Opinion

Report on devastating Canadian climate change a far bigger issue than Jody Wilson-Raybould: Neil Macdonald

The main takeaway from a new government report on climate change is that not only is it much more frightening and immediate than we all thought, as the UN reported six months ago, it's at least twice as bad in Canada. Twice. As. Bad.

According to a new report, Canada's climate is warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the world

The new climate change report should be a considerable weapon to counter the attack on the carbon tax planned by Scheer and conservative provincial premiers. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Government scientists have produced a new report on climate change in Canada, and it's beyond grim. The details trigger thoughts of hoarding and maybe selling the house and moving to higher ground. To a millennial, the findings should inspire naked fear.

Among other things, the report, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday, says:

  • Canada's climate has been warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the world. In Northern Canada, it's even higher.

And, says the report, there is simply no doubt about the cause. Climate change-skeptic conservatives will, of course, disagree, but here is what the scientists say:

"Canada's climate has warmed and will warm further in the future, driven by human influence. Both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming."

  • Our climate is not warming consistently. It is most pronounced in the Prairies and British Columbia, and especially severe in northern B.C. The effects are strongest in winter.

It is effectively irreversible. The antidote prescribed in the report is politically impossible, at least right now: "Scenarios with limited warming will only occur if Canada and the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century."

  • The scientists predict an eventual increase in "annual average country-wide temperature" of about two degrees Celsius, a rate that will remain steady after mid-century. They say the increase could be as severe as six degrees.

Canada is experiencing hotter extreme heat and less cold extreme cold. (Nick Murray/CBC)
  • The oceans around Canada have become more acidic and less oxygenated. Future warming will be heaviest in ice-free waters of the Canadian arctic. Most Canadians can expect coastal flooding to increase during their lifetimes.

Warming of the oceans, in particular, is a truly vicious circle. According to the report:

"Ocean warming and loss of oxygen will intensify with further emissions of all greenhouse gases, whereas ocean acidification will increase in response to additional carbon dioxide emissions. These changes threaten the health of marine ecosystems."

In other words, worse begets even worse, begets disaster.

  • Canada is experiencing hotter extreme heat and less cold extreme cold. Permafrost is warming. There is less ice and snow.

  • Rainfall is increasing, although less so in the summer months. As warming continues, Canada (of all places) will likely face freshwater shortages.

Those are just the highlights. The main takeaway: if climate change worldwide is much more frightening and immediate than we all thought, as the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported six months ago, it's at least twice as bad in Canada.

Twice. As. Bad.

To the Trudeau government, this is core-mission stuff. Last week, scientists from the environment department were brought in to the Prime Minister's Office for briefings. The report will be public and online Tuesday, and Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet will be pushing the issue as something bordering on a national emergency, which is not an unreasonable way to characterize it.

Normally, you'd think findings like these would penetrate deep into voters' minds. Climate change, with reports like this one and that of the IPCC last October, is becoming an issue of economic self-interest.

SNC-Lavalin scandal

But these are not normal times. The Opposition is determined to keep public attention riveted on the SNC-Lavalin scandal, and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould's remarkably effective effort to take down the prime minister.

That's not to say the new report won't generate headlines, but they will not be as politically explosive as, say, Wilson-Raybould's secretly recorded conversation with Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, which she submitted to the Commons justice committee last week. Over the weekend, at a ceremony in her honour in British Columbia, Wilson-Raybould signalled her determination to keep the story alive, and to continue speaking "her truth." Tory leader Andrew Scheer is equally determined to assist her.

Probably not coincidentally, the report is also landing at exactly the same time as a new carbon tax (the government wants to call it "a price on pollution") lands in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick, increasing the price of fuel by about four cents a litre at the pump.

Those four provinces had refused to levy their own carbon pricing plans, as other provinces have done, so the federal government stepped in with one of its own.

Almost certainly, Scheer and his allies will shrug at the findings of the report. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Carbon tax was going to be a, if not the, big issue in the election campaign this fall. The new climate change report should be a considerable weapon to counter the attack on the carbon tax planned by Scheer and conservative provincial premiers.

But SNC-Lavalin has, for the last several weeks, shown itself capable of burning up all the political oxygen in Ottawa.

Almost certainly, Scheer and his allies will shrug at the findings of the report, and get right back to hammering on the unspeakable treatment of Wilson-Raybould and corruption, corruption, corruption. (No law was broken, no money changed hands, and Wilson-Raybould had the last say and her decision was not overruled, but still, corruption, corruption, end of democracy, etc.)

And out on social media, the millions of Canadians who loathe Trudeau and everything he stands for will ridicule any reporter or news organization that tries to focus on our changing climate. To many conservatives, climate change is just a distraction, if not a hoax – something to be discussed later. Much later.

In fact, a lot of Canadians will regard this entire climate report as a shoddy diversion, and reporters who report it as "tools of the PMO."

One other thing: people in government tell me the expulsion of Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus is being accelerated. The plan was to do it on Wednesday, when the national Liberal caucus meets, but that's the day when 338 prospective female parliamentarians will be visiting Parliament Hill as part of the "Daughters of the Vote" push to encourage more women to enter politics – not an auspicious moment to expel two women, one of whom is now Canada's best known Indigenous figure.

So there are now plans for a series of emergency regional caucuses tonight and on Tuesday. One caucus organizer says the Quebec Liberal caucus unanimously supports expulsion, as well as 90 per cent of the Ontario caucus, 80 per cent of the Atlantic caucus, and 85-90 per cent of the Prairie caucus.

B.C. Liberals are less certain about the issue, given the politics in that province, but the organizer says the recommendations from regional caucuses will be overwhelming. And Trudeau, who has publicly said he welcomes Wilson-Raybould's and Philpott's desire to run as Liberals in the next election, has indicated he will nonetheless announce his "respect for the will of members" and order the two MPs booted.

Then he wants to start talking about the climate change report. Just at a guess, though, Jody Wilson-Raybould will relegate climate change to the inside pages, just as she's done with everything else. Which is lunacy, but that's where we are.


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About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

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