Comment: Canada needs stronger stand on climate change

Canada is running a sustainability deficit. But our politicians aren’t taking this seriously — they seem to believe that balancing a green and sustainable economy is less important than balancing its budgets.

As British Columbian researchers who study sustainability and impacts of climate change, we believe Canada needs strong federal climate change policies and actions.

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On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to rally in New York City to demand stronger political action on climate change. More than 1,500 People’s Climate March and Mobilization events will be held around the world, including 120 in Canada. We strongly support this global mobilization.

Our country has repeatedly failed to achieve its own climate change commitments. Last January, Environment Canada projected Canada wouldn’t meet its least ambitious target to date — achieving annual greenhouse-gas emission levels of three per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 — proposed in the 2009 international climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Our country should be a leader, not a laggard, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change occurs at a global level, but the sources of heat-trapping emissions and the impacts of climate change are local. At provincial and municipal levels, B.C. has taken some action. Critics said that B.C.’s carbon tax would cause an economic catastrophe, but five years later the province’s economic growth is on par with Canada’s average and fuel consumption has decreased by 15 per cent. Cities from Revelstoke to Campbell River are coming up with innovative ways to enable a green economy.

Our southern neighbours are also taking action. President Barack Obama’s 2014 climate action plan shows that the United States will meet its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their plan has long-term positive legacies, including job security, a competitive economy and overall well-being.

Effective change requires bold leadership. To help Canada face this challenge, we have joined forces as the Sustainable Canada Dialogues, a multi-disciplinary group of 57 Canadian researchers in environment and sustainability.

We are taking a constructive approach to collect the best available evidence on sustainability solutions. We hope to trigger discussion across all sectors of Canadian society, encouraging public engagement and ultimately political action.

In the 2015 federal election, Canadians can demand that politicians and parties protect Canada’s social well-being, economic competitiveness and extraordinary environmental assets by addressing climate change. Moving quickly and decisively will require a national conversation from all corners of society, a conversation we hope will benefit from evidence-based research on pathways forward.

More than 99 per cent of climate scientists agree that climate change is primarily caused by humans. We know that an increase of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels risks dangerous — perhaps irreversible — disruption of the planet’s climate systems. Yet current emission targets are projected to at least double this temperature increase by the end of the century. This is why we need an ambitious global climate-change agreement.

In December 2015, more than 190 countries will meet in Paris to negotiate such an agreement. But opportunities for leadership exist now. The UN secretary general has invited all heads of state to meet next week in New York City. In response, citizens around the world are organizing the People’s Climate March and Mobilization.

This movement isn’t just for environmentalists and scientists. Businesses, unions, faith groups, schools and NGOs are planning events for Sunday, including 30 events across B.C., from Smithers and Summerland to Cranbrook and Vancouver. We encourage you to join us, bringing your friends, family and coworkers.

The time has come to move toward a low-carbon and sustainable society for Canada. Decisive political action can safeguard our country’s iconic lakes, forests, biodiversity and ice-capped mountains, and ensure the next generation of Canadians can enjoy social well-being, a productive economy and cities free of pollution. For that world to be ours tomorrow, we must act today.

Aerin L. Jacob is a postdoctoral fellow in geography at the University of Victoria. She co-authored this commentary with professors Ann Dale, Royal Roads University; Sally Otto, Sally Aitken, John Robinson, Suzanne Simard, and George Hoberg, University of B.C.; Meg Holden, Simon Fraser University; and Lauchlan Fraser, Thomson Rivers University.

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