Climate change 'disaster waiting to happen,' Toronto summit told

Leaders of Ontario, Quebec and California converge in Toronto to discuss issues surrounding climate change and why we need to act now to address the crisis.

Protestors demand 'total transformation' for how societies work to address global warming crisis

Ontario, Quebec and California leaders joined together Wednesday to "light a fire" under their respective federal governments to step up the fight against climate change.

Canada's two most populous provinces are "filling the void" left by Ottawa as they try to solve the problem of rising temperatures, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said at the two-day Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she wants the federal government to "hear the message" that they cannot solve the problem alone. California Gov. Jerry Brown chimed in, saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to "get on board."

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is not attending the meeting — she is in her riding celebrating Nunavut Day — but a spokesman said they are the first government in Canadian history to achieve a net-reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and have done so "without implementing carbon taxes or carbon-pricing schemes."

Ontario, Quebec and California are teaming up on a cap-and-trade system in which businesses have a greenhouse gas quota and are able to sell credits to reward efficiency and innovation.

Couillard said Wednesday that Quebec had signed a memorandum of understanding to join California and Ontario and other subnational states that "commits ourself to a very ambitious set of targets with only one objective: to keep warming below or at the maximum two degrees by 2050."

'Disaster waiting to happen'

Countries don't need to wait around for federal governments to take action on climate change, Couillard said at the conference, where hundreds of invitation-only delegates from subnational states gathered.

Brown agreed with him and spoke plainly about the bleak prospects for the world if nothing changes.

"At the lower level, the subnational level, we want to do what we can to light a fire under our respective national leaders to get things moving because climate change doesn't wait for anybody," he said.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen."

'Our ecosystem is compromised'

In the opening remarks at the conference, Wynne said developed nations brought about climate change and those same nations now must band together to fix it.

"We can't any longer claim ignorance of the price of further delay," Wynne told the crowd. "The oceans will continue to rise and we'll experience longer, more intense heat waves and rainstorms, erosion, flooding, wildfires — our ecosystem is compromised, our infrastructure is at risk."

Couillard spoke about the success the province has had with carbon pricing and moving to an environmentally focused economy.

"This is certainly not at the expense of growth and job creation," Couillard said, adding: "Let us all reject this false choice, rather let us build a different type of growth as solid, but more sustainable than our economy today that is still based on fossil fuels."

Protesters want 'total transformation'

Upcoming speakers at the conference include former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore.

Before the summit began, more than 100 people showed up to a downtown hotel with one protest organizer saying she's upset both the climate meeting and an economic summit at the same hotel are closed to the public.

"We're protesting the people who have been brought in to determine our future and the future of the planet," said Tings Chak, with No one Is Illegal Toronto.

"We're demanding total transformation of how our societies work in addressing the climate crisis that doesn't sacrifice our communities."

Aggressive action needed in Ontario

The United Nations and International Energy Agency have warned of the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions to avoid global warming of as much as four degrees, which would lead to rising sea levels and have drastic climate impacts.

On Tuesday, Ontario's acting environment commissioner warned that the province won't meet its own 2020 emission-reduction targets without aggressive action.

In a progress report, Ellen Schwartzel said car and truck emissions along with energy-hogging buildings present the single-biggest problem in the province's fight against climate change.

The conference wraps up tomorrow.