Adjournment Proceedings – The Environment

On Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 in Adjournment Proceedings

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it is somewhat ironic, or perhaps even meant to be, that I rise tonight at the stroke of midnight to talk about the most important issue facing our country and the planet, which the House hears so very rarely discussed, and that is the climate crisis. I rise tonight to pursue a question I asked of the Prime Minister on February 26.

There is something about the stroke of midnight that put me in mind of where we are as a human population on this planet right now. It reminded me of the doomsday clock, which is a tradition started in 1945 as a way of awakening humanity to the threat of mutually assured destruction from the insanity of the arms buildup. The doomsday clock was created as a mechanism for global awareness by a group of scientists at the University of Chicago. In recent years, the scientists have added to the question of how close the minute hand is to the moment of midnight and a global apocalypse. They have now been taking into account the climate crisis, the buildup of global greenhouse gases, and the failure of humanity to act.

That link between nuclear threat and climate was also enunciated very clearly in the first global scientific conference on the climate issue, the first one to be fully comprehensive and public, which was held in Canada in June 1988. The consensus statement of over 300 scientists there was this:

“Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war”.

The clock is a little past midnight here in the chamber, but the doomsday clock set by this group of scientists has now been placed at five minutes to midnight, based on the failure to act to confront the threat of the climate crisis. No country bears that failure more shamefully, nor do its first ministers go forward and bear it, as the Minister of the Environment said, as a badge of honour that we fail. We are singled out for our contempt for multilateralism and the importance to future generations and our own kids. We are not talking seven generations out. We are talking about our own kids. We are failing them on a daily basis in this place when we let climate change go by the boards and only raise it now and then as a sort of absurd Punch and Judy show, between one side of the House claiming that the other side wants a carbon tax and the other side saying that it does not.

In relation to that five minutes to midnight, in the last few weeks, the world’s scientists have reported that the global chemistry of the atmosphere has been changed to where there is now a concentration of over 400 parts per million of greenhouse gases. That is not a temporary situation. That is, in fact, a statement of concentration that will take centuries to change, because every time we emit carbon dioxide, it lasts in the atmosphere for 100 years. A statement of concentration is a statement of a new balance in the atmosphere, but one that continues to rise.

We know we must avoid 2° Celsius. To do that, back in Copenhagen in 2009, the current government took on board a target that it knew at the time was too weak to avoid 2°. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that the collectivity of Copenhagen targets was too weak to avoid 2°. Yet every day in the House, if the issue comes up, we hear representatives of the Conservatives say that they are on track to reach Copenhagen targets.

As I pointed out on February 26 to the Prime Minister, Environment Canada’s own figures make it very clear that by 2020, the government will have completely and totally failed to meet the weak target it set. It is not acceptable. It is time for real climate action.

Michelle Rempel: Yes, Mr. Speaker, indeed, it is the stroke of midnight. At this hour, I would like to dedicate this particular adjournment proceeding to Leigh Johnston, who, time after time, sits in the House, in the lobby, and who has a personal passion for climate change as well.

It is actually our government’s policy to deal with this particularly pressing issue. Because this is such an important issue for Canadians, and indeed the global community, I find it very difficult to believe that my colleague opposite would treat this issue with such glibness as to compare our country, Canada, a great nation, to one, North Korea, that is ruled by a dictatorship. This is such an important issue that I firmly believe that we should not be comparing our country’s progress on this issue, our country’s international leadership, to a country that, frankly, has an abysmal record of environmental denigration.

Over the last two years, as I have stood here in the House of Commons and have tried to promote a positive debate on this, the one thing I have found over and over again is that the hyperbole coming from the opposition ranks has been exceptionally disappointing.

Canada is a place where we have increased the amount of protected lands by 50% since our government came to office. Environment Canada scientists have shown a decoupling of the growth of greenhouse emissions and the growth of the economy. In fact, it has been through our government’s efforts that we have seen a reduction in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions while our economy has continued to grow. To be so disrespectful to our country’s record, to call our country North Korea, I find disrespectful to the environmental debate in whole.

I have been long looking forward to these particular adjournment proceedings, because when we look at North Korea’s environmental record, internationally renowned scientists have said:

“…the landscape is just basically dead. It’s a difficult condition to live in, to survive”. That is Dutch soil scientist Joris van der Kamp. Another said: “They don’t have trees to hold soil. When it rains, the soil washes into the river, landslides occur and rivers flood. It triggers a really serious disaster”.

Why can we not have appropriate debate in this place? This is a place where we should respect one another. To compare our country to North Korea just debases the value of the debate we have in this House.

Through our government’s efforts, we are reducing greenhouse gases through regulations in the light-duty passenger vehicle sector, which will see a reduction and cost savings for Canadians, and banning outright traditional coal-fired electricity production. This is the first international leadership that has been shown in this area. This is something we should stand and be proud of as Canadians. Rather, we have hyperbole. We compare our country to North Korea. I will not stand for that. My constituents will not stand for that.

I certainly hope my colleague opposite will value this debate, will value the issue of climate change enough to have appropriate debate in here and ask me about how we can measure greenhouse emission reductions and ensure that we have economic growth.

I certainly hope from her that we will see this appropriate debate rather than hyperbole in the future.

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