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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