Le réchauffement climatique – 10 ans d’inaction

Il y a dix ans, les scientifiques réunis à Toronto pour la Conférence sur le changement atmosphérique ont déclaré que les conséquences les plus à craindre du changement climatique seraient comparables à une guerre nucléaire mondiale. Ils ont recommandé, entre autres, que les pays industrialisés réduisent leurs émissions de dioxyde de carbone de 20 pour cent pour l’an 2000, afin de franchir la première étape.

Depuis, en dépit de la volonté exprimée officiellement par le gouvernement, les rejets de gaz à effet de serre ont augmenté de plus de 11 pour cent au niveau national et de 7 pour cent au niveau provincial.

C’est avec de la pression venant du public que des mesures efficaces et rapides seront prises. Autrement, l’inaction se poursuivra.

Global Warming:
10 Years of Inaction

David Coon,
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
August 1998

 

t.gif (259 bytes)en years ago, the policy-makers and scientists at the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere declared that "climate change is an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences can be second only to global nuclear war." Pretty strong language. Along with other recommendations, they called for industrialized countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by the year 2000 as the first step to stop the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

 

sunset.jpg (3950 bytes)
(photo: NBEN-RENB)

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"New Brunswick is particularly at risk because its economy is built around forestry, fishing and farming,"
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Ever since, governments in Canada have been dragging their feet on taking meaningful action to reduce emissions, despite our ratification of the 1992 U.N. Climate Change Convention and commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. Instead, our emissions have actually increased by more than 11 percent nationally, and 7 percent provincially.

Annual provincial-federal discussions on climate action began almost immediately following the 1988 Toronto Conference, and almost as quickly many of the provincial governments rejected any meaningful action. Instead, studies were commissioned, consultations initiated and a multistakeholder consensus processes instituted. Now we are into another 18-month consultation period - one in which the Conservation Council has declined to participate after playing an active role in an earlier 18-month process.

If ratified, the Kyoto Protocol to the Climate Change Convention (negotiated last year) would commit Canada to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012. Increasingly it seems that if Canada ratifies the protocol, it will seek to meet its commitments primarily by paying others to reduce their emissions outside the country.

Continued inaction is not an option. New Brunswick is particularly at risk because its economy is built around forestry, fishing and farming, all of which stand to suffer financially from climate change. What needs to happen? The federal government must show leadership on the issue and stop hiding behind provincial intransigence.

In a July letter to the Prime Minister, the Canadian Action Climate Network (a coalition comprising the Conservation Council and seven other Canadian environmental groups) asked him to make the following commitments:

1. Implement a package of measures to address climate change in areas of federal jurisdiction, by the next budget (e.g. fuel efficiency standards).

2. Meet the majority of our international obligations to protect the climate through actions taken in Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Initiate negotiations with the provinces to apportion Canada's Kyoto commitments among the provincial and federal governments.

In the letter the groups also requested a meeting to discuss these points. The Prime Minister's executive assistant brushed off the request in a written response and referred the letter to the federal Minister of Environment.

Neither Canada nor New Brunswick are short of solutions to address climate change. However, the political will to tackle the energy issues that are at the root of both climate change and regional air pollution problems has been entirely lacking.

Aggressive action is required to improve energy-efficiency and move to a low carbon economy. New Brunswick thus far has fumbled the ball badly on reducing greenhouse gas emissions: a coal-fired power plant at Belledune was constructed and the government's own 1990 energy policy, which had energy efficiency as its centrepiece, was never fully implemented. On the national scene, despite the threat posed by climate change to our provincial economy, New Brunswick has failed to take a strong position on climate action at the provincial-federal meetings that have taken place every year since the Toronto conference ten years ago.

New Brunswick has a real opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the impending arrival of natural gas and the planned reform of the electric power sector. This will require public policies that:

1. Place a priority on making natural gas as widely available as possible to maximize the opportunity for business and homeowners to switch, from electricity and oil, to gas.

And:

2. Establish targets for improving energy efficiency and expanding the use of renewable energy in a re-regulated electric power sector.

The kind of measures that need to slow climate change are not to be feared, but rather represent opportunities to reap huge financial savings in energy and transportation costs for both business and citizens while solving local air pollution problems. Obviously there will be economic costs as well, particularly for Canadians whose livelihoods and local economies are based largely on oil or coal. This reality needs to be faced squarely, and appropriate transitional policies will be required.

However, the prospects for meaningful climate action remain bleak in the absence of public pressure. And public pressure requires a sense of a clear and present danger. This places the onus on the environmental movement to play a far more prominent role in campaigning for climate action than it has to date.