Canadian climate neglected

Students should focus on grassroots initiatives to combat global warming

Protestors at the People’s Climate March in New York City.
Protestors at the People’s Climate March in New York City.
Credit: 
Supplied by Overpass Light Brigade

Elena Routledge, Sci ’16

Climate change was a hot topic in September, with politicians and celebrities alike focusing on issues of sustainability, and global protests highlighting a need for action.

At last week’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio said providing and maintaining clean air and water isn’t a partisan debate, but a moral, human obligation.

The one-day summit proved to be an indicator of how corporate and political leaders are currently¬ responding to the threat of global warming.

The People’s Climate March – which occurred the weekend of Sept. 20-21 – was a global protest with participants all over the world, from Paris to New York. The goal was to raise awareness about lack of action by world leaders against the threat of global warming, right before the United Nations summit.

Queen’s students should use this focus to initiate real change on campus and in Kingston. With Sustainability Week set for Oct. 6-10, students should be more aware of Canada’s failure to reach sustainability goals. This should be used as motivation to encourage grassroots change and sway the views of current leaders.

Canada is running a “sustainability deficit” – a failure to commit to climate change polices – and is increasingly becoming known for its lack of investment in climate change policies.

With the exception of British Columbia, which successfully enforced a carbon tax six years ago, our country hasn’t achieved even the least ambitious of its climate change goals.

Under Stephen Harper’s federal government in 2009, Canada committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. Environment Canada’s latest emissions report shows that we won’t meet this target.

In 2011, the Harper government became the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding global climate change agreement.

With the growing development of the tar sands and natural gas industry in Canada, Environment Canada estimates that our emissions will increase to 66-107 per cent higher than the minimum levels committed to for 2020.

The Harper government simply isn’t being transparent about its commitment to combat global warming.

Instead, we see leadership developing on local, grassroots levels. Mayors, community activists and business owners are leading the way towards instigating action against global warming.

Examples of these success stories include organizations such as the World Mayors Council on Climate Change (WMCCC) – a large network of local governments aiming to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – and Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), a coalition that works to encourage new climate legislation.

The greatest threat to action against this environmental crisis is the lack of commitment and leadership from our policy makers. It’s no longer a question of why we should take action – it’s when.

Recently, climate change action has been manifesting itself on a larger scale. From Sept. 20-21, thousands of people participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City and around the world.

Climate change is making waves in China – a consequence of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and extreme heat. Global warming is costing China tens of billions of dollars a year, and the country’s politicians are being forced to take action to cap Chinese emissions as soon as possible.

The United States is also instigating a substantial climate action plan – one that will support its competitive economy.

The Global Commission of the Economy and Climate’s recent release of the 2014 New Climate Economy Report has shown that it’s possible for business and countries to balance economic growth and a commitment to preserving our environment.

Kingston is aiming to be Canada’s most sustainable city through the City’s Sustainable Kingston Plan launched in 2010. The plan focuses on ensuring that sustainability goals permeate all aspects of the community.

Queen’s is also hosting Sustainability Week in early October, which encourages students to pursue more sustainable methods to apply to their everyday activities.

As a student at Queen’s, it can be difficult to comprehend the scale and urgency of the global warming crisis. We have the opportunity to take it upon ourselves to be selective about our media intake and to pressure legislators and businesses to incorporate climate action into their plans.

Elena Routledge is a third-year geological engineering student.

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