The Arctic Council and Urgent Federal Action on Climate Change

On Thursday, October 5th, 2017 in Adjournment Proceedings, climate change, Parliament

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, I rise in adjournment proceedings tonight to take up a question that I asked earlier this spring.

It might be considered to be somewhat stale-dated by this point, but there are current issues of real importance related to the question that I asked of the Prime Minister back in the month of March. It was on the eve of a very important meeting of the Arctic Council that took place in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was the last Arctic Council meeting chaired by the United States, which chaired the council for a brief period when the Obama administration represented the United States in international affairs.

It was very clear that we were making progress. Ironically, we were repairing the damage that Canada had done as chair under the previous Conservative government. Under Canada’s chairing of the Arctic Council, climate change was ignored and shelved as an issue. When chairmanship went from Canada to the U.S. under Obama, we began to see the focus of what we would expect in a time of galloping climate change in the Arctic. It is critical to look at the impacts on not just the Arctic as a specific region but at the impacts of a warming Arctic on the planet.

In any case, the question I put to the Prime Minister was whether Canada would stand firmly with Nordic nations to ensure that the urgency of climate change and the commitment to the Paris accord were reflected in the communique from the Arctic Council. I have to say that I am very pleased that Canada stepped up. The Trump administration was somewhat sidelined, but in the end, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed on to the joint declaration from the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the spring to say that the Paris accord was critical and that the parties were committed to climate action.

In taking it up now, we know that the current and next chair of the Arctic Council is the Government of Finland. However, science is increasingly conveying the urgency to start asking questions about the kind of Arctic we need to have to ensure that we can avoid catastrophic and indeed cataclysmic levels of climate change. This has to do with asking questions about working backwards from the Paris target of ensuring that we do not go above a 1.5° Celsius global average temperature temperature increase over what it was before the industrial revolution. It is specifically and urgently critical to the question of what kind of Arctic we need to have for human civilization to survive.

It relates very directly to evidence presented most recently in Nature as a projection based on current levels of governmental commitments, and I mean government commitments globally.

There is only a 5% chance that we will stick to 1.5°, and for every degree of warming above where we are now, recent studies in Nature Climate Change predict that for every 1° Celsius of warming, we will see 1.5 million square miles of permafrost disappear. Every ounce of permafrost that disappears releases vast quantities of methane, which is 20 times more powerful, unit for unit, than carbon dioxide. In other words, if the world’s permafrost melts, it is game over for humanity. It is stark. It is real.

The urgency of acting means that we not take our target from the Paris accord—the weak target left behind by the Conservatives of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030—but actually take on board the far more real challenge that Canada supported in Paris of avoiding 1.5° Celsius. That is the challenge I put to the government.

Matt Decourcey – Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, as my friend knows, the Minister of Foreign Affairs did lead Canada’s delegation to the Fairbanks Arctic Council meeting, where the minister successfully underscored the priority that the Government of Canada was committed to the Arctic. This was demonstrated by our partnership with northerners and indigenous people, and through funding for renewable energy and energy security, including $400 million for the Arctic Energy Fund announced in budget 2017.

This year’s Arctic Council ministerial meeting demonstrated all eight nations’ key commitments to the Arctic. We reiterated the need for global action on climate change and also made note in the Fairbanks declaration of the entry into force of the Paris agreement. Canada worked closely with all Arctic states and indigenous peoples organizations at the Fairbanks meeting to ensure all of our respective positions on the environment reflected this important fact.

An agreement was reached among all eight Arctic states to sign a ministerial declaration that noted the importance of the Paris agreement on climate change, the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants, and a reaffirmation of the United Nations sustainable development goals. This was the first instrument agreed to and signed by the current U.S. administration that contained a reference to the Paris agreement.

The Arctic Council ministers also adopted a report on the progress and recommendations for black carbon and methane reductions and included a goal to reduce black carbon emissions by 25% to 33% below 2013 levels by 2025. This is the first-ever collective international goal on black carbon ever agreed to, which will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, Canada, along with the other Arctic states, signed an agreement on enhancing international Arctic scientific co-operation, which will help increase effectiveness and efficiency in the development of scientific knowledge about the region as well as strengthen scientific co-operation in the Arctic, including at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Canada knows that climate change has a tremendous impact and that only international action can combat climate change.

So far, Canada’s international leadership over the past year to address climate change includes the ratification of the Paris agreement, the amendment to the Montreal protocol to phase down highly polluting HFCs, and the historic agreement under the International Civil Aviation Organization to address greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector.

Everyone on this side of the House in the government share the member’s concerns and need to ensure we act to promote environmental sustainability, guard against ecosystem pollution, and ensure we have an Arctic that can thrive for years to come. That is the view of the government, and it is only by working together that we will achieve our international commitments, as laid out in the Paris agreement.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, certainly the black carbon announcement from the Arctic Council was welcomed, but I do not think it was the first. The first global commitment to reduce black carbon was, I recall, at the Conference of the Parties that took place in Durban.

Setting that aside, we are now looking at clearer evidence all the time that Canada’s current domestic plans and international commitments fall far short of the rhetoric. This was underscored yesterday in a report by the environment commissioner within the Office of the Auditor General. The report stated that Canada was completely unprepared to deal with the consequences of climate change and that we were not acting aggressively enough at all to meet our Paris targets.

While I celebrate good intentions on the part of the Liberal government, it is time to see far more aggressive action, using tools in the federal jurisdictional tool box.

Matt DeCourcey

Madam Speaker, Canada will continue to play a leadership role, as it is now, at home and among international partners to address climate change and drive the transition of our global economy toward sustainability and inclusivity. We do continue to lead the way not only in having ambitious targets but in ensuring we have a plan that will help us meet them.

We are working with all our Arctic Council partners, states, indigenous peoples’ organizations, and observers to ensure joint leadership on climate and environmental issues so they address the needs of northerners in Canada and around the circumpolar north.

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