MPs spent their first day back in Parliament after Thanksgiving break debating the perils of climate change.
The emergency debate was granted by House of Commons Speaker Geoffrey Regan just a week after the United Nations climate change arm dropped an explosive warning.
It bluntly said the world is on the precipice of major disasters if governments don’t step up with a firmer plan to stop spewing so many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The world has already warmed up about 1 C compared to the mid-19th century and is experiencing the effects of that, including more violent storms, more frequent flooding, longer droughts and more forest fires.
Each 0.5 C degree of warming raises those risks significantly, with entire ecosystems possibly being eradicated, parts of the planet becoming too hot to sustain life and island nations getting drowned out entirely by rising sea levels.
The report says the world needs to aim to hold the warming to no more than 1.5 degrees C but that marker will be upon us by 2040 if drastic, global action isn’t taken.
Canada would need to cut its annual emissions almost in half from current levels within 12 years to meet that goal but currently aims to cut them by a little more than 25 per cent by 2030.
And the current climate plans — with carbon pricing, energy efficiencies, renewable power sources and technological innovations — don’t even get Canada to the existing goal.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said last week her plan is to implement the existing climate framework and reach the current targets before looking at more ambitious measures.
“We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and we’re the last generation to be able to act,” she said during the emergency debate Monday.
“If you have a child who is 10 years old today, we’re talking about catastrophic impacts in 30 years, when they’re 40 years, if we don’t take action.”
McKenna argued that climate change should be a non-partisan issue.
But while MPs from the NDP, Liberal and Green parties all asked Regan for the debate on the report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Conservatives did not.
Regulation over carbon pricing
Conservative MP Gerard Deltell maintained his party agrees that action must be taken to reduce carbon emissions. But he said Conservatives believe that should be done through incentives and innovation, not through the Liberals’ carbon tax that will hit ordinary Canadians on virtually everything they buy.
Moreover, Deltell argued that Canada’s role in reducing global warming won’t make much difference if the biggest polluters — China, India and the United States — are not taking steps to slash their emissions.
Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith deplored the “wilful blindness” of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, other provincial Conservative leaders and federal Conservatives, who are adamantly opposed to imposing a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions.
Every Conservative MP “should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
New Democrats and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May argued the Liberal government hasn’t done enough to meet its emission reduction targets, let alone meet the more stringent reductions required to keep warming to no more than 1.5 C. They urged the government to take a new leadership role at the UN climate change meeting in Poland in December by ramping up its efforts.
“Preventing a single degree could make a life or death difference,” said New Democrat MP Guy Caron.
May said the UN report is telling humanity, “You’ve got one chance to protect your kids’ world, you’ve got one chance, and it’s expiring in about 10-12 years, to hold global average temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees and if you miss that … you end up in a situation where the worst case scenario isn’t bad weather, it’s the collapse of our civilization and the extinction of millions of species, potentially including us.”