House of Commons Emergency Debate on Climate Change

On Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 in Changement climatique, Débat

Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC:

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand here today and I acknowledge we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples. To them I say meegwetch.

I am very honoured to be part of an emergency debate tonight on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. I appreciate the Speaker accepting the arguments I made, which were also made by the hon. member for Beaches—East York and the NDP caucus.

I want to begin by quoting some words. “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequences are second only to global nuclear war.” Those words were the opening sentence of the consensus scientific report from the Toronto conference in June 1988, when this country was in the lead on climate change, working with the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. The warnings from science were clear then and they remain crystal clear now.

That was in 1988. I have had a ringside seat for the decades during which we could have arrested climate change before our glaciers were melting, before we were losing the Arctic, before our forests were on fire, before we saw draught and climate refugees, and before we had tornadoes in Ottawa. We had a chance in the 1990s and we blew it. We had a chance in the first decade of this century, but every time there has been a warning from scientists, the alarm bell has rung and society has hit the snooze button.

I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that our biggest problem is the short-term mindset that preoccupies political parties not just in Canada but around the world. Where is the bravery? Where is the courage? There are all those people surrounding every politician saying, “You cannot win an election by telling the public the truth. You cannot tell people they are going to have to stop using an internal combustion engine and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Do you want to tell them that? That is not going to be politically popular.”

If we are grown-ups in this place, then we should face the science clear-eyed with a serious intent that acknowledges we cannot afford to hit the snooze button on this one report because this time the scientists are telling us that 1.5° is far more dangerous than we thought it was. It reminds me of what Al Gore once said, that if we let the climate crisis continue apace, it will feel like a nature walk through the Book of Revelation.

We have allowed greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere to increase to such an extent that we have already changed the chemistry of the atmosphere; we cannot change it back. We are leaving that hospitable period within which human civilization took root. We got up and started walking on two legs, and then became the dominant force on the planet in a geological lifespan. In the blink of an eye, humanity became the dominant force on this planet. We are entering the Anthropocene, where what we do has a bigger effect than anything else on life on earth. In the Anthropocene, now we are being told that we as homo sapiens, the clever species, the smart ones, have at most 10 to 12 years to ensure that we stop greenhouse gas emissions rapidly, ramp up sequestration to protect every forest, and replant as many forests as possible. We will have to do some things besides that too if we want to ensure we hold the global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5°C above what it was before the industrial revolution.

Parts of this report could have been much worse. We know this from those in the IPCC negotiations. Bear in mind that this is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yes, it is composed of scientists, but they were appointed by government and this is a negotiated document. Pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia led to removing parts of the report that would have warned us further. If we miss the 1.5° mark, it is bad, and that is in the report, but if we hit 2°, it is much more dangerous. They took out the part about runaway global warning. We do not know when we will hit a tipping point of irreversible self-acceleration where the ultimate consequences are not about bracing for bad weather, but about bracing for millions of species going extinct. Even if humanity can hang on now, can we imagine hanging on to human civilization in a world with a 4°, 5°, 6°, or 7° rise in temperature? The answer is no.

We have one chance, one chance only, within which all the nations on earth agree that we meant what we said in Paris, that we must hold the global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5°. This IPCC special report contains good news because it says we can do it. It says there are no physical, geological or geochemical conditions of planetary existence, technical or economic, that will prevent us from achieving the goal of protecting our children’s future, not future generations in the hypothetical, the children who are here now. I am talking about the grandchildren I tuck into bed at night, those children, not hypothetical children. All of us know those children. They are our children. We have one chance to ensure that in their natural lifespan they enjoy a hospitable biosphere that has sustained humanity since we first got up and walked on two legs.

The issue tonight is not to debate Canada’s current carbon plan, Canada’s current climate plan. This is not a status quo debate. We should not be scoring political points because one party did this and another party did that. We should be here as humanity, human beings, elected people for our constituencies who know full well that if we do not change what we are doing as a species, we will face an unthinkable world. The good news is we still have a chance to save ourselves.

I increasingly am drawn to thinking about the five days in May 1940 when Winston Churchill was surrounded by people, the Lord Halifaxes and the Chamberlains, who said, “Face the facts. We cannot not defend this island. The Nazis are invading. Our entire army is stranded at Dunkirk. There are 300,000 men, and we cannot get them off because there is no way.” They sat and surrendered. This is the moment when real political leadership steps up. This is when we need our Prime Minister to go to the negotiations in Poland, or to dispatch the Minister of Environment to the negotiations in Poland, and say, “We are stepping up. We are going to rescue everybody. We are going to be the heroes in our own story. We are going to adopt what the IPCC says we must do: 45% reductions by 2030.” Churchill of course, surrounded by naysayers, thought up a miracle, one that is clearly undoable. He asked, “How many civilian boats are there in Dover? We could get those civilians to cross the English channel and rescue over 300,000 men.” Really? It was hardly plausible.

In this time and age we need to face the facts just as squarely. We need to tell Canadians that we have hope, to not despair or think it is too late. They should not turn away from the IPCC reports. They should not be afraid because we cannot breathe in British Columbia in the summer because of forest fires. They should not give up. We will rally and marshal every small town, every big city, every Canadian group, rotary clubs, church groups, and we will tell those naysayers who think that climate change is about a cash grab that they are in the way of our future and that they must get out of the way.

We also sadly must say to our own Minister of Environment that it is not true that we cannot change our target for five years. The Paris Agreement says clearly that any country can replace its own target anytime. The IPCC report has said to us as a country that our target is approximately 50% too little. We need to do twice as much. I know that is hard, but to save the lives of our children, what would we not do? Why will we not rally around the call that we go to COP24 and say we are not going to wait five years? It is an unthinkable thing what the minister has said to us. She said we are going to wait until 2023. “Read between the lines,” is what she just said. We must go to the next climate negotiation as leaders in the world with the target assigned us of totals we must have. Then we must stand up and challenge the others by asking where is their target, where is their goal, because we are not prepared to tell our children we are a failed species. We are not going to do that because we are responsible human beings. We are Canadian parliamentarians and together we can achieve the pathway that has been put before us by world science.

Time is not on our side. History may not be on our side, but by God, we better be on our side. We better grab this chance and make it real.

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