With every degree increase in global temperature we increase the risk of catastrophic events

On Monday, March 26th, 2018 in Adjournment Proceedings, Parliament

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the chance to rise tonight at adjournment proceedings to revisit a question I asked on November 20, 2017. It was related to an event that has since passed, which was the Emmanuel Macron climate leaders summit that was held in Paris.

However, let me move on to the point I want to raise tonight, which relates to the Prime Minister’s answer to me, which was entirely favourable. What he said was, “I know that by working together, we will achieve our international commitments as laid out in the Paris agreement.” What I want to revisit this evening with the House is what we are to understand our international commitments to be, as laid out in the Paris Agreement.

What I find in the day-to-day press and conversations in this place is a conflating of the current target for carbon reductions that the Government of Canada is using as our current goal, as though it were absolutely consistent with the Paris Agreement. Now, of course the current target to which the new Liberal government, which is not that new but the Liberal government since 2015, has ascribed to is the target of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The government knows well that target predates the Paris Agreement being negotiated, because it was negotiated in December 2015 and this is the Government of Canada’s target from May 2015. It was tabled by former Conservative environment minister Leona Aglukkaq.

At the time, it was decried as one of the weakest targets in the industrialized world. In fact, our current Minister of Environment and Climate Change described it at one point as being the floor, and that we would certainly do better than that. It was less than 12 months later that the floor became the ceiling, and this is now our target.

However, to understand why it really matters to pay attention to the Paris Agreement, we have to look at where Canada did show leadership, and that was in advancing our target for all countries globally. We must ensure that our reductions of greenhouse gases are sufficiently aggressive to hold global average temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and certainly below two degrees. In looking at why 1.5 degrees matters, it matters critically and urgently, and I say this in no way as an exaggeration or hyperbole. It matters for the survival of human civilization.

It may even matter for the survival of the species that we achieve an equilibrium of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such that we can adapt to those changes in climate change that we can no longer avoid. It is a question of odds. The odds matter. We are now almost in a game of Russian roulette. If we lose 1.5 degrees as our goal, if it goes to two, or worse to three or four, we are increasing the odds with every increase in global warming of catastrophic events such as, for instance, losing the western Antarctic ice sheet.

Because it sits on land instead of the melting ice in our Arctic, which does not affect sea level rise, if we lose the western Antarctic ice sheet, that has an impact of an eight-metre sea level rise in Canada. That is information from the University of Toronto’s study called the GRACE project under Professor Dick Peltier. That is a huge impact. We have to do everything in our power to hold our temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Worse risks are if we lose all the permafrost in our Arctic, if it all melts, that releases four times more greenhouse gases than everything since before the industrial revolution. That could effect human extinction.

I ask to hon. government to please consider what our Paris target is, and how we are going to meet it.

Jonathan Wilkinson – Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member alluded to, the initial question actually related to the One World summit, but the question is a little different, and I am happy to address the question the member has posed.

This government was elected on a platform that included a significant commitment to addressing the issue of climate change. Many who ran for the Liberal Party, as ran for other parties, certainly the Green Party, did so in large measure because they were committed to addressing the issue of climate change. I for one ran in large measure because of a commitment about addressing climate change.

Once elected, the government played a constructive role in the context of the development of the Paris Agreement. The hon. member was in Paris with theMinister of Environment and Climate Change for those conversations. Subsequent to that, we worked with the provinces and territories in the federal architecture that is Canada to come up with a plan that would allow us to have visibility about how we actually address this matter and meet the targets to which we had committed under the Paris Agreement.

As the hon. member mentioned, the target that was established had been established under the previous government, but the previous government had established a target with absolutely no plan in place to actually meet that target. As the hon. member knows very well, many of the changes that are required for us to make substantive progress toward achieving emission reductions require major changes in the way we conduct industrial practice, whether that is phasing out of coal, changing the nature of the transportation system to move toward more electric vehicles or other kinds of alternative vehicles, or bringing in new building codes that over time will affect the energy efficiency of not just new buildings but retrofits of existing buildings. Those are all things that take time to thoughtfully develop and then they take time to thoughtfully implement. The government was in a position where it had 12 years to actually work through and implement a process that would allow us to have visibility on meeting our target.

This government is very much committed to addressing climate change. We are committed to achieving the targets we established under Paris. To the extent we are making progress in that direction, we are open, as the minister has said on many occasions, to ratcheting up our level of commitment over time. However, let us be clear. In Canada, governments have histories of establishing targets with absolutely no plan and no actions to meet them. This government has taken the exact opposite perspective, which is to say we need a target, but we actually need a plan. We need to show Canadians that this is something we actually can do, and that we work step-wise to show progress on this critical issue. As the hon. member has talked about, it is something that is not only in the interest of Canadians but is in the interest of all citizens of our planet.

Elizabeth May
Mr. Speaker, the critical question here is time. We heard the parliamentary secretary say the government may ratchet up our commitment over time. We are running out of time. That is our most precious and vanishing commodity.

I have watched the debates on climate in our country over decades, and procrastination has been the order of the day. However, it is not correct to say there was never a plan. The government of the Right Hon. Paul Martin had a plan that would have taken us very close to Kyoto. It was brought forward in 2005, and was replete with measures that the current government could implement. There were things like eco-energy retrofit for housing, and programs to encourage the purchase of low-emission vehicles, either electric or hybrid. We are not seeing the government even dust off the 2005 budget of a previous Liberal government that was very close to reaching Kyoto targets, had the Conservatives not been elected and cancelled all those plans.

My point is, it is 2018. I still see no plan. I do not see a carbon budget, and I do not see the kind of action that is required.

Jonathan Wilkinson

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to my hon. colleague, I clearly have a different perspective on that.

If one reads the pan-Canadian framework, there are measures relating to the transition toward energy efficiency in vehicles, but also a longer-term transition toward lower emission or zero emission vehicles. There are provisions relating to new building codes for new buildings, and also retrofit building codes, to ensure we actually are reducing GHG emission levels that come from buildings. There are provisions relating to the accelerated phase-out of coal. There are provisions relating to the development of a low-carbon fuel standard, which will lower the emissions intensity of the fuels we are actually using.

There is an enormous number of measures that will help us in a step-wise way to get to our targets. There is clear visibility outlined in the pan-Canadian framework as to how we will do that. Implementation of a climate plan has never been done in the history of Canada, and we will do it.

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