COLUMN: We’re in a climate emergency, let’s act like it

MP Wayne Stetski announces a climate change town hall meeting Aug. 21

By Wayne Stetski

One of the issues I hear about most frequently from constituents is the urgent need to address climate change. That isn’t particularly surprising since it’s the biggest environmental threat of our time.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said we must dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption by 2030 or face catastrophic climate change. Meanwhile a recent report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada found Canada is warming at twice the global average. If those findings aren’t wakeup calls, the wildfires of the last two summers should be.

For the most part, my constituents don’t need a wakeup call — they need a government with the courage to take decisive action. I’ve heard time and time again that we must do more to confront the climate crisis, whether it’s from the Grade 5 and 6 Ktunaxa students who wrote me letters worried about their future or from the youth who have participated in school strikes as part of the global movement started by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

Municipal politicians are sounding the alarm as well: the Regional District of Central Kootenay recently passed a motion recognizing that climate change is “an urgent reality requiring rapid decarbonisation of energy” and that “[p]reparing for increased resilience and adaptability is critical.”

While the Liberal government voted to declare a climate emergency in the final days of this Parliament, their actions show they don’t grasp the urgency of the issue. Indeed, the very next day they approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion despite the National Energy Board’s failure to consider the project’s climate change impacts. The economic case for twinning Trans Mountain relies on a slower transition from fossil fuels than the science says is compatible with a safe climate. Bailing out the project was a bad investment for Canadians and the planet.

In addition to pouring billions of public dollars into a pipeline, the Liberals have continued to subsidize the fossil fuel industry instead of focusing investment on a just transition to a clean economy. The Liberal climate change plan gives breaks to the biggest polluters and fails to meet even Stephen Harper’s weak targets. Under the Liberal plan, we would meet the Paris Agreement targets 200 years late.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives want to dismantle the modest progress that has been made on climate policy, vowing to eliminate the price on carbon and the clean fuel standard. Instead, they have put forth a plan that would be expensive and ineffective, based on the hope we can rely on major polluters to invent our way out of the climate crisis. They have pitched their plan as the “best chance” at reaching the Paris Agreement’s “Conservative targets,” ignoring the fact that stronger targets are needed considering the evolving science and increasing impacts of climate change.

While the Green Party has put forward ambitious emission reduction targets, their plan does not include job retraining that is critical to getting buy-in from those in carbon-intensive industries. That absence may be linked to their proposal to turn off the taps to foreign oil imports and rely on Canada’s domestic industry. The feasibility of that proposal is questionable without expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, which is counterproductive to transitioning to a zero-carbon economy.

We need a bold plan that reduces emissions while creating sustainable jobs for workers. The NDP’s Power to Change: A New Deal for Climate Action and Good Jobs is a plan to do just that by investing in priorities like renewable energy, public transit, energy efficiency, and research and development. The United Steelworkers have said this plan protects the planet and jobs.

While I am proud of the NDP plan, I am willing to work across party lines with anyone who is serious about addressing the climate crisis. That is why this spring I seconded a bill to depoliticize the issue and make the government accountable on an annual basis on its emissions reduction efforts. It’s time to move beyond partisan bickering over climate change and recognize the moral imperative to act. We need to work together to implement comprehensive solutions if we’re going to succeed in protecting the planet and quality of life for future generations.

I am eager to hear from constituents on what more we should be doing to mitigate climate change and help our communities adapt. I am hosting a series of climate town halls next month, joined by MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby). I hope to see you there.

Wayne Stetski is the NDP MP for Kootenay-Columbia. The Nelson climate change town hall meeting is Wednesday, Aug. 21 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the United Church.

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