Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sustainable Canada Dialogues - open letter to Canada

James Byrne, PhD and Bryson Brown, PhD
Professors, University of Lethbridge

Climate change poses major challenges to Alberta.  We’ve already seen the consequences of changing precipitation patterns. More changes are expected, and we know all too well that extreme events, whether drought or flood, can be disastrous.  But our economic dependence on fossil fuels, and bitumen production in particular, is a huge problem.  Science tells us that burning more than a small fraction of known fossil fuels reserves will cause global and regional climate hardships.  A choice of what to burn and what to leave in the ground has to be made, and that choice puts Alberta at a serious disadvantage.

Bitumen is a high-cost and energy-inefficient source of oil.  As such, global powers see bitumen high on the list of fossil fuels to be left in the ground. Betting our economy on continued expansion of bitumen production poses a massive risk for our future. Alberta must consider a meaningful limit to fossil fuel development. Our best option may be to negotiate long-term global commitments to accept our current bitumen production in exchange for meaningful mitigation of both greenhouse gas emissions and regional oil sands pollution. The southern prairies have huge renewable energy potential. Wind and solar farms can provide much of our energy needs and compensate for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta and Canada need to invest in large-scale renewable energy to mitigate climate change.

James Byrne, PhD and Bryson Brown, PhD
Professors, University of Lethbridge

Climate change mitigation is achievable and urgent

Today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meets in Copenhagen to approve the Synthesis of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).  This report crystallises the work of three IPCC groups made up of 938 scientists, vetted by 3697 scientific, government, industry and NGO reviewers.  The report shows that humans caused more than half of the observed increase in global temperature from 1951−2010, and we face irreversible, and potentially catastrophic, changes to global climate if we do not take action.

It is thus time for Canada to take the lead on climate change.  We are lagging behind other developed nations in meeting our international obligations to implement effective mitigation action at a national level.  Climate change is happening, and it offers many opportunities for innovative policy, technology and development in Canada to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Such actions will contribute to environmental and human wellbeing, at home and abroad.

Canadians can be proud of the many outstanding initiatives at provincial and municipal levels, from Ontario’s withdrawal from coal-fired power plants to Vancouver’s concrete plan to become the world’s greenest city by 2020.  However, the impact of these initiatives is limited without a coherent federal framework to address climate change.  As highlighted by the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s Working Group III report: “Effective mitigation will not be achieved if individual agents advance their own interests independently”. This Working Group focuses on mitigation and provides a clear assessment of a number of potential routes to sustainability (including energy supply and use, primary production, and societal changes), along with their costs and benefits.  Strikingly, a majority of those routes to sustainability are feasible, affordable, and outweigh the significant costs of avoiding climate action.

As an interdisciplinary initiative of over 55 Canadian researchers working on sustainability, the Sustainable Canada Dialogues project wishes to highlight the importance of the IPCC process. A coordinated response to climate change is becoming ever more urgent, and ignoring it now will only increase the damage and the cost of our response.  The IPCC report points out that “Delaying mitigation efforts beyond those in place today through 2030 is estimated to substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low longer-term emissions levels and narrow the range of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2 °C”.  The world is beginning to take notice – the report notes that the proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions that are subject to regulation has increased by nearly 50% since 2007.  However, Canada’s emissions continue to climb, in spite of our Arctic and sub-Arctic regions being some of the fastest-warming places on Earth, putting Northern Canadians on the front lines of climate change.

The Sustainable Canada Dialogues is in the final stages of developing a pathway of sustainability solutions that will make a real difference to the global environment and Canadian society – with positive or only transient negative impacts on the economy.  Climate change needs to be clearly addressed during the 2015 federal election, and we are striving to provide evidence-based information to Canadian voters. We look forward to contributing positive, Canada-focused, proposals to this discussion.

Each IPCC report – including the forthcoming AR5 Synthesis Report – comes with a Summary for Policymakers.  These summaries provide a coherent and meaningful explanation of climate change issues both for policymakers and voters. We are striving to provide evidence-based information to Canadian voters so that climate action can be a key issue in their decision-making. We believe it is essential that all political parties seriously consider this report as they formulate their election-year platforms.

On behalf of the Sustainable Canada Dialogues,

Brent J. Sinclair, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Western University

Catherine Potvin, Ph.D, McGill University
Marc-André Villard, Ph.D, Université de Moncton
Chantelle Richmond, Ph.D, Western University
Fikret Berkes, Ph.D, University of Manitoba
Heather MacLean, Ph.D, University of Toronto
Mark Stoddart, Ph.D, Memorial University
Sally Aitken, Ph.D, University of British Columbia
Aerin Jacob, Ph.D, University of Victoria
Alison Kemper, Ph.D, Ryerson University
André Potvin, Ph.D, Université Laval
Andreas Heyland, Ph.D, University of Guelph
Ann Dale, Ph.D, Royal Roads University
Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, Ph.D, Cape Breton University
Bruno Dyck, Ph.D, University of Manitoba
Bryson Brown, Ph.D, University of Lethbridge
Catherine Morency, Ph.D, Polytechnique Montréal
Christian Messier, Ph.D, Université du Québec en Outaouais
Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, Ph.D
Claude Villeneuve, Ph.D, Université duQuébec à Chicoutimi
Deborah De Lange, Ph.D, Ryerson University
Dominique Paquin, M.Sc., Ouranos
Elena Bennett, Ph.D, McGill University
George Hoberg, Ph.D, University of British Columbia
Howard Ramos, Ph.D, Dalhousie University
Ian Mauro, Ph.D, University of Winnipeg
Irene Henriques, Ph.D, York University
James Byrne, Ph.D, University of Lethbridge
John Robinson, Ph.D, University of British Columbia
Ken Oakes, Ph.D, Cape Breton University
Lauchlan Fraser, Ph.D, Thompson Rivers University
Liat Margolis, M.LA, University of Toronto
Louis Fortier, Ph.D, Université Laval
Magda Fusaro, Ph.D, Université du Québec à Montréal
Marc Lucotte, Ph.D, Université duQuébec à Montréal
Martin Mkandawire, Ph.D, Cape Breton University
Martin Entz, Ph.D, University of Manitoba
Meg Holden, Ph.D, Simon Fraser University
Natalie Slawinski, Ph.D, Memorial University
Nathalie Bleau, M.Sc., Ouranos
Nik Luka, Ph.D, McGill University
Normand Mousseau, Ph.D, Université de Montréal
Ralph Matthews, Ph.D., University of British Columbia
Roxane Maranger, Ph.D, Université de Montréal
Sally Otto, Ph.D, University of British Columbia
Sébastien Jodoin, M.Phil, LL.M, McGill University
Stéphane Godbout, Ph.D, Université Laval
Stephen Sheppard, Ph.D, University of British Columbia
Suzanne Simard, Ph.D, University of British Columbia
Tarah Wright, Ph.D, Dalhousie University

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