Hopeful Citizenship in a Time of Crisis

By Karri Munn-Venn

Have you ever had the experience, after a particularly challenging life event, of realizing that all this time, God was trying to get your attention? It often starts with a gentle tap on the shoulder, a minor upset or inconvenience, and then it grows. A nudge, maybe a shove, and then something knocks you flat.

In my experience, each event came with a series of messages: “you’ve got this,” “you’re strong,” and, “you’re not alone.” Unfortunately, it was only after a major health crisis that I was sufficiently shaken to be open to these reassurances. My life, and my view of the world changed in that moment.

In early October 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a much-anticipated report about the implications of allowing global temperatures to rise 1.5 C over pre-industrial levels.

Reports don’t usually cause society to sit up and take notice. Might this one be different?

In recent years we’ve seen an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires, floods, and droughts. Famine and natural resource wars have contributed to increases in global migration. Crisis after crisis after crisis. Yet none have jolted the global community sufficiently to respond appropriately to the world’s changing climate.

How could this report provide the push we need?

By stating in no uncertain terms, that the global community has just 12 years to dramatically change course and avoid serious climate consequences.

Specifically, it says, “limiting global warming to 1.5 C … require[s] rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure, and industrial systems… [and] can only be achieved if global C02 emissions start to decline well before 2030.”

We’ve already hit an average global temperature increase of 1 C, and are experiencing more intense storms, species loss, and rising seas as a result. “Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5 C and increase further with 2 C.”

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a fringe perspective. This IPCC report was commissioned by the UN, produced by over 90 climate scientists from 40 countries, and consolidates more than 6,000 scientific references. This is a global scientific consensus.

Now, are you ready for the good news?

We know what needs to be done and we have the means to make it happen.

The day the IPCC report was released, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to William Norhaus for his work demonstrating the effectiveness of carbon pricing. In brief, he says, “the pricing of carbon achieves four objectives: it sends signals to consumers about which goods and services are more carbon-intensive; it sends signals to producers about which activities are most carbon-intensive (such as coal burning) and which are less carbon-intensive (like solar or wind); it sends signals to propel innovation to find new, affordable alternatives; and finally, pricing is the best means to convey these signals within well-functioning markets.”

It is also good news, then, that there will be a price on carbon across Canada effective Jan. 1, 2019. This includes a federally-imposed pricing arrangement in the four provinces – Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick – that have not developed their own plans (or have canceled the plans of previous provincial governments).

Still, the urgency of the situation requires that we use all of the tools available. Pricing and regulation must be combined to set Canada on a solid path towards decarbonization by 2050.

Over the last few years, federal governments have stumbled and taken some serious mis-steps. Now, the current government has made some symbolic progress by introducing the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, encouraging provincial action towards the phase-out of coal-fired electricity, and by finally imposing a carbon price.

Now, the IPCC has signaled the scientific imperative of transformational climate action. With a federal election less than a year away, we must make it abundantly clear that we expect more.

First, that the federal government follow-through on commitments and, at the very least, implement measures that will enable us to meet Canada’s (meagre) goal of reducing emissions 30 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030. Then, it must increase national ambition to a level consistent with no more than 1.5 C over pre-industrial levels (as outlined by the IPCC).

Second, as a central plank in the plan to reach this new target, they must invest in a just transition towards a decarbonized economy. This includes action on the federal carbon pricing commitment, follow-through on the longstanding commitment to end subsidies to the fossil fuel sector, and a reallocation of funds towards renewable energy and efficiency measures.

The IPCC has issued a clear and urgent call to action.

It shouldn’t take another major crisis for us to realize we need to change.

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