Climate change update shows how steep the challenge is

The floods gripping parts of eastern Canada just two years after record high-water events hit many of the same locations makes it more difficult to see the sense in those who argue against climate change.  There is no doubt that extreme weather events are happening with greater frequency; that 18 of the 19 warmest years ever recorded occurred in last 20 years; or that the evidence for climate change is supported by an overwhelming majority of scientists.  That’s why it’s disheartening to learn Canada won’t meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for another 211 years. (not a typo – 211!)

That was the sombre take-away from the federal government’s annual report on greenhouse gas emissions. Also leaping off the page is a 12 million tonne increase in CO2 emissions that took place just last year. This increase is mainly due to the fossil fuel activities. This is one sector that the government has supported disproportionately when compared to measures that would help us reach our targets.  While it is easy to see where the pressure to support fossil fuels comes from, it is more difficult to understand why we aren’t doing more to set ourselves up to be less reliant on those forms of energy.

Canada’s investment in clean energy is lagging and that’s only holding us back.  Much is made of the jobs that building a pipeline can create, even if those jobs largely disappear once it is built.  We hear less about how green energy can create even more jobs.  In the United States, green energy jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs 3-1 even as fossil fuel output grows inside that country.  Aside from energy sector jobs there are many other ways people can be employed if we ramp up our efforts to meet our climate goals.

That’s why New Democrats see climate change as an opportunity. We believe we can strengthen our communities and diversify our economy with initiatives like our proposed investment in large-scale building retrofits. That alone will reduce energy demand, create jobs, and save families money.

Most people don’t realize that buildings are the third largest contributors to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions every year. Despite improvements to how we build and heat, many remain inefficient which is why any reduction in emissions will require us to improve buildings we already have.  Retrofits to make existing buildings more energy efficient is the kind of concrete solution that tackles climate pollution and creates the good jobs we need for the future.  The bonus is that energy efficient homes can save households an average of $900 a year while contributing to lowering Canada’s emissions.

A program like this will be popular and our experience with the ecoENERGY Home Retrofit programs bears that out.  That program was cut for short-sighted reasons while we managed to maintain huge subsidies for the fossil fuel sector which account for most of our CO2 emissions.  In addition to subsidies, the sector pays less tax in Canada than in developing countries or even the UK. That means they are subsidized, undertaxed, and still manage to argue against solutions for climate change. To listen to some politicians the sector is persecuted, but it seems to get all it wants from whoever is in power.

If you need further prompting, the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is unequivocal in stating that unless concrete and major actions are taken immediately, we will not be able to keep global warming under 1.5 °C. The consequences of that will be disastrous for people and ecosystems around the world.  Now that we understand how our current plan is failing so miserably, it’s time to consider all options that will turn the tide.  We can easily start with buildings while we determine how to handle energy production and consumption.

Carol Hughes