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The Senate needs a new coalition for urgent climate action: Senators Coyle and Kutcher
May 27, 2021
image Mary Coyle
Mary Coyle
ISG - (Nova Scotia - Antigonish)
image Stan Kutcher
Stan Kutcher
ISG - (Nova Scotia)

We, in the Senate of Canada, have a duty to protect our planet and its inhabitants from the threats of global warming.

At the recent virtual Earth Day Summit on climate change, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, Canada committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45% by 2030.

That’s only nine years from now.

The United States committed to a higher goal — a 50 to 52% reduction by 2030. That is a very significant target for the world’s second-largest emitter.

But Canada’s challenge is daunting because we are one of the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels. The oil and gas sector accounts for a quarter of our emissions.

Urgent action is required. Time is running out. Widespread evidence of melting permafrost, rising sea levels and more frequent floods, wildfires and storms dominate news headlines. Scientists tell us that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

Net zero is an even bigger goal than Canada’s 45% target reduction for 2030. Net zero is our target for 2050. Last year, we and other Senate colleagues began investigating the right pathways and actions Canada can take to reach that goal.

Those involve: replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy such as hydro, wind, solar, tidal and geothermal, among other sources; eliminating carbon from our buildings and the transportation, manufacturing and agriculture sectors; finding effective and meaningful ways to capture and store carbon; and including increasing nature-based solutions where we not only stop destroying forests, grasslands and wetlands, but also enhance them. This will require a dramatic transformation of our economy while ensuing no one is left behind.

We must start now to meet our initial climate goals for 2030. That will help us lay the foundations for the road to 2050.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and then the prorogation of Parliament last summer brought senators’ investigative work to a halt, our efforts did not go unnoticed.

Recently, our offices received a call from the former Lord Speaker of Britain’s Upper House, Baroness Helene Hayman, and the lead author of the U.K. Climate Change Act, Baroness Bryony Worthington. Last year, with support from Sir David Attenborough, these dynamic women launched their Peers for the Planet organization, through which 120 members of the House of Lords have united to tackle climate change and promote biodiversity across party lines. Their goal is to "win ambitious but practical changes in policies and laws” that can bring about a fair transition to a net-zero world.

Peers for the Planet in the U.K. is anxious to join forces with us in Canada. They are already demonstrating what their well-organized, focused, big-tent effort can achieve. For example, on March 26, 2021, the Peers secured changes to the U.K. Financial Services Bill, ensuring that climate change considerations are part of the future regulatory framework for financial institutions.

The growing momentum and results achieved by Peers for the Planet are an inspiration to us. On May 4, while responding to the Speech from the Throne virtually from Nova Scotia, we invited our Senate colleagues to start our own Red Chamber group focused on Canada’s urgent climate change response. We invited our Senate colleagues from all groups and caucuses.

Independent and free from the constraints of short-term electoral cycles, all senators have a unique opportunity to step up as leaders in Canada’s whole-of-society response to the climate change imperative.

Senators launch inquiries and issue papers like Senator Rosa Galvez’s "Building Forward Better” blueprint for post-pandemic recovery.

We also undertake high-quality committee studies. Most importantly, we scrutinize and work to improve bills — and, on occasion, initiate legislation ourselves.

With all these tools in our toolbox, we are ready to roll up our sleeves and create our own uniquely constituted Senate of Canada coalition for urgent climate action.

We believe now is the time to come together in a new and creative way to fulfill our senatorial duty to protect our planet and ensure a healthy environment for our children, grandchildren and the generations to come.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Senators Mary Coyle and Stan Kutcher represent Nova Scotia.

A version of this article was published in the May 12, 2021 edition of The Hill Times.