Elec­tion 2019, the Green Party: Cli­mate Change is the Is­sue

CLI­MATE CHANGE IS THE IS­SUE

Policy - - Contents - El­iz­a­beth May

In many ways, El­iz­a­beth May’s tra­jec­tory as leader of Canada’s Green Party has re­flected the po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy main­stream­ing of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues in gen­eral and of cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion in par­tic­u­lar. That she has be­come known as the con­science of Canada’s Par­lia­ment is a tes­ta­ment to her po­lit­i­cal in­tegrity. Head­ing into the 2019 elec­tion, May is again vow­ing to put prin­ci­ple first.

For pol­i­tics watch­ers, the big event of 2019 is clearly the fed­eral elec­tion. But for me, the cen­tral fo­cus of ev­ery month is heed­ing the clear warn­ings of sci­en­tists that we must meet the cli­mate cri­sis.

I am keenly aware that the best elec­toral chances in 2019 for the 338 Green Party fed­eral can­di­dates are at­tached to the on­go­ing Lib­eral fail­ure to ad­dress the cli­mate threat with the level of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship

and for­ti­tude re­quired. I am equally aware that it is far more im­por­tant that we ad­dress the cli­mate emer­gency than that Greens get elected. In other words, I would far rather the gov­ern­ment act, im­prove its record be­fore the 2019 elec­tion, pro­tect our chil­dren, and close off a wide-open path to elect­ing more Greens. I am blessed to lead a party whose can­di­dates agree.

We will never put the elec­toral ad­van­tage of the Green Party ahead of our chil­dren’s fu­ture. It con­tin­ues to be a tragedy that the NDP of 2005 put par­ti­san­ship ahead of planet, open­ing the door to the loss of Ky­oto, the Kelowna Ac­cord and uni­ver­sal child care.

We knew in 2005 that we had to pur­sue cli­mate ac­tion with ur­gency. The 2005 cli­mate plan un­der Paul Martin’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment was the first, and last, plan to get us close to our Ky­oto tar­get through fed­eral ac­tion. When the Con­ser­va­tives, NDP and Bloc brought down the gov­ern­ment on the open­ing day of the Mon­treal COP11 ne­go­ti­a­tions on Novem­ber 28, 2005, I am sure those in the Bloc and NDP who un­der­stood the need for cli­mate ac­tion con­soled them­selves with “the ends jus­tify the means.”

Fast-for­ward 13 years, and I write this from COP24 in Poland where Canada is still any­where near our Ky­oto pledges, nor the weaker ones Stephen Harper agreed to in Copen­hagen. Even the Lib­er­als have for­got­ten they ever brought for­ward a strong plan. Par­ti­san pol­i­tics in 2005 gave the coun­try Harper’s brand of con­ser­vatism for nine years. Three years af­ter his de­par­ture, we have not re­cov­ered. We still have the weak­est cli­mate re­sults of any OECD coun­try.

Mean­while, par­ti­san­ship con­tin­ues to thwart progress. Car­bon pric­ing has be­come the proxy for cli­mate ac­tion. It is an in­dis­pens­able first step, but clearly does not get us to the last of Harper’s con­tin­u­ously weaker tar­gets.

The fi­nal weak­en­ing of the tar­get un­der Harper was in May 2015: re­duc­ing emis­sions 30 per cent be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030. This re­mains Canada’s tar­get, wrongly la­beled the “Paris tar­get.” It is in­con­sis­tent with the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees. It was not de­vel­oped to sup­port the Paris agree­ment, which did not ex­ist in May 2015 when Canada for­warded it to the UNFCCC as our NDC, “Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tion.”

So car­bon taxes are set to be a wedge is­sue for the 2019 cam­paign. Us­ing car­bon taxes as a ballot box is­sue by both Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives through de­lib­er­ate po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion is a dis­trac­tion from the key ques­tion: can we act in time to pre­serve a liv­able world? We—me­dia and politi­cians—are talk­ing about cli­mate with­out ad­dress­ing the threat. And time is run­ning out.

We can no longer mea­sure the threat of ir­re­versible, self-ac­cel­er­at­ing cli­mate catas­tro­phe in decades. It is no longer hy­po­thet­i­cal. It can be mea­sured in months. And we lit­er­ally have no time to lose.

That fact was made abun­dantly clear by the Oc­to­ber 2018 re­port of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC). Back in Paris in 2015, the COP21 de­ci­sion doc­u­ment re­quested that the IPCC pro­vide world pol­icy mak­ers with clear ad­vice by 2018. The Paris Agree­ment com­mits us all to en­sure a global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture rise no more than 1.5 degrees C above what it was be­fore the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion—with some wig­gle room—and as far be­low 2 degrees as pos­si­ble.

The IPCC re­port on the path­way to 1.5 degrees com­mu­ni­cated some new in­for­ma­tion:

1) A 1.5-degrees world is much worse than we thought. It is our best pos­si­ble out­come, will pre­serve life on earth, but it will in­volve sig­nif­i­cant cli­mate dis­rup­tion;

2) Two degrees is even worse and could put all of hu­man­ity on a tra­jec­tory to mas­sive catas­tro­phe; and

3) We still have a chance to hold to 1.5 degrees with im­me­di­ate and ur­gent ac­tion.

Car­bon taxes are set to be a wedge is­sue for the 2019 cam­paign. Us­ing car­bon taxes as a ballot box is­sue by both Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives through de­lib­er­ate po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion is a dis­trac­tion from the key ques­tion: can we act in time to pre­serve a liv­able world?

To avoid global catas­tro­phe on a level be­yond con­tem­pla­tion, we must—col­lec­tively— re­duce global GHG by 45 per cent be­low 2010 lev­els by 2030 and be vir­tu­ally car­bon neu­tral by 2050. We must also pro­tect and re-es­tab­lish forests every­where.

To avoid global catas­tro­phe on a level be­yond con­tem­pla­tion, we must—col­lec­tively—re­duce global GHG by 45 per cent be­low 2010 lev­els by 2030 and be vir­tu­ally car­bon neu­tral by 2050. We must also pro­tect and re-es­tab­lish forests every­where.

I am con­vinced Cana­di­ans are aware of the threat. More than a decade ago, for­mer Sen­a­tor Low­ell Mur­ray re­counted to me a con­ver­sa­tion with a gro­cer in Cape Bre­ton. “Nice weather we’re hav­ing,” he re­called the shop­keeper say­ing. “Not sure whose weather it is. It’s not our weather.” That com­ment was pro­voked by a long spell of hot, sunny weather. But now Cana­di­ans

know it’s also not our weather as snow falls on the Prairie crops be­fore farm­ers can get to the fields to har­vest. Or when the St. John River floods to lev­els un­heard of in liv­ing mem­ory. Or the lack of rain in Bri­tish Columbia pro­vokes fires sum­mer af­ter sum­mer, each one break­ing the wild­fire records of the year be­fore. Tor­na­does ripped through Ot­tawa, glaciers are in rapid re­treat, and the loss of po­lar ice no longer seems un­usual. We hardly even re­port on it any more.

There are deep so­cial costs as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate anx­i­ety. The im­pact of a dif­fuse, ex­is­ten­tial threat pro­vokes a wide­spread sense of de­pres­sion, alien­ation and de­spair. I am hear­ing more and more peo­ple say they are los­ing sleep over the cli­mate threat. Yet, we pro­ceed in Par­lia­ment—and in gov­ern­ments around the world— as though we have time.

Most re­cently, En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change Min­is­ter Catherine McKenna has si­mul­ta­ne­ously claimed she is tak­ing ac­tion while avoid­ing tak­ing ac­tion. She an­nounced Canada will im­prove our cli­mate tar­get, not now, but in 2020. This is a shock­ingly weak re­sponse, but even those de­mand­ing cli­mate ac­tion are for­giv­ing. The Lib­er­als are clearly strug­gling to get car­bon taxes in place. How can we de­mand that they do more?

We have to de­mand more be­cause the threat is not po­lit­i­cal and it is not for­giv­ing. We must en­sure glob­ally that we hold to no more than a 1.5 de­gree C global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture in­crease. A re­cent re­view of Canada’s tar­get de­ter­mined it would, if repli­cated by other coun­tries, take us to 5.1 degrees C. That is a fast-track to ex­tinc­tion.

The at­tacks on car­bon pric­ing are only made pos­si­ble be­cause the Lib­er­als have not put for­ward a plan for a healthy, thriv­ing fu­ture. Car­bon taxes are not enough. It is as though we are watch­ing a fire in a four-story build­ing, with peo­ple stranded on the roof and in re­sponse, a step lad­der is brought for­ward. No one con­cerned about get­ting peo­ple off the roof to safety will stand back to cheer for the step lad­der.

A com­plete plan to reach our goals while en­sur­ing healthy, strong economies and good mean­ing­ful work will en­gage peo­ple. Those who feel de­pressed, even de­spair­ing, can pick up tools and help put so­lar pan­els on ev­ery roof, plant trees in aban­doned fields, grow local food in rooftop gar­dens. We can get busy. In so do­ing, we will be em­pow­ered, em­bold­ened and be made hap­pier.

En­hanc­ing our so­cial cap­i­tal and re­silience is es­sen­tial. It is only pos­si­ble if we si­mul­ta­ne­ously elim­i­nate poverty and shrink the so­cial in­equities grow­ing in Canada. We can still lead the world to a safe fu­ture. That is the Greens’ goal.

Green Party of Canada photo

Green Party Leader El­iz­a­beth May on the hus­tings. Cli­mate change, not car­bon taxes, she ar­gues, is the real en­vi­ron­men­tal ballot ques­tion in Cam­paign 2019.

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