Degrees of Justice

Understanding the need for climate change mitigation in Canada

The climate we experience results from complex chemical, physical, and biological processes that interact with complicated social and political structures. As creatures and citizens of both ecological and political societies, our impact extends to all organisms with whom we share the safe harbor of Earth’s climate.

Climate change is a tragically urgent public justice issue that requires immediate action.

Faith calls us to pursue justice with humility: currently the costs and consequences of climate change are inequitably distributed between and within our climatic community. People of faith can – and should – be a voice for climate justice.

As we look to the election and December’s crucial climate summit that will quickly follow, it is clear that we need Canadian leadership on climate policy.

“We agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required… to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity.”

—The Copenhagen Accord, December 2009.

Climate Change 101

What is climate?

Weather refers to atmospheric conditions over a short period of time: minutes to weeks. Climate refers to atmospheric conditions over a long period of time: years to centuries.

Is climate changing?

Yes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by roughly 0.85°C since the industrial revolution. This is concerning because although earth’s climate has always fluctuated, the rate of climate change has increased dramatically due to human activity as societies have industrialized.

Why is climate changing?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere absorb some of the solar energy entering and exiting Earth’s atmosphere. These gases then “transfer” this energy to the other gases, effectively heating up the atmosphere.

GHGs are good! They exist naturally to help keep the Earth warm enough to support life. Recently, however, concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere have surpassed the levels of natural variability that can be assimilated by Earth systems. This quantity of atmospheric GHGs is a problem.

The IPCC reports that 78% of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions observed between 1970 and 2010 can be attributed to increased combustion of fossil fuels and industrial processes driven by economic and population growth.

Why is 2°C the global target?

Limiting an increase in average global surface temperature to less than 2°C since industrialization would maintain a window of “safe operating space” for humanity. Beyond this range we risk triggering abrupt and irreversible changes in physical or ecosystems like strong sea level rise and the collapse of marine ecosystems.

The Politics of Climate Justice

Why is climate a justice issue?

Developed nations have contributed the majority of cumulative GHG emissions to date by using industrialization as a vehicle for national wealth. These emissions have placed pressure on insecure economies, largely nations in the Global South, as food and water security are increasingly threatened by rising temperatures.

How can we maintain 2°C?

The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), an initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, states that to maintain changes within 2°C, societies must almost entirely eliminate GHG emissions by the second half of the 21st century. The DDPP calls for all nations to limit GHG emissions to 1.7 tonnes per capita by 2050. Canadians emitted 20.7 tonnes  per capita in 2013!

Canada needs to reduce its emissions by more than 90% (to 73 Megatonnes by 2050) to help keep increases in global mean surface temperature below 2°C. Only the most ambitious party commitments for 2050 come close to achieving this goal.

Our new government will join the international community at the critical climate change talks in Paris in December.

Now, as leadership is elected and international commitments are decided, is the time for Canadian people of faith to speak up for climate justice.

For More Information:

C. Bataille, D. Sawyer and R. Adamson, “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in Canada,” CMC Research Institutes Inc., 2015.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Climate Change Synthesis Report,” WMO, UNEP, 2014.

J. Rockstrom, “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Ecology and Society, vol. 14, no. 2, p. 32, 2009.

“Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change,” IUPAC, KCVS, RSC, ACS, UNESCO, FASC, [Online]. Available:


  • Miriam meandered over to Ottawa from Edmonton, Alberta, where she recently completed her B.Sc. in Environmental Studies at the King’s University with a concentration in biology and a passion for public justice. As an academic urbanite reflecting on society’s place in creation (and vice versa), Miriam’s research has ranged to include statistical analyses on the survivorship of endangered seedlings, the construction of interactive applets to communicate grade five level chemistry, an exploration of Sabbath as the solution to the ecological crisis, an evaluation of the externalities of gasoline consumption in Canada, an evaluation of youth policy and programming in Alberta, and participation in the founding of an intentional Christian community on Alberta Avenue in Edmonton. Miriam continues to find herself overwhelmed by the mysterious threads of grace that knit all existence together in shared meaning. Motivated by the conviction that human creatures should be more faithful citizens of ecological communities, she wants to see a union of environmental and social justice woven into the fabric of responsible public policy in Canada.

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