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No one will be untouched by climate change

The Hill Times by Diane Beckett 7 April 2014

Scientists, world leaders, business people speak with one voice.

The IPCC scientists are not the only ones sounding the alarm about the urgent need to address climate change or face disaster.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations are not exactly the kinds of organizations typically run by “tree huggers” and yet, Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF has 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 “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 U.S. President Barack Obama states “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. In January, Conservative MP Peter Braid stated on national television that, “We are seeing the impacts of climate change. With climate change comes extreme weather events.” He cited the floods in southern Alberta, the ice storms in southern Ontario, and the extreme cold across the country as examples of the extreme weather events that are caused by climate change that have hit Canada in the last year.

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 (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 per cent.

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 oilsands 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 oilsands 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 10 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 climate change is central to the discussions at the World Economic Forum. Headlines from the most recent annual forum in Davos in January 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.”

We are close to a tipping point—either slipping into unmanageable climate change or repositioning ourselves for a more sustainable and equitable future. 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.