The Hard Facts
Evidence of climate change has been documented around the world. Loss of Arctic sea ice, altered precipitation patterns, more drought, increasing ocean temperatures and changes in food availability for migratory species all contributed to the 2007 assertion by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the changes to the climate system are “unequivocal,” and these changes are “very likely” caused by human activities. In developed nations like Canada, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions is the combustion of fossil fuels. Developing nations’ emissions are largely from the removal or burning of forests.
Although the atmosphere may appear limitless, in reality, it is a thin protective layer that envelops our planet. Human activities are changing the composition of our atmosphere, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases to levels that are already altering the climate system.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an apolitical, scientific and intergovernmental group of experts that “reviews worldwide research, issues regular assessment reports and compiles special reports and technical papers.” Their most recent report, released in 2007, states that global temperatures cannot rise more than 2°C, and that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should not exceed 450 parts per million (already we’re at 391 ppm) if we are to avoid worst-case scenarios. The conclusions of the IPCC have been the impetus for global protocols, action and scientifically based reduction targets.
How Canada Stacks Up
All nations need to be part of the solution, and Canada is no exception. All contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but some contribute a little more than others. Giving credit where it is due, Canada’s emissions intensity has improved, meaning that our emissions per unit of production are decreasing. However, our greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise because production is increasing, most notably in the petroleum export industry. As it stands, Canada emits more greenhouse gases per capita than China or India.
Canada needs to accomplish two things:
- reduce emissions to scientifically determined levels, and
- help wildlife adapt – many species already face altered habitats due to changing climate conditions, and they need our help to survive.
Upon ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, the government of Canada committed to reducing our emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. But we’ve had no such luck. Instead our emissions today are 27 per cent above 1990 levels, and the federal government’s commitment falls far short of what the best available science states is necessary. Under the federal government’s plan, our emissions will only be 3.6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and between 51.8 and 63.9 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. Other developed nations such as Germany, the United Kingdom and France have already achieved their targets, so how can the government of Canada say that it’s impossible to achieve ours? Despite efforts to improve energy efficiency, investments in carbon capture and storage and improvements in vehicle efficiency (starting in 2011), the simple fact is that Canada’s reductions are neither deep nor wide enough. Why does the government of Canada feel that it can relax its targets when we’re all in this together?
Canada ranks dead last among the G8 countries in terms of climate change action. The impacts of climate change – realized and predicted – in areas (and associated industries) such as the Great Lakes, the Prairies and the Arctic should be enough of a motivator to instill ambitious greenhouse gas reductions and adaptation plans that protect nature and its processes, but this is not the case. The federal government has declared it is taking action on adaptation and climate change issues, but ironically the environment itself is not a focus of adaptation. Adaptation efforts are nearly exclusively geared towards people, property, infrastructure and human health. While this is clearly important, the fundamental role that the environment plays in our livelihoods, health, recreation and identity is grossly undermined.
CWF is advocating that the federal government
- allocate a percentage of revenue from any carbon market mechanism — such as cap and trade, if imposed — towards natural resource conservation;
- invest in conserving and restoring natural areas, in recognition that growing plants and soils remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while increasing wildlife’s capacity to adapt; and
- set reduction targets based on the best available, peer-reviewed science. Anything less is unacceptable.