Elizabeth May Speech on Paris Climate Agreement (COP21)

On Tuesday, October 4th, 2016 in COP 21
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Mr. Speaker, I thank all members of the House for participating in this important discussion and debate on the Paris agreement.

Obviously, the Paris agreement is a historic one. According to Laurent Fabius, president of COP21, the agreement is “fair, sustainable, dynamic, balanced and legally binding”. François Hollande, the President of France, said, “It is rare to be given the opportunity to change the world. Seize it so that the planet can live on, so that humanity can live on”.

What we did in the debates and negotiations at the Paris discussions was to put in place a framework in which we have the opportunity to save ourselves. The Paris agreement by itself does not avoid the most catastrophic impacts of a warming world.

We Canadians played a role in having the agreement made tougher. Our Minister of Environment and Climate Change was the first industrialized country negotiator to say that the agreement must strive to hold global average temperature to no more than 1.5° Celsius.

What is the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees? It does not sound like a lot to people who do not know climate science. It means a lot to people living in low-lying island states. It is the difference between their surviving and disappearing below the seas. It means a lot when we understand the threat of the loss of Arctic ice, the threat to the Greenland ice sheet. If we lose summer ice over our North Pole, it has a profound impact on climate around the world. If we increase greenhouse gases, we will see increased acidification of our oceans. This is not dependent upon temperature; this is simple chemistry. Carbon dioxide is mixing at upper ocean levels and our oceans are already 30% more acidic than they used to be, with the risk of our marine ice shelves melting and actually killing our oceans. That is the ultimate end if we do not reduce greenhouse gases. We are looking at climatic disaster and ocean acidification as a result. They are separate threats from the same cause.

What faces us here is that we ratify the Paris agreement. That is a good thing to do. It must be done. Yet, we have committed ourselves to trying to avoid more than 1.5° increase in global average temperature. It is essential that we stay well below 2°. However, the aggregate total of all of the current commitments by governments around the world, when calculated, takes us to somewhere between 2.7° and 3.5° Celsius. In other words, it was an overshoot from the get-go, from the minute we signed this agreement. If we keep the Harper target, we will not keep our commitments under the Paris agreement. It is about the math.

As Bill McKibben says, “This is literally a math test, and it’s not being graded on a curve. It only has one correct answer”. That answer has to be that we reduce greenhouse gases and accept that we are making a global transition off fossil fuels.

We cannot get out of a hole while we dig at the same time. We cannot approve pipelines or LNG projects and think we can meet the Paris targets.

In the words of Winston Churchill, from a different era:

The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.

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  • Leslie Chin
  • preConfederation

    Even oil producing Qatar is coming in with renewable energy at sub .05 cents per kWh. Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, USA, Mexico and most of Europe are out pacing Canada in all aspects of renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, storage). Canada must be the least read Country on the planet, as Federal and Provincial leaders stand and promote a sunset industry – and even worse, environmental irresponsibility. When oil companies leave Canada, they won’t be cleaning of their water, air and soil damage – but our children will have to.

  • Monica Petrie

    Explained clearly and understandably.Thank you for your ongoing work on our behalf.

  • alan

    We here in Nova Scotia just had quite the unexpected “weather event”.We are all indeed entering a period of consequences

  • Leslie Stanick

    Thank you Elizabeth, as always, for putting the crisis in clear perspective that ANYONE should be able to understand, our Prime Minister included. Please send this to the US Congress!

  • John Stephenson

    It is essential that we remove CO2 from the atmosphere while at the same time cutting emissions. It ca be done by ‘growing soil’ ( see “amazingcarbon.com”). James Hansen (see his paper March 2016 http://www.atmos.chem.phys.net/2016/acp-16-3761/2016.pdf) thinks that if temperatures get above 2 deg.C. Then a fast ice melt will cool the oceans resulting in global cooling and harvest failures, with consequent mass starvation.

  • Cliff Griswold

    James Hansen was the first climate scientist to testify about climate change, before the U.S. Congress, in 1988. He later went on to say that we’re screwed if the atmospheric carbon level exceeds 350 parts per million (ppm). We’re now at 403.5 ppm. We’re screwed.

  • fjwhite

    Ms May’s speech sounds some important alarm bells. But does it go far enough? First, a nit-picking correction: COP21 is not legally binding but that does not make it meaningless http://tinyurl.com/zrtzdg2

    Getting the math right is essential. But consider just a tiny sample of warnings from other credible sources that suggest climate change is about so much more than the math –

    James Hansen called COP21 a “total fraud”, warning the world is on the wrong track to prevent runaway global warming. http://wp.me/pO0No-33P

    Naomi Klein: We’ve done the math. We know politicians have come to the table with emissions reduction targets that will lead us to an extremely dangerous future, three to four degrees.” http://wp.me/pO0No-33L

    David Spratt, Australian climate policy analyst: The recent data suggests it has taken just three months for the Paris climate accord — with its escalating emissions to 2030 — to become a relic, completely disconnected to the task the world now faces.” http://wp.me/pO0No-3fr

    Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research offers this sobering observation that has grave implications for humanity’s slim chances of reaching a 2°C target: “There is a very clear understanding amongst virtually all of the academics I engage with, whether directly on projects or simply through discussions following seminars etc. that “growth” is sacrosanct. Economics trumps physics – and given, from a funding and career perspective, it is unwise to suggest that our scientific conclusions beg questions of the ‘immutable economic logic’ of modern society, we find ways of reconciling the two.” http://tinyurl.com/j625wyq

    William Rees, Canadian ecological economist, dismisses renewables as a practical substitute for fossil fuels: “Renewables are simply not in the cards…. only 12% will be truly renewable energy if we stay on the business as usual track. So renewables, including hydro reach 6% of market share by 2030, up from 2% a couple of years ago. So there’s no hope if that’s the trending for true alternatives.” http://wp.me/pO0No-36t

    Finally, here’s a link to an eye-opening video interview from India, a potential ticking time bomb: “What does Paris climate agreement ratification mean for India?”. The interviewee is D. Raghunandan, a member of Delhi Science Forum. “The draft of the Paris climate change agreement has left the Indian government and its negotiators upset: It ignores many submissions by developing countries, breaches India’s non-negotiable red lines and is inimical to the country’s interests. Money will be a big challenge for India, which says it will require over $2.5 trillion to meet all of its targets. It says it will achieve the targets only if other countries give it money and discounts on new technology.” (If you do watch the 13-minute video be sure to turn on the closed captioning (cc) because the accents can be a challenge.) http://tinyurl.com/gktxarl

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