citizens for Public Justice prepared a climate change infographic and several worship materials which have been used in over 30 faith communities across Canada. You can download these resources at www.cpj.ca/climate

Photo Credit: Moms Clean Air Force

Photo Credit: Moms Clean Air Force

Joe Gunn serves as Executive Director at CPJ.

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