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Elizabeth May: Why I voted against the NDP climate motion

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Photo: curtis morrison/Flickr

Goodness knows, I wish the NDP had put forward a motion I could have voted for. We need a good debate on climate and we need a strong call for government action. But, I couldn't vote for that motion.

Here's the text of the motion:

That this House:

1. agree with many Canadians and the International Energy Agency that there is grave concern with the impacts of a 2 degree rise in global average temperatures;

2. condemn the lack of effective action by successive federal governments since 1998 to address emissions and meet our Kyoto commitments; and

3. call on the government to immediately table its federal climate change adaptation plan.

There are three clauses and I have trouble with each one of them. Before parsing the motion to explain the difficulties with all three clauses, let me point out the overwhelming problem: the motion does not call on Stephen Harper's administration to do anything about the threat of rising greenhouse gases.

The action part of the motion calls for the government to "immediately" (that sounds good!) "table its federal climate change adaptation plan." (whoops, where did the action go?)

An "adaptation plan" is all about how to adapt to climate change. I have long called, as has the Green Party, for a climate adaptation plan. But I would never call for an adaptation plan with no parallel effort to reduce the climate change impacts to which we will have to adapt. To do so is to announce we are throwing in the towel. We are abandoning efforts to reduce carbon pollution and will only do what we can to hold back rising seas, adjust to dropping water levels in the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay, plant drought resistant crops, brace ourselves for increased forest fires, loss of Arctic ice, permafrost melt, etc.

It is mind-boggling that the NDP motion failed to call for action. Did they forget that part? Were they worried a call for real action to fight global warming would create space for a public policy discussion about carbon pricing and a carbon tax? Or did they think "adaptation plan" meant some kind of GHG reduction plan? If so, they are out of touch with the key concepts of climate policy in place since the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Back to the top. The first clause is so sloppily worded it minimizes, rather than underscores, why 2 degrees global average temperature increase really matters. Why start the sentence with something as weak as "agree with many Canadians and the International Energy Agency?" Why not mention "consensus of the world's climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the commitment to avoid a global average temperature increase of 2 degrees C that Canada made in the Copenhagen Accord."

Weak drafting is one thing, but the next part is much worse: "there is grave concern with the impacts of a 2 degrees rise in global average temperatures." There is grave concern? With the impacts?? That's it? How about an accurate statement, like this:

"Scientists have concluded that for human civilization to have reasonable odds of avoiding collapse due to the catastrophic impacts of runaway global warming, concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere must be held below those levels associated with a 2 degrees rise in global average temperature increase, as compared to pre-Industrialized levels. In fact, in order to preserve Arctic ice, we should strive to keep global average temperature increases below a 1.5 degree rise."

The way the NDP motion is worded it seems to assume we are going to have a 2-degree rise, and that there are grave concerns with impacts. It fails to connect 2 degrees with the triggering of runaway global warming, which is a much bigger problem than the immediate impacts of 2 degrees on its own.

Then there's the second clause. This is a transparent attempt to wedge the Liberals on the issue.  That's politics and I guess I should be used to it by now. But when an issue is as important as whether our children have a liveable world, I am sick and tired of this petty garbage. The Liberals have a lousy record on climate. Chretien ratified Kyoto, full marks for that, but he did not put forward a plan. As Executive Director of Sierra Club of Canada, I spent years demanding action and criticizing the failure of the Liberals to act. Then Paul Martin did act and his environment minister, Stephane Dion, put forward a credible plan in 2005. And in 2006, Harper killed that plan. That one phrase would not have caused me to vote against the motion, if there had been a call for real action to reduce GHG. But predictably and tragically it reveals the real goal of the NDP opposition day motion: to make the Liberals look bad by writing a motion in a way the NDP knew the Liberals would vote against.

Why does that matter? Well, it's like this. If you care about climate, you draft a motion in order to create the maximum possible opportunity for it to pass. You don't play stupid games.

The NDP did the same thing last week with the Canada-China Investment Treaty motion. It rejected Liberal attempts to amend the motion such that the Liberals could vote with the NDP.  At least then, the motion was clear and I had no problem voting with the NDP, but I was furious that an issue as important as blocking ratification of the FIPA with China was sabotaged for the shortest term possible partisan gain. (And I was furious that the Liberals voted with the Conservatives… I was in a very "plague on both your Houses" mood.)

The climate crisis is a threat to our very survival. It sickens me to see petty partisanship trump climate. For God's sake, put forward motions that have a chance of passing and then twist arms in the Conservative caucus to get a motion that matters.

So that about covers why I couldn't vote with the NDP. I would have loved to have seen a unified group of MPs from all the Opposition Parties rise on principle and (hoping against hope) some of the Conservatives who understand the need for climate action might have voted with us to give the Parliamentary call for reductions in GHG a chance of passing. But since yesterday's motion forgot to call for climate action, maybe we could take a run at a properly worded motion another day.

Photo: curtis morrison/Flickr

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