moved that Bill C-311, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, we are faced with the biggest challenge in the history of the civilized world. We have choices. Canada can choose to lead, we can follow the world's leaders and scientists, but what we cannot do is just get out of the way.
My riding is vast and covered with boreal forests and lakes. Today the boreal forest is under extreme stress: from insects and disease, not only the mountain pine beetle; from more forest blowdowns because of more wind extremes; from record low water levels in Lake Superior; and, of course, forest fires, more forest fires all the time.
Greenhouse gases, up to a point, are a good thing and give the earth an average temperature of 15° Celsius. Without them, we would not be here to complain about cold winters in Canada because even in the tropics life as we know it could not exist. However, in the last century, especially in the most recent decades, human activities have resulted in more greenhouse gases and the global average temperature is increasing steadily.
Let us look at a little history. How did we get here?
Temperatures are closely linked to the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Temperatures have varied in the far distant past but human civilization has been here for a relatively brief period as a civilized entity, a mere 10,000 years. During this period, global average temperatures have been very consistent, with a variation of less than 1° over the past 10,000 years.
Droughts and little ice ages took place that forced people to move or perish. However, climate extremes, prolonged temperature shifts and weather catastrophes have been mostly limited to regional areas. They were not, as today, global in scope or scale.
The amounts of greenhouse gases were stable for this entire period. Humans used some wood for heating and cooking. Nevertheless, new plant growth easily captured that carbon. Around the beginning of the industrial revolution, CO2 was at 280 parts per million.
Worldwide concern about climate change had its first peak in the 1980s. World gatherings of policy makers and scientists studied the problems and issued directives to parliaments and congresses around the world.
Right here in Canada, in 1988 the United Nations conference in Toronto called “The Changing Atmosphere” was the beginning of a more modern consciousness about climate change. At that conference, the UN established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, to assess changes in climate, estimate their impacts and present strategies on how to respond.
Delegates from 46 countries all recommended developing a comprehensive global framework convention to protect the atmosphere and a 20% cut in global carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2005, and we have delivered a 28% increase. In many ways, we knew it all more than 20 years ago and we politicians did not listen to our own scientists.
The Rio earth summit in 1992 followed. Sustainability was the talk and there were more rehearsals about reductions. The Liberal government of the time announced an action program on climate change in 1995 but to no significant effect. There was so much well-intended talk but so little real action here in Canada.
The second peak in activity about climate change took place in the late 1990s. It was in response to new science and real world experience with nasty and extreme weather events. Some examples include: an unusual number of hurricanes; a number of billion dollar storms in the United States; a Chicago heatwave that killed 740 people; the Saguenay flood in 1996, Canada's first ever billion dollar natural disaster; and Winnipeg's Red River flood of 1997.
There was a lot of momentum leading to Kyoto in 1997 when almost all countries signed it, including Canada, to reductions below 1990 levels by 2012.
Unfortunately, the Bush years scuttled that process. The U.S., with nearly one-quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions, refused to ratify that protocol. Canada did ratify but with a puzzling disregard for a binding treaty. We continued to increase emissions.
The big three of emissions per capita, the United States, Australia and Canada, made only token investments in renewable energy technology. In fact, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions actually increased considerably more than the United States on a per capita basis.
Today, Americans and Canadians emit more CO2 per capita than anywhere else in the world.
When will we reach the tipping point?
Those familiar with Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point , will remember the example he uses of the light switch. We can move it, more and more, but it still remains dark, it is still dark we can move it, it is still dark then the room is suddenly filled with light.
There is a consensus among many scientists that at 450 to 500 parts per million, a climate tipping point will be reached from which we can never recover.
Most of us in Canada would welcome a few extra degrees more warmth on certain days, but it is a package deal. Warm temperatures increase the range of insects, for example the mountain pine beetle, and disease, such as the West Nile virus and Lyme disease, with predictions of malaria for southern Ontario in the not too far distant future.
All of our regions are vulnerable. Atlantic Canada: more intense hurricanes and nor'easters; more frequent and extreme floods in central Canada, indeed throughout Canada; more drought, hail and tornadoes on the prairies; more blowdowns on the west coast, like in Stanley Park; and, most vulnerable of all, our Canadian Arctic where the land and the ice are already experiencing major change. Permafrost is melting and has the potential to release huge quantities of greenhouse gases, like methane. Polar bears and traditional Inuit culture are headed for extinction.
We must heed these warnings. The severity of ferocious bushfires in Australia a few weeks ago shocked probably everyone but especially people in countries that deal with wildfires. Some people fled while others chose to stay and fight, and die.
On television, Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, symbolized a shocked nation. He looked around, barely able to find any words, and publicly wept. The final death toll will be over 240 in Australia. Our deepest sympathies do go out to the families and the Australian people.
However, the tragedy should not have come as that much of a surprise. A grim warning was issued by Australian scientists a few years ago. Their equivalent of our national research council stated:
...a new order of fires should be expected in south-eastern Australia [...] catastrophic fire events every five to seven years, with fires of such ferocity they would simply engulf towns in their path.
And here they are. Fire temperatures are estimated to have exceeded 1000 degrees Celsius, hotter than crematoriums typically set at 850 degrees.
Most of my own riding is in the boreal forest. I in fact I have spent most of my life in the forest as an ecologist, business person and forester. Forest fires are and have been a reality in our life there. It is not unusual for communities in my riding to be evacuated because of approaching forest fires. Some day we may be weeping when we lose entire towns full of people to wildfires right here in Canada.
Forest fires are part of a changing reality. According to the Canadian Forest Service, the area burned in Canada annually has almost tripled over the last three decades. Projected warmer temperatures and less reliable rainfall in the next decades may hugely increase that.
In the Arctic, the last two summers have featured records in ocean ice melting. There is the likelihood we that will see an ice-free Arctic in our lifetime. It is troubling that all these trends are predicted and, indeed, expected with increased greenhouse gases.
An essential part of the new weather is the higher frequency of extreme events. This is just a preview of the worsening next two decades. We need to act. Instead, we have Canada's inaction. We Canadian politicians have a sad record of inaction. Why is that?
Opinion polls keep saying that 80% of Canadians favour strict measures to reduce emissions, yet our own governments have been impotent and unwilling to confront what will be the defining issue of the 21st century: a changing climate and a dying world.
Voluntary compliance does not and will not work. I have already mentioned the failure of Sheila Copps' national action program on climate change in 1995. It is just one of many examples where we have failed. Canada is now approximately 28% above, not below, 1990 levels. To be blunt, Canada is an embarrassment on the world stage. We have retreated from recent world meetings in Bali and Poznan with a folder of fossil-of-the-day awards.
The next world conference in Copenhagen this December will provide another opportunity to regain some stature on the vital issue of climate change. This act would help re-establish our credibility at the bargaining table and increase the chances of persuading major developing countries to take on such commitments.
In this 40th Parliament, we have one last opportunity to take real action to prevent the threat of worsening economic and health effects of climate pollution. Bill C-311 would ensure that the government is accountable to Canadians on climate change and that Canada is accountable to the world.
This bill gives us a goal. It would require the Minister of the Environment, now and in the future, to implement measures to ensure that Canada reduces our absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. It introduces greater government accountability by requiring the minister to prepare five-year target plans starting in 2015 and report on progress every two years. It would mandate an independent body, the national round table on the environment and the economy, to review and report on the feasibility of each target plan.
The bill offers flexibility. The government has the option of setting targets, including for 2020, if it can make a convincing case that those targets are part of an appropriate trajectory between here and the bill's 2050 goal.
This bill builds on Bill C-288, the Kyoto protocol implementation act. In particular, the accountability mechanisms where the government is compelled to public emissions reduction plans and have them independently audited would die with C-288 at the end of 2012 if this bill is not passed. This bill would continue where Bill C-288 ends.
This bill would give us certainty, with long timelines and much greater predictability for business and industry. The plan lays out targets for five-year periods until 2050, giving a very clear picture of future regulatory environments. Controlling emissions offers us new opportunities. Cutting emissions is promoted by some as being detrimental to industry, but in many countries cutting emissions has created abundance. New technologies in Denmark, Germany and other European countries are creating jobs and internationally marketable products, which Canada could also choose to do.
Reducing emissions creates financial opportunities with lots of money to be made in the green economy. Consider, please, the Canadian who came up with a new solar panel, and could find no Canadian buyer and whose company was bought up by Germany. ZENN electric cars are made in Quebec, but exported to the U.S. because Ontario will not buy or legalize them.
In reducing carbon emissions we would be building fresh companies that would be addressing our current energy and environmental needs. We would create rewarding green collar jobs by building solar and wind infrastructure, as well as safe and renewable energy for our future.
As parliamentarians we can choose to finally confront this crisis decisively. This crisis is about the survival of millions of species, including our own. This issue must not be a partisan issue. It is not about right versus left. This is about right versus wrong.
Albert Schweitzer said over 50 years ago that “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth”. Let us prove him wrong. Let us join together to save a future for our children, our grandchildren, and our beautiful world.