Laura Sacks

COLUMN: Beyond the Paris climate agreement

As 2016 unfolds, climate policy will be an important topic for all Canadians.

“This is the year in which we truly have to walk the talk. We have to up the ante.” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

As 2016 unfolds, climate policy will be an important topic for all Canadians. New narratives such as the Pope’s encyclical, the Leap Manifesto, and the UN’s new sustainable development goals can help frame these discussions in a way that recognizes that the economy exists within our environment, and not as opposing forces. These new narratives can also create the moral and ethical framework often missing from policy discussions on climate, which tend to pit environmentalists against fossil fuel interests.

In December the Paris Climate Accord set in motion an ambitious global process of accelerated climate action. The goal is nothing less than trying to avoid disastrous consequences for our planet. “This is truly a historic moment,” the United Nation’s secretary general Ban Ki-moon said. “For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth.”

The Paris Agreement was a critical step in the right direction, but the work is just beginning.

While Canadians were proud to finally be on the right side of global climate action, our prime minister went toParis with the deeply inadequate emission targets left over from the Harper government. It is essential we develop a detailed national plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The current hodgepodge of carbon pricing policies and commitments from provinces must be woven together.

In BC we have seen emissions start to creep up since the carbon tax was frozen in 2012. If our premier has her way with LNG, a handful of plants would double BC’s carbon footprint. LNG from fracked gas is far from clean.

Climate scientists agree that we have to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately the agreement in Paris was not a formal commitment to 1.5 degrees, but only aspires to this limit.The actual plans from the 195 countries that took part in the Paris agreement currently still commit the world to a temperature rise well above the two degree limit. It is widely agreed that above two degrees there will be irreparable and serious damage to the planet.

In November 2015 the world already hit the one degree rise above pre-industrial levels. December 2015 broke heat records around the world by a large margin. We can expect more summers of drought and ferocious forest fires. What can any one person do about this?

Each and every one of us can help create the political will for climate action this year. To adequately address climate change, we need fair and effective carbon pricing while removing subsidies from fossil fuels. Costs for renewable energy have been dropping rapidly and would be competitive with unsubsidized fossil fuels. Many of our best minds have created realistic road maps to how we can get to 100 per cent renewable energy, but we need effective policy to get there. A carbon fee and dividend system would protect low and middle incomeCanadians during this transition and stimulate local economies.

We have the tools to save our planet, but our governments need to move from words to action.

Think what could happen if each of us wrote or called Premier Christy Clark and demanded that she unfreeze the BC carbon tax and work with all provinces and the Prime Minister towards a national rising price for carbon pollution, while at the same time stop subsidizing LNG. Think what could happen if each of us demanded strong national leadership on climate change not just words, but an effective national carbon price and a complete removal of all fossil fuel subsidies.

Now is not the time to be complacent.

Laura Sacks is an environmental scientist, small-scale organic farmer, and leader of the local chapter of Citizens’Climate Lobby. She can be reached at ccl.westkootenay@gmail.com.

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