Emergency climate declaration debate: “This is an emergency, and we must work together”

On Monday, June 17th, 2019 in Climate Change, Debate, Democracy, Issues, Parliament

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, this is a moment of extreme cognitive dissonance. We have before us a motion that there is a climate emergency that was tabled on May 16 and then adjourned for a month. For an emergency, we should not be adjourning debate, nor should we have closure on debate.

 

I think the hon. parliamentary secretary will probably try to find some way to agree with me on this. The motion calls for us to declare a climate emergency, and then the motion calls for us to ignore it. The motion says we should commit to meeting the national emissions target tabled under the Paris Agreement, which is the one left behind by Stephen Harper, which was developed in a complete void. It had nothing to do with the negotiations, which had not yet happened.

 

If we are going to hold to 1.5°C, I would ask the parliamentary secretary to please explain and put on record when his party and his government will update the Harper target under which we are still operating, such that it can be consistent with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned us in October last year must be done, which is approximately doubling current efforts.

Sean Fraser: Mr. Speaker, with respect, I do not think that we are seeking to ignore the nature of the emergency that we are declaring by virtue of this motion. In fact, we tried to use broad-based language that removed most of the politics from it by avoiding discussions of our specific efforts in the hope that we could just address the issue.

The target that is most important to me is the one that would get us to 1.5°C. We know that is where we need to be. With respect to the target the hon. member referred to, the target the government has used, it is a starting point, in my mind, that was negotiated with the provinces and territories as we were arriving at the pan-Canadian framework.

We know we need to continue to aim for deeper and deeper reductions to get where we need to be, and I look forward to the upcoming campaign, when we are going to be not only canvassing the ideas that we have already implemented, but identifying a path forward so Canadians can see how we can get there to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

 

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I put this question to my friend from South Okanagan—West Kootenay, recognizing the depth of his commitment and the depth of his understanding of the science. I would like to focus on what we can do together by recognizing that it is a climate emergency. My hon. colleague just used a figure that is close to what the IPCC said. Its report released on October 8 of last year said that to avoid going above a 1.5° global average temperature increase, and it identified that going above that represented extreme danger, with catastrophic impacts that could wipe out human civilization, we really have no choice but to try to hold to 1.5°. It said that the world, overall, must reduce emissions by 45% of 2010 levels by 2030.

When I crunch the numbers and look at Canada, because we are so far behind everyone else and are still dealing with people who think it is okay to build new pipelines and expand the emission of greenhouse gases, we should be reducing to 60% below 2005 levels by 2030. We have to get our target right and our trajectory right, or we will never achieve what must be done.

I wonder if the member has any thoughts on what the appropriate target is for Canada, given, as the hon. member said, quite rightly, that we are running out of time.

 

Richard Cannings: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for that question and for her commitment to this issue.

On the issue of what is the right target, I think the really important target is that we have to get to net zero, and if we have to get there by the middle of the century, then we have to do that. Right now, I think the government has said that we would be at 80% by then. However, that is the important target. Whether we get the targets of 40% by 2030, 60% by 2040 or 100% by 2050 exactly right I do not think it so important. However, if we are not going to get to the target we are going for right now of 30% by 2030, that is where I think the big failure is. That is where I think the current government has to change its targets to better targets and then change its plan to meet these targets to make a difference.

 

Elizabeth May: Madam Speaker, to my hon. friend from Kootenay—Columbia, I think that those of us who understand the climate science, which I know he does, have something of a sense of despair when we are debating the climate emergency motion from the government. If we take seriously that this is an emergency and we understand the science, then the inevitable consequence is that we must plan a carbon budget in which we systematically reduce and ultimately stop using fossil fuels altogether. We must, in that process, include a transition for the skills of workers.

One great example that I will give are the orphan oil wells. There are thousands of them throughout Alberta and northern B.C., which have tremendous potential for geothermal energy production. The biggest cost for geothermal is drilling down deep below the earth’s surface. The same people who drill an oil well can help manage it as a geothermal facility. However, we are paralyzed by the notion that if we want to save ourselves, someone might be out of work. Saving ourselves and ensuring that our children have a liveable world must be our number one consideration.

I ask the hon. member for his sense of this disconnect in which we find ourselves.

 

Wayne Stetski: Madam Speaker, there is a sense of urgency among our youth. I have to give all credit to the youth who are really driving this question and making all politicians around the world pay attention to climate change. They are concerned about their future.

The member is absolutely right about the opportunity around green energy. Looking at the possibilities for geothermal, solar and wind and, in the ocean areas, tidal energy, it is amazing. What it means is that people do not have to travel from Newfoundland or other parts of the country, like from my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, to Alberta for gainful employment.

If we move to a green energy economy, those jobs will stay right at home. A person would not have to leave home, but could have a good job and a better future for their family, as well as for the economy. It is there; we just have to make sure that we do the transition properly.

 

Elizabeth May: Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for graciously sharing his time with me.

This emergency debate is now under time allocation. It started over a month ago and this is my first occasion to be able to speak to the various reasons that I want to support both the Liberal motion that this is a climate emergency and the Conservative amendment that would require that we do something more rigorous about it. I have already voted in favour of the NDP motion to similar effect that called this a climate emergency.

I want to back up and set this in a context that is indeed global. I am going to attempt to do this in as non-partisan a fashion as possible.

Clearly, we are in a global climate emergency. The greatest threat to our future comes not from some foreign foe but from our very own human nature. The problem is that partisan politics in every democracy stand in the way of the scientific community, which knows without a doubt that we must take action.

In every country around the world the same circumstance prevails that there is a very large obstacle for people in elected office to do what needs to be done, because in one country after another they face domestic obstacles of what is politically possible.

We are in a very serious crisis now. The words “climate emergency” apply because we have been told by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have, at most, 10 years and likely less to ensure that we hit the required target for 2030, and to ensure that we can hit the targets required by 2050.

I want to underscore that these are not political targets. They are non-negotiable. Political targets can be missed, though we can try. Goodness knows how often Canada has missed targets to end child poverty. It is not a good thing, not at all. We have missed targets to provide safe drinking water on first nations reserves. We take targets in this place and we name them.

The targets around climate action in a climate emergency are essentially scientists telling us as elected people that we only have one chance. I have been working on this issue, by the way, since 1986, when I was in the former minister of environment’s office. We had a lot of chances then.

Procrastination has left us where we are right now. There is no time for incrementalism any more. We have run out of time for small tweaks. We actually are in a place where, if we are going to ensure our children have a livable world and human civilization does not break down in their lifetimes, and nothing is more serious than that, we have to accept that we are in a climate emergency that means status quo behaviour is over.

That also means, in our political context, that we have to do things differently. We are on the verge of an election in Canada. I look around this room. How likely is it that we can set aside partisanship to do the right thing?

Currently, the term “climate emergency” has been accepted by two countries. The U.K. and Ireland have accepted that this is a climate emergency. I think it is very important and historic that Canada do the same. We need mobilization and increased effort from all countries on earth. I should also say that the level of government in Canada that has already done the most is the municipal order of government where we have seen many cities and towns declare climate emergencies, from Ottawa to Vancouver, Victoria and Halifax. We are seeing many communities stand up and say that this is a climate emergency.

The point of this is not just to hear ourselves talk. The point of it is to say, and I repeat, that status quo behaviour is over. We cannot continue to talk about whether a carbon tax is a good wedge issue in politics. We cannot have people talking about this election campaign as if we are just going to duke it out over whether the Liberal carbon tax plan is a good or a bad idea. That is not a relevant question, honestly. In a climate emergency, the only question that matters is if the plans we have in place avoid climate breakdown and preserve human civilization.

The answer to that is, tragically, no. We know the target we are currently operating under as a country, what is called a nationally determined contribution at the United Nations, is wholly inadequate to hold to 1.5°C.
This is a climate emergency. What if every party and leader in this place understood what it meant? First, we would have to agree that we would go off fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We would start where we need to be. By 2050, we need to have zero emissions globally. Then we need to respond to global calls for action.

I want to put on the table that this is a place where we could really co-operate as parties. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for an emergency gathering to face the climate crisis and to call on countries around the world to improve their targets and respond appropriately. This emergency climate summit is scheduled for September 23 of this year, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. The next climate negotiations, COP25, begin in Santiago, Chile, in December.

All elected members here are thinking that on September 23, they will be in the middle of a campaign. What if we decided to take a page out of Greta Thunberg’s, who is from Sweden, actions for a climate strike? What if we decided that the climate emergency was so serious, we would have a campaign strike, that we would all go to New York. We would tell the Prime Minister it really mattered that he be there, that we knew we were in an election campaign, but he should not worry, the Conservative leader, the New Democrat leader, the Green Party leader, the Bloc leader and the People’s Party leader would go to New York together to a UN summit, where we would declare that Canada was committed to going off fossil fuels 100% by 2050, that this was the timeline by which we would do it and that we would cut our emissions in Canada by 60% below 2005 levels by 2030.

If we do not set an ambitious target, we cannot get to it ever. It is like saying our current target is as if we had a four-storey building on fire and we say we have meaningful action because we have erected a step ladder that gets to the first storey. We have to get to four storeys and rescue people who are on the roof surrounded by flames. In that context, incrementalism is not enough. The climate emergency is just such a context in which more is required of us. Even in this election year, I put before members that we need to stop our status quo behaviour.

Central to the Green Party’s “Mission: Possible” is that we put ourselves on war-like footing, which, again, is not an external enemy but our conduct and behaviour, and we have the opportunity to save our children from an unthinkable world. The opportunity to achieve that, the window of opportunity, will close on us before the 2023 election. The trajectory to get to where we need to be by 2030 needs to begin rather quickly, rather sharply. Canada right now has a poorer record than the rest of the world.

Most of the countries that signed onto the Kyoto protocol are well below 1990 levels of emissions by now. Scotland is at 40% below 1990 levels. In Canada, we are still well above 1990 levels. If we hit the Harper target under which we are still functioning, we would be a bit below 1990 levels. However, as we have heard recently from anyone who studies it, the cumulative actions yet announced by the current government fall far short of that target. However, that target itself is the one-storey ladder when we need to get to the four storeys and rescue people from the roof.

I want to emphasize that if it is an emergency, then we change the way we behave. If it is an emergency, we set aside the partisanship and say we have to do this together as Canadians. We have to tell Canadians from coast to coast to coast that this is something we do together, all hands on deck.

Let’s get on with it. This is an emergency, and we must work together.

It is in that hope, despite all the obvious nastiness of partisan politics, that I ask us not to think about poll results and seat counts, but our children’s future. We need to work together.

 

Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I always appreciate the comments of the leader of the Green Party on a variety of different issues, particularly those that deal with the environment.

We have seen some significant budgetary and legislative measures on how we can improve the conditions in Canada, whether it is the price on pollution, which is a fairly significant program that originated out of the Paris agreement, to some of the incentives that are provided through the budget to try to get individuals to purchase more electric vehicles, to many of the different departments, like the Department of National Defence, about which the previous speaker talked, a small but important one, going from a C-130 for search and rescue to a C-295, which is healthy on the environment.

I wonder if the leader of the Green Party would provide some thoughts on it not only being important for us to look at the bigger picture, but for all ministers to look at ways in which they can also make a difference from within their departments.

 

Elizabeth May: Madam Speaker, there is a list of things that can be done and should be done by every minister and every citizen. The list is long because our opportunities are endless.

As long as we keep operating in the status quo world with blinders on, where we can say the Liberals’ climate policy is that they are way better than the Conservatives, and we will see what the Conservatives offer later this week, and until and unless we accept our responsibilities to have the right targets to mobilize action with the cumulative small efforts, we still lose our chances for human survival a bit more slowly than with parties that say climate change does not exist.

It is really going to be harder for politicians on this issue than on most because the issue is unforgiving and there is no negotiating with the atmosphere.

 

Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia—Lambton, CPC): Madam Speaker, I want to be clear on what the Green Party would do in this light.

My understanding is that the Green Party is opposed to fossil fuels, that it would oppose building additional pipelines, that it is in favour of the carbon tax and against the use of plastics. Is that correct?

 

Elizabeth May: Correct up to a point, Madam Speaker. My hon. friend from Sarnia will find our policies both in “Vision Green”, which is on our website in deep detail, and “Mission: Possible”, which is intended to be that ambitious rally call for Canadians to go off fossil fuels. Any fossil fuel infrastructure expansion is inconsistent with our own planetary survival and continuation of human civilization.

We are not against the use of all plastics. That is the one place where I would disagree with my colleague. We think that bitumen production can be changed from fossil fuel production to feedstock for petrochemicals, particularly for durable plastics, not single-use plastics.

 

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP): Madam Speaker, I share many of the concerns of the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands on this file.

One of the things I find troubling in the current atmosphere is that we seem to be debating the current costs of the carbon tax. I am just wondering if the member could illuminate for the House what the future projections are for the costs of unmitigated climate change and how those will absolutely dwarf any kind of figure we are talking about presently.

 

Elizabeth May: Madam Speaker, one of the frustrating things about this debate is that it is not about what it costs to take action on climate, but what it saves, and what it saves is human life and our communities. We are looking at a situation within Canada where people died from a heat wave in Montreal.

Last year in Montreal, the heat wave killed seven people, I believe. That happened because of climate change.

Canadians are threatened with respect to infrastructure loss in the many billons of dollars. That is where we are now, at 1°C global average temperature increase.
If even holding to 1.5 as hard as it is will imply billions of dollars more loss every year, then developing countries will need our help. There will be environmental refugees coming here. The costs of inaction far exceed the opportunities that are created to actually revitalize and modernize our economy.

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