moved that Bill C-311, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act, before its final vote here in the House of Commons. It is a private member's bill and should be non-partisan. It has taken a long time to get here. Essentially, we are in the same place, deciding on the climate change bill, as we were two years ago before the 2008 election killed Bill C-377.
We have lost many valuable years, years in which action could have been taken, years in which Canadian businesses could have had some sense of direction from the government, something they have been demanding for a long time, years in which Canada's international reputation could have been enhanced instead of damaged, years in which we could have shifted beyond stagnant questions like, “Is there really a problem”, or “Will we set science-based targets and timetables”, to “How will we meet targets in a timely fashion?”
A month ago Canada joined 126 other countries in the fourth global Earth Hour, where we turned off electric lights for one hour. However, it is not just about saving electricity. The annual event was started just a few years ago to send a message to leaders to get moving on tackling climate change. It has grown quickly, with just two million people taking part in 2007 to this year when more than a billion people took part. They include millions of Canadians in more than 300 municipalities. In towns and cities, large and small, there were concerts, candlelight parties, educational events and all manner of people getting together across Canada to send us, here in this House, a message to please show leadership on climate change.
These events are becoming more common and they will not stop. A few months ago Canadians joined in a global day of climate action in every major city. A clear majority of Canadians demand action. Naysayers and cynics will not stop them. A minority prime minister intent on delay and obfuscation will not stop them either.
I sincerely hope that a clear majority of members will stand in favour of action on climate change. I also hold out hope that Conservative members who disagree with the Prime Minister on this issue will demand a free vote and vote in favour of a sustainable energy future. Historically, private members' bills such as this are not whipped votes.
Many members are weighing their options on what legacy they will leave, how they will be judged by history. Regardless of the rhetoric on either side of the debate, members must decide if the right choice is to stand up for action on climate change, even if they are unsure of some of the scientific details, while considering the consequences of making the wrong decision.
Here are the choices. Climate change is either substantially caused by human activity, or it is not. The vast majority of scientists, most Canadian citizens and, indeed, most of the world, now agree that humans have influenced the climate. However, for the sake of argument, let us entertain some of the remaining naysayers in this House who cling to the belief that it is purely a natural phenomenon.
Faced with these two possibilities, that human-caused climate change is either the scientific truth or it is not, there is something we do control. We can either act or not act. That is the real question before us in this House.
Imagine a chart or a table with the intersection of two rows versus two columns, with action versus non-action on one axis; and climate change, true or false, on the other axis. Thus the risk and benefits could be reduced to four possible outcomes. First, human-influenced climate change is real, and we take decisive action. Second, climate science is wrong, but we take decisive action anyway. Third, the science is wrong, and we take no action. Fourth, it is here, it is real, but we do not act.
Each of the four scenarios is a window to a different Canada of the future. Because the fate of our country and indeed the world is potentially held in the balance by this decision, it is important to consider objectively each of the four future possibilities for our country in turn.
Here is the first scenario. Consider the option that the science is reasonably accurate and humans could have, and have, influenced the climate. Canada and other countries move to take decisive action. It costs money and resources. Our economies are transformed with new industries, and consumption habits change. The world is a different place and it is a lot more sustainable. It took hard work, and sometimes we stumbled along the way, but we averted disaster.
Will it have been worth it? We would end up with a liveable, comfortable, and prosperous Canada to leave to future generations. In the face of possible dangerous and destabilizing climate change, the majority of citizens, scientists, and businesses believed that it was the logical thing to do.
Here is a second scenario. What if the world's economies devote serious resources to mitigating climate change, but they do not have to? Science is imperfect, and there is a tiny possibility that human influenced climate change might not be significant. Yes, if this scenario is realized, there is no question there will be changes to our economies.
Our Prime Minister has argued that these changes would be unaffordable, while other countries, like the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, and a growing pantheon of other nations, see them as more of an economic opportunity.
However, even if we took action that we did not need to take, what will we have done? We will have increased fuel efficiency standards and improved energy conservation. We will have reduced our dependence on coal, and oil and gas, and increased our use of clean renewable energy. We will have shifted from old industries to new green technologies and have been able to compete in the global economy of the future. We will have reduced waste and pollution. We will have increased our national productivity and efficiency. Will that all be so bad? These things are worth doing even if we did not have the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.
Our final two scenarios paint bleak pictures of the Canada of the future. They are what will come about if we continue to do nothing to tackle the threat of climate change.
The third possible future, for the sake of argument, is that climate change is a vast scientific conspiracy, aided and abetted by everyone from industry to three Liberal provincial governments, to conservation organizations, to ordinary citizens, both in Canada and the world. Maybe 99% of the world's climate scientists have all read their graphs upside down by mistake.
Either way, the Government of Canada would be one of the few governments in the world that continued to do nothing, and in this hypothetical scenario, they would happen to be right. In that case, we would still have to deal with our drooping economic productivity and the problems associated with peak oil, while most other countries will have greened their economies. It is obvious that this scenario is where our Prime Minister is placing his bets, but then our Prime Minister seems inclined to place the demands of big oil ahead of the needs of Canadian citizens and a truly sustainable Canadian economy.
Finally, the fourth possible future is that climate change is real, but we do not act. The consequences we have all heard about will be disastrous: drought; famine; skyrocketing food prices; new pests; coastal cities drowned; fire storms decimating our forests; and worldwide, millions will become desperate refugees; bloody wars will be waged over dwindling resources; and there will extinction of countless species. Future generations will look upon us with dismay and disgust. We knew the consequences, yet selfishly and indecisively, we did nothing. We feasted on oil and gas and coal and passed the bill along to our grandchildren.
Considering all of these options, there is only one thing we can control: we can choose to act or not to act. Let us consider taking action. By acting, we either devote the effort and resources to get a liveable and more productive Canada if climate change is not as serious as most fear, or we devote the effort and resources to build a prosperous, green and efficient Canada that has averted catastrophe, if what science has told us is real. Either way, Canada would be a productive country that we could feel proud to pass on to our grandchildren. Yes, there is a small possibility that we were misled in our good intentions, but let not history say that we were malicious or cowardly.
Let us consider inaction. By not acting or by delaying, we would continue the steady increase in greenhouse gas pollution that previous governments have delivered for 20 years. If human influenced climate change is not real and we do not act, then the best that may happen is that we will be way behind other nations in the competitive industries of tomorrow. The worst case scenario of inaction, the one that science tells us is most likely, is truly catastrophic. It would be an economic and ecological disaster.
I would urge parliamentarians to do everything they can do to avoid this scenario even being a possibility for us. The only way to eliminate this terrible outcome from our future is to act, and to act now. Decisive action is the only logical thing to do. It is the most economical thing to do and it is the only moral thing to do.
In one week, we will face a choice here in the House. We can vote at third reading to take the first steps with this private member's bill, Bill C-311. The bill gives us clear targets. It requires the government to ensure that Canada reduces its absolute greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. It introduces real accountability by requiring the government to publish five-year target plans, starting in 2015, and report on progress every two years. The independent National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy will review and report on the feasibility of each and every target plan.
This bill gives us flexibility. The government will have the option of setting flexible interim targets, if changes are needed. The bill gives us certainty, with published plans, long timelines, and much greater predictability for business and industry. It gives municipalities less risk and enhances investor confidence.
In the complete and total absence of any government plan, Bill C-311 remains the only climate change legislation the House is considering and voting on. Unfortunately, it was held up for half a year, when some Liberals voted with the Conservatives to delay the bill at committee until after the Copenhagen summit.
That being said, during the better part of a year of committee deliberations, no party proposed any amendments to the bill before it was finally returned to the House. I hope this means that the official opposition is satisfied with it as is. I hope all opposition parties will be fully present for the vote to ensure that this most vital legislation is passed.
The choice is up to us in this Parliament what Canada we want in the future. Yes, there have been a few isolated incidents in the research that do raise questions, but when thousands of scientists build any complex scientific picture of a world, there will undoubtedly be a few gaps, misperceptions, and mistakes that are made. Cynics will focus on specific incidents and bits of data rather than the bigger picture.
As a scientist, I realize that most citizens and many politicians want proof and certainty from science. Unfortunately, science can never conclusively prove or disprove anything. The best it can do is to give us a probability that we almost proved or disproved something. Even that requires an experimental design that has dozens of replications and many controls.
However, fellow members of the House, we have only one earth, with no replications and no experimental controls. We never know the future of climate change with certainty. The best we can do is to make educated predictions and then err on the side of caution and survival. Last year, the prestigious magazine, The Economist, said, “The doubters are right that uncertainties are rife in climate science. They are wrong when they present that as a reason for inaction.” It continued that most research supported the idea that warming was man-made, and that while uncertainty remained, that argued for—not against—action. Moreover, while the range of possible outcomes was huge, with catastrophe one possibility, The Economist noted that the costs of averting climate change were comparatively small.
It is not too late. We can still leave better options and a better Canada for our children and grandchildren, but we must take the first real steps now. The costs of inaction, on the other hand, are likely so great that if we fail in this one moment of truth, we will have broken our sacred duty that all parents have to their children and grandchildren to leave them better options and a better world.
I encourage the members of the House to show up for the vote on the third reading of this historic bill next week, and to vote for the climate change accountability act.