I hope everyone had a restful, peaceful and not too lonely holiday. It is the first time in my 66 years that it has been so hard to frame a cheery seasonal greeting.
As we look forward to 2021, much remains unknowable. How long will COVID continue to dominate our lives? How effectively will the vaccine be rolled out? When will we be allowed to gather again?
Still, despite a very hazy crystal ball, I offer a few predictions to kick off the year.
Some things are as near certain as they can be. Things are going to get better. Trump will leave the White House (still worried he’ll try to start a war with Iran on his way out…) Joe Biden will be inaugurated president of the United States on Wednesday, January 20th. Parliament will resume sitting on January 25th.
On the day he takes office, Biden’s appointment of John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate will take effect. Unlike Cabinet appointments that require ratification in the U.S. Senate, members of the president’s National Security Council are the president’s decision alone. The framing of climate as a security issue is a key difference between the Biden and the Trudeau approaches. Canada’s government persists in describing climate as an environmental issue. Their so-called climate plan (released December 11, 2020) is titled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy.” The difference is critical. As Kerry said on his appointment, “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat that it is.”
Also expected will be the rapid re-joining of the Paris Agreement by the United States. Like Kerry’s appointment, this move (like Trump’s decision to withdraw) will not require Congressional approval.
Most Canadians can be forgiven for assuming that Canada has a far better climate record than we have. It is shocking that even after the Trump sabotage of climate action, the US record remains so much better than our own. Both Canada and the US have targets tied to a 2005 base year. The US is currently 10% below its 2005 level, while Canada’s emissions are virtually unchanged from 2005. The starker difference is when compared to 1990 levels. 1990 was intended to be the universal base year, so that all progress globally would have a shared point of reference. It was Canada that sabotaged that global agreement when Harper repudiated the Kyoto target and announced reductions against 2006 levels – then weakened them again to 2005 as a base year.
To compare apples to apples with a consistent base year:
Canada’s emissions are 17% above 1990 levels; the US emissions are 3.7% above 1990. In contrast, the European Union is collectively well below 1990 levels – collectively 24% below. That 24% is the total for all the EU, taking into account recalcitrant coal-burning countries like Poland. Looking at the leaders in Europe – Germany is 35.7% below 1990 levels; the UK 40% below 1990, alongside other climate leading countries like Scotland, Denmark and Sweden.
So back to 2021 predictions…
We are almost certainly going to be in a federal election this spring. So far, even in pandemic, the provincial premiers who rolled the dice in calling elections, have been rewarded with majority governments. Of federal-provincial leaders, only Jason Kenney has seen his popularity drop during COVID. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals hold a solid lead in national polling, hold a minority of seats and crave another (false) majority. It continually blows my mind that Jagmeet Singh – having campaigned as though he cared about climate – has not once put any climate measure forward as a condition for supporting the Liberals. Nothing is for sure – polling could shift – the COVID situation could take a turn for the worse – but all things being equal, I expect the spring budget to trigger an election.
It appears the Liberals are positioning themselves as climate leaders to help win seats. That part is good news- the political wisdom has shifted to seeing climate action as a vote getter.
Unlike most political parties, Greens actually like it when other parties steal our ideas – so long as they actually do what is required. We will always give credit where credit is due.
On climate, I struggle to understand if the Liberals truly do not understand the urgency of IPCC advice or whether they are so cynical that they do not think it matters. The truth is Canada is setting a course for the collapse of human civilization on an increasingly unlivable planet. Our challenge is in communicating how this can be true, despite billions of dollars in green promises.
Greta Thunberg advises that we have to continue repeating the science. In an open letter, EU youth climate activists explained the fatal flaw in a 2050 target:
Net zero emissions by 2050 … equals surrender. It means giving up. We don’t just need goals for just 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come.
Because distant net-zero emission targets will mean absolutely nothing if we just continue to ignore the carbon dioxide budget – which applies for today, not a faraway future. If high emissions continue like now even for a few years that remaining budget will soon be completely used up.
This is where communications are so very challenging. It is true that the IPCC has said that to hold to 1.5 degrees C, the world must have net zero emissions by 2050. But, it is not true that getting to net zero by 2050 means we have averted disaster. Shooting past 1.5 degrees places human civilization at risk. We are now gambling – playing the odds on our survival. 1.5 is not a guarantee of survival either, but is far safer than holding to 2 degrees. No one knows where the tipping points in the atmosphere are. We do not know what level of GHG concentrations will push us into unstoppable, self-accelerating levels of warming.
We do know that if humanity does not make enormous efforts in the next few years, we will shoot right past 1.5 degrees. If we fail to make necessary cuts by 2030, achieving net zero by 2050 could leave us condemned to a more than 3-4 degrees C warmer world. We are faced with the threat of “too little – too late” masquerading as leadership.
The IPCC October 2018 report on 1.5 degrees made it terrifyingly clear that the window on holding to 1.5 degrees will close, and close forever, if we blow through our carbon budget over the next few years. Deep and meaningful cuts are required, immediately.
As a Green Caucus – three MPs and our leader Annamie Paul – we continue to debate how we best communicate that a wide range of Liberal promises are good, but they are still aimed at the wrong target. Nor do the promises constitute a plan. Nor can we ignore huge Liberal investments in fossil fuels, building a $13 billion pipeline (with public funds), nor ignoring the Paris commitment to increase our target in 2020. Greens are debating how we should vote on sending the Net Zero Climate Accountability Act (C-12) to committee when the House resumes.
We are committed to telling the truth about the climate emergency. And we know that requires finding ways to communicate climate science, while also setting out the practical alternatives to rebuild the economy post-COVID. This requires a profound educational effort.
I look forward to hearing from constituents about these and all our challenges in 2021. See the list of planned January community meetings at the end of this note and watch for details in your mailbox.
Best for the New Year. A lot rides on our decisions in 2021.
Love and thanks,
Please sign this petition before January 23. Paul Manly is the sponsor. Greens were the first to raise the concern that many honest Canadians believed they were entitled to CERB, while before Christmas over 440,000 received letters from CRA saying they had to pay it back.
Community Meetings with Constituents – watch for details in your post box
Virtual Town Halls: January 14, 21
And depending on health advice, these In Person events are for limited attendance:
Mary Winspear, Sidney: January 19th
Fulford Hall, Salt Spring: January 23