Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

The election came and went, and we missed an opportunity to talk about climate change

Climate change may be a global crisis, but you wouldn't know it from the provincial election campaign, writes Perla Hernandez.

You wouldn't know it's a global crisis if you followed the politicians' comments

Contributor Perla Hernandez wonders why there wasn't more of a focus on climate issues in the provincial election campaign. (John Gushue/CBC)

Climate change is a global challenge.

It does not respect borders, political affiliations, nor ideologies. At the recent televised leaders' debate, climate change was a point of discussion.

 While it's a good sign that climate change is recognized as a policy concern for the province, and that parties indicated a position on it, the sense of urgency was missing and few policy solutions were provided.

Most of the focus was placed on past administrations' mistakes with debate over the effectiveness of a carbon tax -  despite the evidence that carbon pricing works. 

To act on climate change is to act on behalf of the people and the planet.

Combating climate change is something that everybody must agree on, and there'd no time to make this a partisan issue. Everyone must work across partisan lines to unlock collaboration and policy innovation to address it.  

Party leaders must provide more details on how to empower communities to reduce their emissions and build climate adaptation and resilience; how to accelerate emissions reduction and how to develop a green economy that can compete in the face of the global transition to a new climate economy. 

Here, Petro-Canada’s Edmonton Refinery and Distribution Centre glows at dusk in Edmonton. (Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters)

Climate change challenges and opportunities

The world is heading toward a major structural transformation in our economy, our society and our environment.

As a province, we must be ready to address the challenges posed by climate change and to seize the opportunities in a decarbonized, climate-resilient economy. We must ramp up our climate commitments — and engage in multi-level governance: local, regional, national, and also across sectors.

Those were my takeaways from attending the UN climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland, also known as COP24. 

Climate change is a global challenge with local implications.

At COP24, countries adopted the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement and achieve its goals of limiting global warming to 2ºC degrees and achieving a transition to a low carbon climate resilient society.

This will open new markets and new opportunities.

Decarbonizing the economy in all of its facts is taunted the growth story of the 21st century as it's projected to generate $26 trillion in economic benefits and 65-million new jobs by 2030 — in 11 years. 

While climate action will provide significant opportunities, it still possesses significant challenges. Scientists, experts and even negotiators know that the outcomes of the Paris Agreement rulebook paired with countries' existing climate plans are not enough to stop carbon emissions from reaching critical levels.

The state of the climate: we're not doing enough

Our politics are not matching the challenges posed by climate change.

Last year, global carbon emissions reached record highs, and the past 20 of 22 years have been the warmest on record. The world's average temperature has already risen by 1º C degree since 1850, and Canada's warming rate is twice the global rate. 

There is a direct correlation between anthropogenic emissions, global temperature rise, and the increased amount and intensity of extreme weather events we are experiencing — like floods, heat waves, wildfires and 'superstorms.' 

In the past weeks alone we've seen communities in Quebec, New Brunswick and Eastern Ontario hit by spring flooding, damaging thousands of homes and relocating hundreds of families.

This trend is likely to increase and intensify.

According to Natural Resources Canada's latest report, annual and winter precipitation is projected to increase in Canada within this century, though reductions in summer rainfall are also projected for southern Canada — meaning more likelihood for heatwaves and wildfires among many other climate impacts.

The latest IPCC's Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 º Degrees raises the alarm of the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5º C degrees and to decrease 45% in global anthropogenic emissions by the year 2030, to prevent critical climate-related risks for natural and human systems. 

For this, governments have to do far more to curb emissions considering that countries current climate commitments are insufficient to meet the emissions reduction needed – including Canada. We need far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. 

Cities bring hope for climate and policy innovation 

Even if there is division on climate leadership at the political level, cities are sources of inspiration. It can be easy to look at climate change as "far away" issues that don't have impact or implementation at the local level.

They are not. Climate change is a global challenge with local implications.

There is a good case to be made about the potential of municipalities, since mayors and council are directly accountable to their constituents for their decisions. They are closer to the people. 

Local climate action can open new venues for policy innovation and bottom up change — like the plastic bag ban in NL which was spearheaded by municipalities.

There is no single solution to climate change, but cities have the ability to provide significant advances.

Cities are at the front lines of climate change. They're the first ones to experience its effects, and they're also major sources of emissions. Canadian municipalities represent 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and are also major energy consumers. 

By taking action on climate change, municipalities can save money on energy costs, create new jobs, improve quality of life for residents and develop sustainable innovative solutions that address adaptation and enhanced resilience to climate change.

At COP24 it was highlighted how local governments are leading to climate policy innovation and city-to-city collaboration on best practices on mitigation and adaptation.

For instance, cities are adopting climate reporting tools to harmonize and reach ambitious climate targets that support national emissions reduction targets.

Protesters from the Extinction Rebellion campaign group block Oxford Circus in central London in April, 2019. (Neil Hall/EPA-EFE)

Their actions are having positive impact on residents' health and well-being. Nordic cities recognize that human well-being and environmental health are the same, and are pioneering in smart-grid technologies and engaging residents through digital tools. 

Canadian municipalities are also innovating by improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions on corporate operations, by implementing community energy districts, and by encouraging zero net housing development, waste reduction and transport solutions.

Vancouver committed to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

In our province, municipalities are moving towards digitalization while trying to reduce emissions and adapting to climate change. Local climate action can open new venues for policy innovation and bottom up change — like the plastic bag ban in NL which was spearheaded by municipalities.

Community climate action must be integrated across departments including infrastructure, planning, community development, finance, policy strategy and governance.

It must involve community and stakeholder engagement at the forefront to answers the following questions: Where we are? Where do we want to go? And how do we get there together?

Perla Hernandez attend the UN climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland in December, 2018. (John Gushue/CBC)

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About the Author

Perla Hernandez is a political science graduate student at Memorial University. Her research focuses on climate change mitigation and adaptation

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