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The Senate

Motion to Recognize that Climate Change is an Urgent Crisis--Debate Continued

February 10, 2022

Honourable senators, I speak to you today from Mi’kma’ki, the unceded territories of our Mi’kmaq people. I rise today in the first week of our 2022 Senate proceedings to speak in support of Senator Galvez’s motion, which calls on us to recognize that climate change is an urgent crisis, that the Senate declare that Canada is in a national climate emergency and that we commit to urgent action on mitigation and adaptation.

Senator Galvez’s motion also asks us to recognize that we, humans, are responsible for the warming of the lands, the oceans and the atmosphere that is causing the climate problems; to recognize that if we fail to address climate change, there will be catastrophic consequences; and to recognize that climate change is having a negative impact on our health and safety, along with the financial stability of our country, Canada.

Colleagues, as I said, I’m here to speak in support of Senator Galvez’s motion and, hopefully, to move this debate closer to a vote. But I want you to know that I honestly had no intention of speaking to this motion. As Senator Galvez can attest, I had expressed some hesitation about introducing this motion in the first place.

My concern was not at all about the validity of the evidence behind the assertions articulated by the motion. There is overwhelmingly reliable, scientific evidence to back the fact that we are in a climate emergency and that it is only going to get worse. We’ve heard our colleagues debating this motion outline that evidence in detail. My concern was also not about the fact that urgent action is required and that, in fact, the costs of inaction will be much higher than those of action.

My hesitation, really, was about the potential impact of the motion itself. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure the motion would have its intended effects. Would it or could it draw our collective attention as members of Canada’s upper house to the importance of the climate challenge? Could it signal to the government and the people of all ages, especially youth, in our respective regions that senators take climate change seriously? Finally, could this motion help to motivate us as senators to come together to better understand the climate challenge, to collectively appreciate the urgency to take action and to encourage us to seek solutions and hold the government to account on its promises?

Well, colleagues, I believe it could. That is why I am here today speaking in favour of this motion, adding my voice to those of Senators Miville-Dechêne, Forest, Griffin, Black, Dasko, McPhedran and Galvez. We know a motion declaring a climate emergency in the other place was passed almost three years ago on June 17, 2019. We know many jurisdictions and institutions — some 2,000 plus across Canada and throughout the world — have passed motions declaring climate emergencies.

Of course, the Canadian Senate doesn’t just want to jump on any fast-moving bandwagon. We are the chamber of sober second thought, after all. At the same time, we know we must always be alert to matters of critical importance and make sure that we play our role, as trusted parliamentarians, in guiding Canada in the right direction for the well-being of our citizens.

Colleagues, an assessment of the United Kingdom’s motion on climate concluded:

The declaration . . . has the potential to unify and coordinate action at a national scale. . . . Its weakness currently is the uncertain relationship between rhetoric and action. . . .

Government inaction reduces its credibility . . . .

That’s about the U.K. motion.

As I looked deeper into the literature on the challenges for inspiring action on climate, five main challenges kept coming up. Those challenges are skepticism; complexity; uncertainty; the sheer scale of it; and, of course, emotion. These challenges are real and should never be dismissed. In order to bring people together and make progress, those issues need to be fully addressed.

Because we don’t yet have a clear idea of all the specific actions, their sequence and pace that Canada and other jurisdictions and actors will have to take to deal with our climate challenges, it is understandable that Canadians feel unsettled and are concerned about a whole variety of issues. Of course we worry about being able to maintain our standard of living. We worry about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over our heads. We worry about overall economic insecurity in our communities and our nation; the reliability of our energy supply; and the possible disparagement and disadvantaging of certain groups of workers, industries or regions. We worry about our personal health and safety, about the myriad of impacts of extreme weather events, the melting of the Arctic sea ice and permafrost, and sea levels rising. We worry about what kind of a world and what challenges we will leave behind for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.

Colleagues, as we know, these concerns and fears are naturally heightened at this time of the global COVID pandemic, which has been so hard on so many. Former governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is on record as saying:

When you look at climate change from a human mortality perspective, it will be the equivalent of a coronavirus crisis every year from the middle of this century, and every year . . . .

It’s hard to imagine living with the level of devastation experienced throughout the pandemic every year. Colleagues, are we late to the table with this climate motion or are there very good reasons to embrace this motion right now?

Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips, in recounting the 2021 extremes of heat domes, wildfires, droughts, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes in Canada, said:

This year showed how climate change can exaggerate and extenuate the normal extremes of Canadian weather into dangerous and destructive events.

He went on to say:

What I’m hopeful for is that it becomes the turning point and confirmation for the majority of Canadians that there’s clear and present danger to climate change and extreme weather. This year has really woken people up to that fact.

Honourable colleagues, let me repeat his words: “This year has really woken people up.” He hopes it becomes a turning point.

Colleagues, the year is 2022. Canadians are more awake than ever to the perils of climate change, for many because it is actually nipping right at their heels. It is eight short years until 2030, an important milestone in Canada’s climate commitments and those of our international counterparts. Next month, we will see the government release its emissions reduction plan showing how Canada will meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% to 45% by the year 2030. This is a requirement of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act we passed in this chamber in June of last year. Also required is the inclusion of an interim emissions target for 2026, just four years down the road.

In the fall of this year, the government will also release its first national adaptation strategy, establishing a vision and direction for climate resilience in Canada.

So, yes, colleagues, I believe it is a good time for us to pass this motion in the Senate of Canada. I believe it’s time to demonstrate our unity on this critical matter and encourage all Canadians to do the same thing. With our independence as senators, our connections to our regions and our ability to see and act beyond electoral cycles, the Senate of Canada is uniquely positioned to respond.

I hope we will soon vote on this motion. I believe the time has come to place our Senate stake in the ground on this critical issue of climate. It is also time to make sure Canada moves swiftly and with clear evidence to find the best solutions and to act on them. This will reinforce the credibility of this motion and our credibility as engaged parliamentarians.

Colleagues, as I move toward the conclusion of my remarks, I also want to emphasize that I believe that Canada’s imperative to act on climate is also its opportunity. This is something we know we will have a chance to delve into during this Parliament.

Honourable senators, it’s time to demonstrate leadership. That word, “leadership,” is so important: Leaders see and pursue opportunity when that is the right thing to do. I believe that passing this motion at this time is the right thing to do. It is one of the actions we can take among many.

Colleagues, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, in speaking to her fellow world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow in November, asked the following:

Will we act in the interest of our people who are depending on us or will we allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction?

Leaders today, not leaders in 2030 or 2050, must make this choice.

It is in our hands. Our people and our planet need it.

Honourable colleagues, as leaders today, let’s seize this moment and come together in unity in this chamber to pass this motion for the sake of our people and our planet. Let’s show them they can count on us and then let’s get on with the work.

Thank you, wela’lioq.

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