The Senate

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

December 2, 2021


Hon. Rosa Galvez [ + ]

Pursuant to notice of November 24, 2021, moved:

That the Senate of Canada recognize that:

(a)climate change is an urgent crisis that requires an immediate and ambitious response;

(b)human activity is unequivocally warming the atmosphere, ocean and land at an unprecedented pace, and is provoking weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, including in the Arctic, which is warming at more than twice the global rate;

(c)failure to address climate change is resulting in catastrophic consequences especially for Canadian youth, Indigenous Peoples and future generations; and

(d)climate change is negatively impacting the health and safety of Canadians, and the financial stability of Canada;

That the Senate declare that Canada is in a national climate emergency which requires that Canada uphold its international commitments with respect to climate change and increase its climate action in line with the Paris Agreement’s objective of holding global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius; and

That the Senate commit to action on mitigation and adaptation in response to the climate emergency and that it consider this urgency for action while undertaking its parliamentary business.

She said: Honourable colleagues, I rise today in this Forty-fourth Parliament to address you in the hope that we as legislators can work together to respond to the urgent climate change crisis, which has now become pervasive in the lives of all Canadians.

Over the past two years, we have witnessed catastrophic events that are increasingly destructive to humanity and the entire planet. We were overwhelmed by the devastating forest fires in North America, Australia, North Africa and the Mediterranean, and by the torrential rains and flooding in Europe, the deadly heat waves in British Columbia and the record hurricane season in 2020.

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the first part of its sixth assessment report. The report on the most recent scientific data notes that climate change is unequivocally attributable to human activity, that the effects are felt in every region of the globe, and that the goal to limit the planet’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius will be out of reach if we do not immediately and massively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called the report a “code red” for humanity. In November, the whole world came together for COP26 in Glasgow to negotiate the terms of more ambitious climate action and greater investment in the fight against climate change. Many promises to take action and invest were made, but the outcome of those promises is uncertain even though it’s one minute to midnight and stabilizing the planet’s climate is of utmost importance.

In Canada, the consequences are dire and are felt across our whole nation. The average warming in meridional Canada is twice as high than the world average and three times as high in the Arctic. We are suffering major impacts in every facet of our lives.

Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health: clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Climate change is already the single biggest health threat facing humanity.

For example, the warming climate causes the spread of infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, where they have never been before; the number of days per year exceeding temperature threshold where heat-related deaths occur is increasing and associated costs will range from $3 billion to $4 billion per year by mid-century; and heat-related productivity losses are estimated to reach $14.9 billion by the end of the century.

Climate change is destroying basic and vital infrastructure. Canada’s infrastructure is not adapted nor resistant to the increasingly destructive climate. With an already massive infrastructure deficit that is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars, Canada cannot afford to add further risk and loss of infrastructure if we are to maintain our current quality of basic services. This is the crisis unfolding in B.C. and you know all about it. The destruction of basic infrastructure has left communities cut off from the rest of the country. It affects supply chains and businesses, with a major portion of Canadian exports depending on a few transport routes to the Pacific Coast, long-term and permanent disruptions from extreme weather will have a long-lasting negative impact on Canada’s GDP.

Every single province and territory has been hit by extreme weather events, causing unprecedented losses for Canadians. In 2020 alone, these catastrophic extreme events caused $2.4 billion in insured damage.

Over the last decade, the damage loss from extreme weather was twice as high as the previous 30 years, and the average cost of losses each year has risen to the equivalent of 5 to 6% of our annual GDP growth.

Climate change could cost Canada an estimated $20 billion to $43 billion per year by 2050 if the present trend is maintained. This year, the B.C. floods could surpass the Fort McMurray wildfires as Canada’s most expensive disaster.

Further, an increasingly volatile climate poses risks to Canada’s financial system and exposes it to multiple and overlapping vulnerabilities. The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices tells us that:

“. . . long-term transition risks are not fully reflected in market prices, tilting capital flows toward riskier emissions-intensive assets and away from low-carbon assets.”

Colleagues, market expectations are changing due to an acceleration in global policies and technological breakthroughs but also due to these infrastructure-destructive extreme weather events. It is causing massive repricing. Billions of dollars’ worth of emissions-intensive assets are becoming stranded. These losses are cascading throughout the entire financial system. Prominent global financial institutions and organizations are warning us. The Financial Stability Board, which reports to the G20, was among the first major international organizations to recognize the links between climate change and financial instability.

The warming climate is significantly challenging social and political stability worldwide. Here in Canada, our Canadian Armed Forces are feeling the strain of the increasing demand for disaster response. In the spring of 2019, more troops were deployed domestically to respond to climate disasters than they were deployed overseas.

Canadian agriculture is also suffering from the changing temperature and precipitation patterns. The summer of 2021 might have been the driest season ever experienced on the Prairies, provoking dramatic spikes in the price of wheat. The uncertainty in our agricultural systems will fuel significant food price inflation and food insecurity.

For Canada’s Indigenous peoples and racialized communities, climate change and environmental protection has been a priority and an emergency for decades already. Because of environmental racism, racialized communities have systematically borne a disproportionate weight of environmental impacts. Indigenous peoples have also been the target of polluting industries, resulting in the destruction of their lands.

Why make a climate emergency declaration, and why now?

Since 2016, 2,044 jurisdictions and governments in 37 countries, representing over 1 billion people, have declared a climate emergency, the latest one being the City of Calgary, which adopted its declaration two or three weeks ago under the leadership of the newly elected Mayor Jyoti Gondek. In Canada, 518 governments of all levels have made a climate emergency declaration, including the House of Commons, the National Assembly of Quebec and the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

It is time for the Senate to join those governments by declaring a national climate emergency. The environment and climate action have been priority issues for Canadians for years according to multiple surveys, which is not surprising given the climate emergencies being declared across the country.

According to Abacus Data, in 2019, 73% of Canadians claimed to have already felt the effects of climate change. Last month, two thirds of Canadians said they were frustrated by how slowly the federal government was taking climate action. Canadians have made their wishes clear, and lawmakers like us must listen and take action.

By passing this motion, the Senate will demonstrate the solidarity our fellow citizens expect and send a strong message to the House of Commons and the government that the Senate is finally ready to take on the challenge and will henceforth expect more ambitious and meaningful climate action.

To those who still hesitate to support this motion, I ask you — I beg you — to talk to your children and talk to your grandchildren, and ask them what they think about climate change.

My friends and colleagues, I believe we cannot but stand together collectively and support this motion because the science behind climate change is not a partisan issue. We are all impacted. The evidence collected by thousands of scientists from every country in the world is one of humanity’s most impressive collaborative works. The impacts being felt in Canada right now are real. They are not happening in the future; they are today. They are costly, they are destructive and they deserve to be addressed urgently for the sake of our health, safety and financial stability.

The way we should address climate change is subject to much debate and intense deliberation, not only in this chamber but everywhere, as it should be. That is the democratic process. Through this declaration, however, I am not asking that we all agree on how we will fight climate change but rather that we acknowledge the emergency of the situation, demonstrate solidarity with our fellow Canadians and commit to the constructive advancement of solutions in our parliamentary work.

We say that the Senate is the defender of the regions. All of our regions are hurting now. We owe Canadians the acknowledgment of this climate emergency and the impacts it has on their lives. That is the bare minimum. I hope that from this declaration, we can work together to find solutions and help Canadians in need.

Please stand with me. Thank you. Meegwetch.

Esteemed colleagues, I am pleased to speak to Senator Galvez’s motion about declaring a national climate emergency so Canada will step up its action against climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement targets.

I thank Senator Galvez for this motion, which would allow the Senate to join the House of Commons and 500 other provincial and municipal governments in Canada that have declared a climate emergency, including the City of Rimouski, which recognized the climate emergency with a formal resolution in November 2018.

This resolution comes at a pivotal moment as the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, ended without delivering on its promises.

Despite some progress, it seems that the final agreement will not slow climate change. Even though the international community is not as resolute as we would wish it to be in addressing climate change, I believe it is important to keep hope alive and to keep fighting. The worst thing we can do right now is give up.

I listened closely to the Speech from the Throne and I was pleased to see that the government is making this issue a priority by announcing certain measures, such as capping greenhouse gas emissions, investing in public transit, mandating the sale of zero-emissions vehicles and helping communities deal with the effects of climate change. The federal government’s moment of epiphany may be a bit late in coming, but better late than never.

Personally, when I look at local governments, that is where I see the most hope when it comes to fighting climate change. Hope comes from cities and our local communities. The old adage, think globally and act locally has never been more apt.

Several surveys on the priorities of citizens in municipal elections have shown that climate change is the top priority for people in many parts of Canada. It’s also refreshing to see that many of the young people who supported these ideas were elected. One example that comes to mind is the new Mayor of Laval, Stéphane Boyer, who presented a very elaborate green platform and hired the well-known environmentalist Laure Waridel as an advisor to lead the green transition. Another example is the leader of Transition Québec, Jackie Smith, who won a seat in Quebec City with an electoral platform focused primarily on the green transition. There is also the new Mayor of Sherbrooke, Évelyne Beaudin, who promised to provide the city with a credible and ambitious plan to fight climate change, developed in collaboration with the stakeholders involved, in order to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction targets set out in the city’s document declaring and planning for a climate emergency.

Several Quebec media outlets have noted that environmentalists seem to be taking municipal elections by storm, with Quebec following a strong trend that has emerged in other parts of the world. It seems that citizens concerned about the environment are choosing to redirect their political activism to the municipal levels, where they feel they can make a difference.

In France, for example, environmentalists had their best showing yet in the June 2020 municipal elections and even won in several major cities such as Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and Strasbourg.

Let us quickly look at the impact of climate change on municipalities.

Local elected officials care about climate change because municipalities are on the front lines when it comes to experiencing the effects of climate disturbances.

The risks associated with climate change are very real: fires, storms, erosion and flooding that destroy neighbourhoods and public infrastructure, as we are currently seeing in British Columbia and the Maritimes; smog and heat islands that threaten the most vulnerable people; droughts that reduce the supply of drinking water; premature wear on water pipes because conditions have changed since they were built. The climate emergency is already having a significant impact on our municipalities, and our communities have a vested interest in taking action.

What is the role of municipalities in this context? Municipalities are responsible for land use, so their actions have a direct impact on our greenhouse gas emissions. Municipalities have the power to influence the choice of modes of transportation.

By providing safe bicycle paths, sufficient pedestrian crossings, and accessible, effective public transit, municipalities enable residents to make choices that are more environmentally friendly. The same thing happens when they make the effort to design communities that minimize travel and facilitate access to public transit.

However, that takes money.

As local governments, municipalities can put in place measures that seek to address climate change and prepare us for extreme weather events. We must ensure they are given the means to do that.

It is unrealistic to think that municipalities will be able to respond to the climate emergency with only their existing tax base, which relies too heavily on property taxes. According to a 2018 study conducted by Group AGÉCO, the 10 largest cities in Quebec would require more than $2 billion over five years to adapt their infrastructure to withstand climate change. The whole of Quebec would require $4 billion. This is on top of municipalities’ other responsibilities, for example, those pertaining to social development.

In conclusion, I wholeheartedly support this motion.

Climate change, which represents the main threat to humanity and our public finances, is an emergency that demands an immediate and ambitious response.

That said, I would like the federal government to recognize that municipalities are responsible for 60% of public infrastructure and that, although they are victims of climate change, they are also in the best position to properly respond to the challenges of the climate emergency.

The current government claims that addressing climate change is a priority in its upcoming mandate, so it must use the next budget to partner with municipalities and ensure that they have the money and flexibility they need to fully contribute to the fight against climate change.

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Honourable colleagues, I rise to speak today because I have come a long way on the issue of climate change.

This issue has not always been a priority for me. Not so long ago, I thought we should focus our efforts on the most vulnerable, feed the hungry and combat violence against women before worrying about the fate of whales or endangered ecosystems. Obviously, I was wrong. Everything is connected: our survival and the planet’s survival; social issues and environmental issues.

As we celebrate the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery today, let’s not forget that 40% of global deforestation is done by victims of forced labour. When I see the movement and migration of desperate human beings who want to save their family by fleeing drought and disaster, I feel distressed by their despair and the barriers we put up.

In the past, some people became interested in the issue of climate change through science. Others took interest because of its economic impact. Personally, it is my social commitment that led me make the climate and ecology more of a priority.

For many years, the issue of climate change was mostly a matter of science. Variations in the climate needed to be tracked by analyzing the causes and trying to predict future changes. It was something for climatologists, oceanographers, biologists and statisticians to worry about.

However, now that the science is well established, the climate issue has become a political issue, not partisan, but political in the noble sense of the term. It is up to us, as legislators, to take over from the scientists and implement the changes that are needed. These changes are likely to affect many aspects of our lives, including our energy sources, our infrastructure, our consumption patterns, and the rules that govern our government and our economy.

The purpose of the motion before us is not to debate concrete action. Rather, I see Senator Galvez’s initiative as a preamble to action, a gesture to focus our attention on the work ahead. While today’s motion may be symbolic, whatever actions follow should not be.

In supporting the motion, I would like to express three wishes. The debates around the climate issue can be complex, filled with acronyms, calculation methods, international agreements, technical protocols, industry initiatives, regulatory strategies and technological solutions. It’s enough to make your head spin, and I don’t mind telling you that that is often the case for me.

In the debates and discussions to come, we will have to keep a clear head and resist the temptation to look for excuses, loopholes, bogus math, easy fixes, buzzwords, technicalities or rhetorical devices that would allow us to avoid making the required changes. No matter what, we must always seek the most comprehensive assessments, consider all of the consequences and choose real solutions. We have a duty to be realistic when it comes to the environment.

Unlike human beings, our planet does not recognize borders, jurisdictions, cosmetic changes or green marketing. This is why the climate emergency requires that we, as politicians and legislators, find a new way of thinking. We must also think long-term, setting partisan factors aside, and put the interests of the planet and future generations ahead of our immediate, regional or national interests. I encourage everyone, including myself, to face up to the environmental reality and act accordingly.

The way that some people talk about the climate issue, it sometimes seems as though the transition simply involves buying an electric vehicle, installing carbon capture machines or planting a tree. In reality, the transition we need to make will require courage.

Canada ranks second worst in the world when it comes to cumulative emissions per capita. According to 2018 figures from the World Bank, Canada ranked seventh in the world in terms of GHG emissions per capita, higher than Saudi Arabia and the United States, and that is without even counting Canada’s fossil fuel exports.

If we are serious about making a major transition, it can no longer be business as usual. We will have to rethink our system.

In an op-ed published in January 2020, the well-known Canadian investor Stephen Jarislowsky wrote:

. . . we must unfortunately be prepared to make sacrifices, as my generation did during the war. If we do not, billions of lives are at stake worldwide, and social structures may fall.

On an economic policy level, this means that we have no choice but to act decisively and urgently. It must become more expensive to buy products or services that contribute to climate change, and less expensive to buy those that are not detrimental.

Stephen Jarislowsky speaks of sacrifice. He is right, but to succeed in the difficult transition the effort will have to be shared and supported by all. Certain regions of our country that happen to be better positioned will have to support those for whom the transition will be more painful. If everyone thinks only of their short-term interests — the regions of Canada among themselves and Canada against other countries — we will have failed. We must not abandon the displaced workers and outdated industries. We cannot expect developing countries to do their part without massive aid, and we will likely have to do our part as a rich and vast country by welcoming climate refugees when they come knocking at our door.

The good news is that polls show Canadians are ready to make fundamental changes. In a 2019 Abacus poll, 62% of Canadians said they were ready to change how our economy worked a lot or fundamentally to combat climate change. The two age groups with the highest support for that proposition were youth aged 18 to 29 and adults aged 60 and over, like us. So the climate issue is not only a concern for young people. For those who are wondering, it is not just a concern for Quebec, either. The desire for change is often at its strongest in the Atlantic provinces and in British Columbia, at both ends of the country.

A poll taken in October, just six weeks ago, showed the same trend, with 66% of Canadians saying the government needs to do more to reduce our GHG emissions. A strong majority of 75% believes it is necessary to do so primarily through more direct and targeted regulation.

The public is asking us to act, and to have the courage to reconsider the status quo. We should be giving priority to these people — to younger Canadians in particular — and not to those who would like to preserve a system that is unsustainable but favours them.

In sum, I believe we should act as stewards of the public interest and of future generations. We should not seek to adapt or dilute emerging social and environmental standards to serve our short-term economic interests, but rather ensure that our economy is urgently made compatible with planetary limits and a sustainable society.

That is the meaning I find in the motion presented today, and that is why I fully support it.

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