As winter winds howled outside one day earlier this term, speakers on
a School of Community and Public Affairs panel reminded a Concordia audience
that global warming is still a threat to every country on earth.
Of all industrialized countries, we have the most at stake in the
issue of climate change, said Liberal Party leader and former federal
environment minister Jean Charest. That is because our economy depends
heavily on natural resources.
Panelists warned that Canada is failing utterly to meet its commitments
under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement on greenhouse gas
emissions in which we pledged to reduce our emissions by 6 per cent below
1990 levels by the years 2008 to 2012.
In the real world of politics, Charest said, it becomes
very difficult for political leaders and ministers of the environment
to actually get things done if there isnt a public environment of
broad support and pressure to do the right thing. Unfortunately, global
warming has not always been at the top of the agenda.
Concordia Environmental Economics professor Frank Müller suggested
that simply meeting the letter of our agreement is just the beginning.
The last century was a time of more knowledge, less wisdom and no
ethics, he said. The real question to ask is not whether we
can meet our Kyoto obligations which are inadequate to stop global
warming but can this protocol change our behaviour?
One thing holding us back are the myths about the environment,
Charest said. One of those myths is that implementing environmental
initiatives like Kyoto is expensive. We have to convince people that the
environment and economic initiatives are compatible.
But despite the obvious economic benefits to have a healthy environment
and stable climate, Canadas politicians have fiddled while greenhouse
gases accumulate at an alarming rate, said Elizabeth May, executive director
of the Sierra Club, an environmental group.
May, who called Charest the last good environment minister weve
had, says that the weight of accumulated evidence about global warming
since 1988 should convince anyone that the world is headed for a disaster.
The first conference on climate change was in 1988, she said.
At the time, we declared that humanity is conducting an experiment
with an end result second only to global nuclear war. Since then, the
scientific evidence to prove our point has been overwhelming.
May charged that our compliance with Kyoto protocols has been pathetic;
emissions have actually gone up by 14 per cent since we signed the agreement,
while some European countries complied within six months. Worse yet, the
Kyoto protocol represents only 10 per cent of the reduction the world
Even if every country met the Kyoto protocol, we only delay a doubling
of greenhouse gases in the earths atmosphere by 10 years. We actually
need to reduce emissions by 60 per cent.
She added that a doubling of greenhouse gases, which scientists fear would
cause more severe weather disruptions like the vicious hurricanes of recent
years, may only be the beginning.
People accuse environmentalists of harping on worst-case scenarios,
but a doubling of greenhouse gases is not the worst case. Everything we
know about climate change indicates that a doubling could easily lead
to a tripling or quadrupling. The real requirement must be that we end
our economic reliance on greenhouse gases.
In order to accomplish that, she suggests that the government set aggressive
targets and give industry tax incentives to meet them.
The government can demand that we stop burning coal to create electricity,
and that we replace the internal combustion engine. If you set targets,
industry will meet them and find a way to make money in the process.