What you need to know and ask about the biggest environmental issues this election
Targets are fine, but they don’t mean much without time-bound commitments. So don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
Last week, the world’s leading climate scientists released a historic assessment of where our planet is headed, and the prognosis is, uh, grim. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report a “code red for humanity”. We have released so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, for example, that severe droughts, heat waves, wildfires and floods will only get worse in the coming next three decades no matter what, while sea levels will continue to rise for at least another 2,000 years.
The IPCC authors stressed that there is still time, perhaps for the last time, to avert total climate catastrophe. But it requires governments around the world to come together to make (and demand) fast, aggressive, and widespread emissions cuts, starting this second. That is why it is so important to know who shapes politics on Parliament Hill. And that’s why, after Justin Trudeau called a snap election this weekend, Chatelaine Thought we would look at some of the biggest environmental issues facing Canadians during this campaign.
Obtain greenhouse gas emissions waaaaay down
Let’s start with some positive news from the IPCC report: as climate change absolutely intensifies, we can stop the planet from getting even hotter. “If we are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we are able to get to net zero, then it is entirely possible to limit human-induced global warming,” says Zafar Adeel, professor at the School of Sustainable Energy Engineering at Simon Fraser University. .
A quick aside on that human-induced part: science insists that climate change is real and is unequivocally caused by our activities. So when a political candidate comes knocking on your door, Megan Leslie, former NDP politician and current president of WWF Canada, suggests asking them up front if they believe humans are responsible for the evolution of our planet. . “If that candidate hesitates, even for a split second, then that’s a tough pass,” Leslie says. “You don’t want that person sitting around the caucus table. You want someone who will find solutions.
By joining the international Paris Agreement, Canada has pledged to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – and analysis shows that “Canada’s fair share of this emissions reduction challenge would be 60 % below 2005 levels by 2030,” says Lisa Gue, senior policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. Currently, only the Green Party has pledged to cut that much. In April, Trudeau announced that Canada would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45% over the next nine years, while the NDP promises a 50% reduction. Erin O’Toole plans to stick to Canada’s original commitment in Paris: her Conservatives would cut emissions by 30% below 2005 levels.
But while the goals are interesting, they mean little without time-bound commitments to implement the actions that will get us there. Look for them in a party’s platform and find out how each party plans to incentivize behavioral change, whether through carbon pricing or tax breaks or perhaps no longer doling out billions in grants to the oil and gas sectors. Finally, what are these parties doing not just to avoid worst-case climate scenarios, but to adapt to the changes that have already happened? “Regardless of how well we perform in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we are still dealing with the impacts right now,” says Adeel. “So how do we prepare, especially for water extremes like floods, heavy rains and droughts?”
Enshrine the right to a healthy environment
More than 100 countries around the world guarantee their citizens the legal right to a healthy environment, but Canada is not one of them. In April, the Liberals proposed a bill that would modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, a pollution law that has not been updated for 21 years, and would also enshrine the right to healthy environment. But when Trudeau called an election, C-28 died on the order paper and will have to be reintroduced.
C-28 is not just symbolic: it ensures that all Canadians benefit from environmental protections, because we know that climate change, pollution and environmental degradation disproportionately affect racialized communities. and low income. “Right now, risks are assessed for the general population, and when we do that, we may miss the fact that certain groups are at higher risk,” Gue says. “We therefore need to take these inequalities into account when assessing and regulating risks, in order to protect those who are most vulnerable.” Candidates and their parties should have detailed plans (with specific dates ahead of them) to protect the right of every Canadian to clean water, air and land.
Fight against the conservation and loss of biodiversity
When it comes to tackling climate change, nature-based solutions are very effective: according to a Nature Conservancy study, protecting and restoring forests, grasslands and wetlands would sequester enough carbon to bring the world a third of the way to its Paris goals. . “Look, you can change all the light bulbs you want, but this is important. It’s a huge win,” Leslie says. populations of species are collapsing.” They are also collapsing: A 2020 WWF report found a two-thirds drop in the world’s wildlife population, while species at risk in Canada saw their numbers plummet by 59% over the past 50 years.Last month, a billion sea creatures cooked to death off the coast of Vancouver due to scorching heat.
“We have a dual crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss, so we need responses that tackle both crises at once,” says Leslie. “You have to look for engagements that see those two things together.” She suggests asking candidates about their intention to use nature to fight climate change and how this work includes a lens of reconciliation. “Supporting Indigenous protected and conserved areas, supporting Indigenous-led efforts to protect species, all of this needs to be on the agenda. »
And when a candidate shows up at your door with polished talking points and vague promises, don’t be afraid to ask for details. In her former life as a politician, Leslie admits she too had a say. “But when someone asked me when and where, why and how, those were the questions that made me sweat a bit,” she says. “So tell the candidates what excites you. It’s up to them to figure out how to turn this into politics.