With extreme weather events making headlines and the longer-term impacts of climate change on all aspects of our lives from agriculture to health to tourism to energy becoming more apparent every day, the question of how to stop the planet from overheating will definitely be an issue in the upcoming federal election campaign. According to Abacus Data, a Sixth Estate foundational sponsor, some 90 per cent of Canadians are hopeful that a scientific or technological breakthrough will accelerate progress in the fight against a warming planet. A further 87 per cent are hopeful about a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Before the Bell assembled stakeholders to discuss whether Canada’s public policy direction is sufficient to meet those expectations.
David Coletto, CEO of Abacus and adjunct professor at the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs at Carleton University, said that polling has shown that four out of ten Canadians think that climate change is an extremely big problem. He added it is now close to the top concern for most people, although the political divide is very real on the issue.
During the Pulse segment, hosted by Global News Chief Political Correspondent David Akin, Velma McColl, managing principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, pointed to the success of British Columbia’s carbon tax as a world leader. It not only led to behavioural changes and carbon reductions, but an explosion in clean tech investment in the province.
“They see that as an economic development strategy — it’s not just the minister of environment who cares about this file, it’s the minister of economic development, and trade,” said McColl. “There’s a much bigger story here.”
“There are all kinds of alternatives in every sector,” said Marshall. “There are options to move towards, and we need to be embracing those — managed, and over time.”
Rachel Curran, principal at Harper and Associates, said that when it comes to creating environmental policy in line with the United States, the action needs to be driven at the sub-national level.
“Canada represents 1.6 percent of global emissions, so we could shut down our oil and gas industry tomorrow entirely, and we would have no impact on global emissions or the direction of climate change,” said Curran. “We need to keep that in mind when we’re talking about if we match or work in lockstep with other countries. We really have to.”
During the Policy segment, hosted by Catherine Clark, Bob Masterson, president & CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, said that while the chemistry sector consumes about ten percent of global power, and produces about seven percent of GHG emissions, the solutions to climate change are nevertheless found in chemistry.
“It’s a complex relationship,” said Masterson, but adds that Canada is very carbon-advantaged in chemical production.
“We have access to very low-carbon energy sources,” said Masterson. “We have large quantities of relatively low-carbon natural gas. In Western Canada, we have natural gas liquids as a raw material that comes into the process. As an example, a key chemical in the world is methanol. In Canada, we go from natural gas to methanol, which is one-eighth of greenhouse gas emissions than from going from coal to methanol in China.”
Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said that climate change is a bottom-line issue for insurers, given that a big wildfire or a flood can mean the difference between a decent year and a bad year.
“Last year, insured losses without any big event ran to $1.8 billion,” said Stewart. “What we’re seeing as insurers is an escalation. It’s more than just more people living in Canada and property values going up — if you factor those out, we’re still seeing an incredible rise in insured losses.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, said that while the current government is using the right language around climate change, it’s decades too late.
“The language I want to inject into this conversation is ‘climate emergency’,” said May. “If we could engage in Canadians in an all-hands-on-deck call — we don’t have enough workers to do the work that needs doing, to retrofit our buildings, bring in energy-efficient furnaces, bringing in those heat pumps.”
Sean Fraser, MP for Central Nova and the parliamentary secretary to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, said that not acting to address climate change is irresponsible.
“It’s cheaper to take action than ignore the problem,” said Fraser. “There’s an efficiency here, and the great failure of our political debates around climate change is we always talk about the challenge of the fight against climate change. This is a massive opportunity that is already putting people to work.”
Watch the full show here