Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to speak to this important motion. I thank my colleague from Don Valley East for her important remarks.
I would like to add to this debate by speaking positively about the future. We have had many accusations back and forth, and that is understandable I suppose. This is, I think, the meta-issue of history, of a degradation of our climate and our planet. Never before have we been so exposed to danger for actually deteriorating human life and all life on earth.
We can recall those first Apollo pictures of the earth and the images they have created in our minds of a blue and green gem floating in, for all we know, an endless infinite universe of rock and fire. That gem is unique to our knowledge, and yet we are taking a risk with it because it is not actually a gem. It is actually only an eggshell; it is not solid. It is a tiny eggshell of blue and green over rock and fire. To think that we as a species would put at risk that extraordinary unique piece of magic floating through the universe is really an existential march of folly more than we have ever seen in society.
I am very pleased that whatever shortcomings or inadequacies the government or previous governments may have taken toward environmental degradation, that we are all coming together. This motion focuses us on the opportunity to state the absolute imperative of dealing with this in the most serious possible way.
It was interesting to hear a panel of people speaking about climate change on CBC Radio's The Current this morning after the 8:30 news. These people came from business, the environmental sector and from the scientific sector. Mr. Thomas d'Aquino, who is the CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, not generally known as an eco-freak but rather known as someone who takes a very serious business-minded approach to matters, quoted Michael Porter, the Harvard competitive guru seen as the person who has the best grasp on why competitive economies are competitive around the world.
In 1990 he was commissioned by the Mulroney government and produced a report on the competitive nature of Canada. His main recommendation was that the lack of competitiveness and productivity in the Canadian economy was because our environmental standards were too low and that northern European countries, where they had higher environmental standards, were the ones that had the most competitive economies. Companies working under that sort of regulatory and fiscal regime were more competitive and more creative. They invested more in research and development. They protected themselves, for instance, from consumer boycotts that are against environmental practices that are damaging in other countries. They created spinoff technology industries that they could sell to the rest of the world.
As the world focuses more and more on the dangers of climate change, those technologies are going to be immensely important. We in Canada should be investing in those companies, as Mr. d'Aquino was recommending, and in those technologies, so that we can lead and supply the world with what is going to become and is increasingly being seen as an absolute historical imperative.
Sir Nicholas Stern, in his report that was issued a few weeks ago, compared the vastness of the economic damage that will be done if we do not deal with climate change to being greater than that of both the first and second world war. That is the scale we are talking about. It is absolutely breathtaking and it is something that we altogether as parliamentarians must take on the responsibility of solving.
We need regulatory and fiscal powers to do that. There are two critically important principles in environmental science and in fact in the whole issue of sustainability. One is the precautionary principle. I hope all of us in this House now have gotten over whatever our hesitation may have been in the past, that we have gotten beyond the notion of questioning the science of climate change.
In terms of risk assessment and dealing with risk, the precautionary principle would cause us to act positively. The consequences of severe climate change will be catastrophic even if the chance was fairly small, but in fact it is the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence in the world that sees this as a rapidly changing climate in historical terms, with the acceleration being caused by human activity. The precautionary principle says we must act. Now it is coming into all of our consciousness that we have not acted fast enough and we are going to have to do it together.
The other principle is polluter pay as a basic bedrock principle of environmental stewardship. We simply cannot have companies or individuals any further using the atmosphere as a toxic waste dump, and we can set the example in this country. It simply cannot happen. We know, and any economist will tell us, that if we are going to have a sound working economy, we have to internalize any negative externalities that the activities of those companies or persons cause. We simply have to cost out the price of pollution. We can call it a carbon tax or costing CO2 emissions. We can call it internalizing negative externalities. We can call it whatever we want, but the point is, it is paying for the damage that is being done as we go.
The wonderful thing about that, and we have suggested in this motion a cap and trade system, is that we can actually let the market work in a way that is most efficient and effective by costing those greenhouse gas emissions. They can be capped at a reasonable point to start and then those caps can be dropped, so that people and industry have to successively reduce them over time as they develop the technology, as they rebuild their manufacturing plants, and as they add new processes.
We can use the market to cost it and then a trading system can allow companies that can easily reduce GHGs, because of their procedures or because of their technologies, to get credit for it and to sell that credit to other companies that can take longer times perhaps to replace their capital equipment. That is a reasonable way to do it, but it can actually start accelerating very quickly.
We can also, and this is immensely important, use fiscal mechanisms to determine behaviour and incent proper behaviour. We can have tax shifting. We want to make it neutral but we can do it in a fair way. We can take away incentives that cause bad behaviour, polluting behaviour by taxing it, or removing the tax benefit and putting the tax benefits on the development of renewable energy technologies. We can use incentives and disincentives in a very effective way.
Certainly, in North America and increasingly in China and India, we know that vehicle emissions are a major cause of pollution and greenhouse gases. California has just announced the highest levels of vehicle emission standards in the world. We can go to that level. If they can do it in California, we can do it here. There is a way that we can actually do that without crippling or damaging the automobile industry and of course that is an important part of the Canadian economy. By what is called niching, we can cause automobile manufacturers to make a certain proportion of models of their automobile production low or no emission vehicles, but they can spread the cost of developing that technology across their whole manufacturing units. And over time, of course, those percentages would have to increase.
Those are some ideas for us to positively go ahead, and I look forward to comments and questions from colleagues.