by Deborah Harford, The Vancouver Sun
Opinion: All Canadians must become climate leaders
Climate change is already affecting many of the things Canadians hold dear — our extraordinary landscapes, which are some of the last large, connected ecosystems on Earth; our iconic species, such as caribou, salmon and eagles; our glaciers, rivers and lakes; even our ski hills and maple syrup, not to mention our nation’s favourite game (by 2100, there may be no ice for future Wayne Gretzkys to practice on in their winter backyard rinks).
These changes are sending a clear message that we must radically change the system within which we live, including how we manage landscapes, run our industries, make consumer choices, and build our cities.
Clearly, this is a complex challenge that requires action by innovative leaders at many levels.
Former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, currently Governor of the Bank of England, is an outspoken expert on climate risk. He notes that the number of extreme climate events worldwide has risen threefold, while the cost of claims paid out as a result has risen fivefold.
Canadians are already feeling these effects — Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer has warned that extreme weather could cost Canadian taxpayers $4.92 billion a year between 2016-2020.
Carney also warns that, as the world moves away from carbon-intensive technologies, fossil fuel investments will lose value. Proof of this is already emerging — India recently announced that its coal plants are stranded assets, to be used solely as back-up as the country moves to renewables.
The good news, Carney says, is that the transition to a sustainable future provides opportunities worth trillions of dollars for companies and financiers.
Meanwhile, renewable technologies such as battery storage and solar panels are developing exponentially and costs are plummeting, expediting opportunities for systemic transformation.
Canada is beginning to position itself to take advantage of these developments. Federal leadership on climate change has evolved dramatically under the Trudeau government. Canada was an active participant in development of the Paris Agreement in 2015 — a dramatic reversal of our role over the preceding decade, when we regularly won the Fossil of the Year Award for our commitment to fossil fuels.
In late 2016, after a year-long consultation with Canadians on priorities for climate action, the federal government ratified the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change with provincial and territorial leaders. This plan takes concrete steps towards emissions reductions (including a national carbon tax), strategic planning for resilience to impacts, and includes measures designed to stimulate investment in low-carbon technologies.
But the federal government works for all Canadians, including those invested in traditional resource industries. We cannot expect all climate leadership to come from that level.
The key achievement of the Trudeau government in climate action to date is opening the doors to change. It is now up to Canadians at all levels to walk through them — and the need to act is increasingly clear.
What we need now are the kind of “system leaders” described by scholar Peter Senge — those who help people see the big picture, and foster dialogue that leads to greater clarity, understanding of difference, and innovation; leaders who help shift our focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.
Such leaders also help to foster collective leadership within and across collaborating organizations, creating networks that further each other’s efforts.
There are already outstanding Canadian examples of this kind of leadership on climate change issues. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was the only Canadian invited to the Pope’s 2015 meeting of mayors on the environment. Toronto author Naomi Klein is a world-renowned climate change thought leader. National NGO Clean Energy Canada has laid out proof of the benefits for Canada of shifting to renewables. In 2015, 60 Canadian scholars laid out an achievable plan for Canada to act on climate change.
Even Canadian oilsands workers, keen to position themselves for the shift that is underway, have formed a coalition called Iron and Earth, which is retraining members as experts in renewable energy technologies.
As we edge toward transformative, systemic change, the fact that 165 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement shows that people around the world are willing to collaborate as a global village on this issue.
Canadians from all walks of life must join this momentum and begin working to create the future we want for ourselves and future generations.
All of us can be climate leaders.
It’s time every one of us asked ourselves: How can I help?
Deborah Harford is executive director of ACT (the Adaptation to Climate Change Team) at Simon Fraser University.