Thursday, December 3, 2015

Time for Canada to flex its climate-fighting muscles

The tragic Paris attacks sharpened the world’s awareness of the reach of violent struggles in Syria, and cancelled a demonstration in Paris expecting 200,000 marchers the eve of the international climate conference now engaged.
But that’s not the only link between terror attacks and global warming. For a decade, the Pentagon’s official threat assessments have pegged global climate change as a major driver of conflicts and wars around the globe; the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is the first and most visible proof.
In 2007-2010, Syria experienced unprecedented drought, surely amplified by a warming climate. With 80% livestock death and 60% farm failure, desperate millions left the land for cities unprepared to accommodate them. Overcrowding, with an influx of Iraqi refugees, created ideal conditions first for uprisings and civil war, then the shocking growth of an evil organization just waiting for the opportunity to pounce and seize power.
For it is no coincidence that out of 1.6 billion or more Muslims around the world, including 50 majority-Muslim nations, the Islamic State targetted this area of extreme instability to birth their new “caliphate”. Their brand of evil and violent politics can only find fertile ground where the real ground has been destroyed by war, weather or both.
Proof of the Pentagon’s dire predictions should sharpen our will to address climate change with a global consensus: the time for dithering has passed, we need binding agreements to reduce emissions, everywhere, sufficiently to limit global warming to what we have already “locked in” with our actions so far. If not, where will be the next drought- or flood-related disaster, driving millions of climate refugees into nations already straining to feed their own populations?
Sadly, there is still a lack of will to do what must be done. The general excuse, as always, is the fear of acting first, or of going further than others, and losing some kind of economic advantage to laggards who ignore the threat or take advantage of other nations’ reductions to delay their own.
There's a line in the sand.
There is only one way to overcome such hesitance: leadership in action. Smaller nations and developing countries always look to larger or more advanced peers for guidance and, even if subconsciously, model behaviour after them. Which means that even if we don’t manage, at the end of the Paris talks, to get sufficient or binding commitments from every nation, we must not give up or shirk our own duty.
Canadians often think of themselves as globally insignificant, an attitude climate deniers like to twist to their own ends. But we are the 10th-largest economy in the world, at the highest general standard of living, with trade ties all over the planet. When we do things, the world notices what we do and how we do it.
Although Prime Minister Trudeau entered the climate talks with the insufficient reduction pledge former Prime Minister Harper wrote, there is still time, between now and when the agreement takes effect in 2020, for Canadians to show that we can do more and better, and on top of that, prove that we can prosper while aggressively reducing emissions. We have the technology, such as our growing clean tech revolution, we have proven policy tools, like BC’s successful carbon tax shift, we need only flex our leadership muscles to move from climate change pariah to hero. Let’s do it!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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