The Hill Times by Diane Beckett
Neil Young isn’t the only one sounding the alarm about the urgent need to address climate change or face disaster.
The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations are not exactly the kinds of organizations typically run by “tree huggers” and yet, Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF recently warned that “Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank says that “global warming imperils all of the development gains we have made”.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon points out that the old model, where “we burned our way to prosperity” is a “global suicide pact.”
And President Obama states that “I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this (climate change) challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”
Even the Canadian Conservatives, known for their tightly controlled messaging, agree that extreme weather and climate change are connected. Just this month, MP Peter Braid stated on national television that “We are seeing the effects, the impacts of climate change. With climate change comes extreme weather events. We saw that through the floods in southern Alberta, we’re now seeing that with the ice storms in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto, with the extreme cold across the country.”
The International Energy Agency states that two thirds of proven reserves of oil, gas and coal will have to stay in the ground to hold global warming to two degrees Celsius, which is the internationally recognized limit of manageable climate change. We are currently below that limit and the extreme weather we are now experiencing is considered manageable.
Yet, the Canadian government is not moving on the climate change file – or rather the only movement this government is making is to increase Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions. We are the only country that has abandoned its Kyoto commitments and we are now on track to miss the commitments that this government made at Copenhagen by 20%.
The oil sands are large part of the reason that we are failing to halt the growth of our GHGs. The Canadian Government has forecasted that GHG emissions from the oil sands will triple between 2005 and 2020. This will swamp Canada’s progress in GHG reductions in other sectors.
In December, the Canadian Government filed a report with the UN that forecast that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions will rise sharply after 2020 unless there are dramatic efforts to rein in emissions from the oil and gas sector. At the same time the government indicated that it was delaying for up to two years, the release of its long-promised regulations to reduce emissions from the booming oil sands sector.
The Harper Government can no longer use the excuse that his lack of action is because we need to be in step with the U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan last summer that would largely meet the U.S. commitments. Canada’s commitments are similar, yet we are not on track to meet them.
Nor can our Prime Minister continue to use the excuse that it is jobs or the economy. Business leaders have also been raising their voices and stating the importance of addressing not only climate change but also inequality, unemployment and the unsustainable use of natural resources.
Plan B, launched by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, features a large and impressive group of global business leaders committed to “putting people and planet beside profit when conducting business”.
The United Nations’ Global Compact for businesses are committed to aligning their “operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption”.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is “a CEO-led organization that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment”.
And the World Economic Forum tackled climate change, inequality and debt at its annual meeting in Davos last week. Headlines from the forum included “Planet earth is hitting the panic button” followed by statements such as “What has everyone jumpy is new, undeniable evidence that climate change is hitting the global economy as well.”
Yet, when Neil Young adds his voice to this discussion, the Canadian government criticizes him.
We are close to a tipping point – either slipping into unmanageable climate change or repositioning ourselves for a more sustainable and equitable future. As Neil Young states, on our current trajectory “The future doesn’t look bright for you, me or anybody else and it definitely doesn’t look bright for our future generations.” It is long past the time for our government to take action on climate change including the oil sands.
Diane Beckett has worked across Canada and in more than a dozen countries assisting organizations such as the Canadian Government, the United Nations and civil society organizations with policy, planning, management and advocacy for sustainability.