It was just over one week ago that Environment Minister Peter Kent told reporters, “climate change is a real and present danger.”
These words echoed the urgency felt around the globe — a world in the grips of the effects of intensified natural disasters, unprecedented rates of species loss and a rapidly degrading environment. Many hoped that this sense of urgency would translate into a stronger and more ambitious Canadian position at the United Nations annual climate negotiations, which opened on Monday in Doha, Qatar.
Today, from a press conference at a car dealership, Kent announced Canada’s next initiative for curbing climate emissions: meeting U.S. standards that vehicles built between 2017 and 2025 will need to cut emissions by an average of 5% per year.
As countries like the Maldives, who will be underwater in the next century, are negotiating to avert a climate catastrophe, a solution proposed by Canada (the seventh highest emitter of carbon dioxide per capita as of 2008) is to cut future fuel emissions from personal automobiles.
This appalling lack of motivation will not move us toward a binding and ambitious climate deal in Doha. In fact, it won’t even let us uphold any of our past commitments. Our emissions are well above the target of the Kyoto Protocol, but we backed out of that commitment already. We are, however, still a signatory to the Copenhagen Accord, which committed members to limit planetary climate warming to an average of 2°C.
We now live in a world that is on average 0.8°C warmer than the past hundred years. Right now, we live in a world of superstorms, hurricanes, climate refugees, and the loss of entire ecosystems. We have inherited a climate legacy of disaster. What catastrophic weather, destruction of property, and further loss of life will a 2°C world bring? We will find out, as we inherit this perverse climate legacy from our appetite for fossil fuels.
Yet, Canada alone can push us past that limit. The climate math is simple. We committed to a warming limit of 2°C, but the tar sands are poised to singlehandedly break that limit. To stay below it, production would need to be capped at 3.3 million barrels per day. Approved projects, like Shell’s Pierre River mine and many others, are set to raise production to 7.1 million barrels per day. That is more than twice the limit to which Canada agreed.
What are the disastrous consequences of a planet warmed by more than 2°C? We should everything we can to not find out. That means taking reductions far more seriously than better mileage. That means actively pursuing binding targets at this year’s negotiations (though we have been told by Kent that this “isn’t a pledging conference“).
If our Environment Minister indeed recognizes that climate change is a real, present danger, the time to act is now. Perhaps Canada will finally kick its long-standing reputation as an obstructionist party at these UN talks, and negotiate with ambition. Based on the developments thus far, and this insufficient commitment on fuel standards, it seems unlikely.
Canada’s aggressive expansion of the tar sands will leave our country with a legacy of polluted water, harms against our Indigenous people, and transform an area of formerly pristine boreal forest the size of England into wasteland. During the negotiations, the world will be watching as Canada threatens to saddle the entire planet with a climate legacy that goes well beyond two degrees.
Alana Westwood is a writer, research, and activist, though not necessarily in that order. She is a member of this year’s Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) to COP18. The CYD advocates for young Canadians at United Nations climate negotiations and holds our government accountable for their actions at these talks. You can follow the CYD’s activities at COP at www.cyd-djc.org and #CYD_DJC. Keep up with Alana at www.alanawestwood.com