Canadians are feeling the effects of climate change today, and the next 10 to 12 years will give the country one chance to turn the corner on a mounting global crisis, key MPs told the House of Commons Monday evening, during an emergency debate on the implications of last week’s IPCC report on pathways to 1.5°C average global warming.
“We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change, and we’re the last generation to be able to act,” said Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (L, Ottawa Centre). “If you have a child who is 10 years old today, we’re talking about catastrophic impacts in 30 years, when they’re 40 years, if we don’t take action.”
“Action on climate change should not be a partisan issue,” McKenna added, in a speech that touched on climate impacts and costs like the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, the elements of the federal climate plan, and the Conservative opposition’s failure to respond with a climate plan of their own. “It will affect all of us, whether we are rich or poor, whether we live in the north of the country or the south, whether we vote on the left of the spectrum or on the right of the spectrum, whether we are urban or rural. We are all in this together, and we need to come together.”
“You’ve got one chance to protect your kids’ world,” said federal Green Party leader and GreenPAC endorsee Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands). “You’ve got one chance, and it’s expiring in about 10 to 12 years, to hold global average temperature [increase] to no more than 1.5°C. And if you miss that…you end up in a situation where the worst-case scenario isn’t bad weather, it’s the collapse of our civilization and the extinction of millions of species, potentially including us.”
“When we meet in Poland for COP 24, leadership from a country like Canada could make a huge difference,” May added. “If we go there and say that we have ratcheted up our target to 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, and we challenge others to join us, the minister knows that clarion call will mobilize others while there is still time, because the window on holding global average temperatures to 1.5°C will close forever in as little as 10 years. We cannot wait to ratchet it up. I beg her to commit and be willing to consider that we ratchet it up in time for December 2, and the opening of COP 24.”
McKenna replied by thanking May for her “tireless action and advocacy on climate change over decades when no one was paying attention. I only wish that previous governments, in particular the Conservative government, had actually heeded her call and taken climate action.”
Opposition MP Cathay Wagantall (CPC, Yorkton-Melville) maintained the federal climate plan “is destroying our economy and our opportunity to be that light in the world” and challenged what she called McKenna’s “doublespeak” on climate action.
“On one hand, she says ‘no free rides for big polluters’, yet at the same time, with the development of LNG on the B.C. coast, what have the Liberals done? They have exempted them from the carbon tax. What about the rest of us? What about everyday Canadians? What about small and medium-sized businesses? It does not apply to them,” Wagantall said.
“The rest of us are required to pay a tax while the government allows big polluters a free ride.”
NDP MP and GreenPAC endorsee Richard Cannings (N, South Okanagan-West Kootenay) asked how McKenna can defend government actions on climate change that are “beyond the pale” compared to other countries.
“I was in Argentina with the Minister of Natural Resources in June at the G20 energy meeting about the grand transition to a zero-carbon future,” he told the Commons. “The Chinese talked about making huge investments in clean renewable energy in western China, investments in ultra-high voltage lines that would bring energy to eastern China and around Asia. We heard from the UK minister, who talked about investing $2 billion in electric vehicle infrastructure and incentives. The German minister talked about investing in solar projects in Chile and moving it with hydrogen cells. All big, bold, expensive projects, things that the IPCC said we have to do. And yet the Canadian minister talked about building a pipeline.”
Read the full transcript of the debate here.
House Speaker Geoff Regan scheduled the emergency debate after a sequence of events that began with a written request last Thursday from MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (L, Beaches-East York). Letters from the New Democrats and Greens soon followed.
“The scientists have spoken,” Erskine-Smith told Regan. “What we need now is political will. We need to talk about this report—and we need to do this today.”
“This is an emergency,” May agreed. “The risks are not to something external called ‘the environment’; the risk is the collapse of human civilization.”
“The implications of the report were so catastrophic that everyone woke up to it,” said NDP spokesperson Nina Amrov. “It’s a non-partisan issue,” and “everyone thinks something needs to be done.”
Well, not quite everyone—Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives did not join the request for an emergency debate. But on Monday, Regan thanked the three MPs who had submitted requests and scheduled the debate for that evening.
“Conservative MP Gerard Deltell maintained his party agrees that action must be taken to reduce carbon emissions,” National Observer reports. “But he said Conservatives believe that should be done through incentives and innovation, not through the Liberals’ carbon tax,” which he claimed “will hit ordinary Canadians on virtually everything they buy.”
Deltell must be behind on his reading, though: A report commissioned by Canadians for Clean Prosperity, a carbon pricing think tank led by Stephen Harper’s former policy director, concluded last month that federal carbon tax rebates could be structured to put money back in voters’ pockets in every region of the country. The conservative-leaning National Post said that finding could “transform the debate” on the issue that Conservative leader Scheer wants to make the ballot question in next year’s federal election.
Ahead of Monday night’s debate, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called it “unacceptable” that the Trudeau government is focusing on and investing in pipeline projects rather than clean energy. “This is serious,” he told media. “Given the fact that our Liberal government is spending potentially $20 billion on fossil fuels instead of green energy…this is something that is completely unacceptable.”