Rankin: Earth Day reminds us government can do a lot

Murray Rankin guest column: Earth Day reminds us government can do a lot

  • Apr. 23, 2015 10:00 a.m.

Just a few weeks after the upcoming 2015 federal election, countries will gather in Paris to hammer out a new global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions and avert dangerous climate change. This election will decide who sits at that table as our Prime Minister. The choices they make in Paris will affect whether our children grow up enjoying both a prosperous economy and a healthy environment.

The dangers of inaction are clear. Extreme weather will become more common, threatening lives, property and crops. Ocean acidification will hurt marine life and affect more than one billion people who rely on fish. Desertification and rising seas could displace tens of million by 2050.

Nearly a decade ago, the New Democratic Party introduced a landmark bill, the Climate Change Accountability Act. Containing targets set by climate scientists, our bill was supported by every opposition party in Parliament and widely praised by environmental groups as a bold and essential step forward. It was passed in the House of Commons but, shockingly, was blocked from becoming law by unelected senators. To this day, it stands as the only piece of federal legislation to ever mandate reductions in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Reintroduced under Tom Mulcair, our climate plan is again before Parliament. Its ambitious goal remains for Canada to help avert dangerous climate change by lowering greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. That’s the target set by climate scientists, but is it achievable?

Yes it is, according to a new report by more than 60 Canadian academics. Laying out a plan to shift all electricity generation to renewable energy over the next two decades, the report endorses key policies proposed by New Democrats: adopting ‘polluter pay’ laws, switching subsidies away from fossil fuels and into renewables, and using cap-and-trade to lower emissions and raise revenue for clean energy investment.

This is about reducing Canada’s carbon footprint and raising our quality of life. New investments in infrastructure and public transit can offer urban residents quicker commutes and cleaner air. Tax credits for energy-efficient retrofits can create thousands of jobs in the skilled trades while lowering emissions and home energy bills—a crucial break for low-income families.

Climate change is no longer a matter of scientific debate, nor is it a question of choosing between a prosperous economy and a clean environment. Over the last five years, the world’s wealthiest economies grew by seven percent while their CO2 emissions from energy use fell by 4 percent. Advanced economies are seizing the opportunity of clean energy. Canada risks being left behind.

Even in the absence of federal government leadership, progress has begun. From 2009 to 2013, employment in clean energy grew by 37 percent and Canada built enough new renewable electricity capacity to power 2.7 million homes.

Clean energy now employs more people than the oil sands. We’ve captured just one percent of this market so far, but innovative, highly-skilled communities like Victoria are well placed to make Canada a clean energy leader.

Canada needs a serious plan to bring to the climate summit in Paris. This bill is an essential part of that plan. Since it was first introduced nearly a decade ago, the New Democratic caucus fighting for the bill in Parliament has more than tripled, becoming Canada’s Official Opposition. Canada is closer than ever to opening the door to real, positive action on climate change. This Earth Day, let’s commit to making it happen in 2015.

Murray Rankin is a Member of Parliament for Victoria.

 

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