Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament. Image: European Parliament/Flickr

“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Hurling words like rocks at world leaders, Greta Thunberg commanded the podium at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hosted a youth summit on September 21 as part of his efforts to generate public pressure on political leaders.

Groups such as Extinction Rebellion do not believe governments will act on behalf of the planet except under extreme duress. Extinction groups calling on citizens to step up to get the job done are spreading internationally.

 A global climate strike action takes place September 27. Judging by the over 4 million participants who took part in a climate strike last Friday, this wave of protests promises to be the largest climate action in history, with marches organized in over 800 cities worldwide.

Greta Thunberg will be in Montreal to join the planned demonstration. Determined to vanquish habitual complacency in the political/corporate/media world, Thunberg embodies a news story unlike any other.

Last August 18, the young Swedish student undertook a three-week, one-person protest in front of the Swedish parliament. Holding a sign reading “Student strike for climate,” she distributed leaflets: “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.”

She had an unassailable point: knowingly ignoring scientific evidence, adults are sticking children with a planet being devastated by accelerating environmental destruction.

Invited to address the COP 24 UN climate change summit in December 2018, her gumption — and irrefutable logic — generated global interest, and inspired students worldwide to organize local “Fridays for Future” strikes for the climate.

There is every reason to believe that this action led by schoolchildren is only going to grow in significance in Canada and around the world.

A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report prepared for the New York UN summit shows that “2015-2018 were the four warmest years on record, as the long-term warming trend continues.”

Will the arrival of Thunberg in the middle of a general election help to shake Conservatives, Liberals, the media and the corporate establishment out of their determination to continue with business as usual in the face of climate emergency?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has already said he will not be turning up in Montreal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been touting a compromise solution: use fossil fuel revenues to fund the transition to a carbon-neutral society.

In this case, the middle ground his party favours as a matter of principle cannot be reconciled with findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As Thorsten Mauritsen, a physical climate scientist at Stockholm University, points out, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees demands a halt to using fossil fuels.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has called for the formation of the equivalent of a war cabinet across party lines to take Canadian climate policies out of the usual partisan politics arena where they go to die. Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet has claimed his party has the greenest platform of all the parties.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has made climate urgency a theme in his election campaign.

Canada is a climate action laggard. How badly do we rank? Three countries — the U.S., China, and India — account for about 50 per cent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Canada is the fifth-largest GHG emitter among the remaining 190 UN member states, eighth worst in the world.

With Stephen Harper as prime minister, Canada was the first country to pull out of the Kyoto Accord and abandon its international commitments to meeting climate change targets.

As a result, since 1990 — a base year for country pledges to measure, report and control GHG emissions — Canadian GHG emissions went up by 20 per cent when they needed to go down by 20 per cent to meet Kyoto Accord targets.

According to Bora Plumptre of the Pembina Institute, since 1990 Canadian GHG emissions have flatlined or decreased in some sectors; but in the oil and gas and transport sectors emissions have climbed. Ontario and Alberta account for 60 per cent.

Overall Canadian emissions have actually declined since 2005 — except oh so slowly — only to accelerate again in 2016-17.

Elizabeth May has called on the government to commit to a 60 per cent reduction in emissions from the 2005 level by 2030. The Liberal government accepted the Conservative target of 30 per cent reductions over the same period as our international commitment under the Paris Accord.

Clearly a new government needs to do better.

The NDP have called for targets “in line with what scientists say is needed to stop dangerous climate change.”

“There is no wealth on a dead planet,” as depicted on a placard from the climate strike last Friday.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image: European Parliament/Flickr

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...