On June 18, the Parliament of Canada declared a national climate emergency. The declaration follows a recent report on Canada’s changing climate that was released earlier this year, which illustrated that, on average, Canada is warming at nearly twice the global rate.
Since I learned about climate change years ago, I understood it as an urgent issue. Now more than ever, people around the world share that same sentiment. Look at Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish activist who kickstarted a global climate movement to empower people, especially youth, to participate in mass climate strikes known as Fridays For Future. The movement has spread to over 133 countries, including Canada. The momentum only continues to grow as we closed off June 2019 – the hottest June ever recorded on earth – with the Last Climate Strike of the school year at Queen’s Park.
We have scientific evidence that we need to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The IPCC special report from last fall, along with ongoing research developments on the urgency of the climate issue and its related impacts on public health, have urged policymakers to find solutions, and fast.
New research and the growing global movement have caused governments to pay closer attention to climate change. Around the world, including municipalities within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), governments are declaring a climate change emergency:
- March 27 – Hamilton
- April 23 – Burlington
- May 6 – Halton Hills
- June 4 – Vaughan
- June 5 – Brampton
- June 19 – Mississauga
- June 24 – Oakville
- June 25 – Whitby
Beyond the GTHA, other cities have recently declared emergencies, including Ottawa, Kingston, and Vancouver. At the national level, Canada is in good company with the UK, France, and Ireland all having declared climate emergencies.
From declarations to actions
Declarations are not equivalent to real action. Emergency declarations are a great step forward, helping to focus attention on the urgency of climate change. But such declarations are ultimately only helpful if they lead to stronger action to reduce carbon emissions. And while many jurisdictions have made declarations, only a few have followed up with new or accelerated climate actions – at least so far. We should all be asking questions about what these declarations really mean, and more specifically, how they can be used to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future.
The city of Vancouver illustrates how this can work. Vancouver declared an emergency in January, and followed up in April with a commitment to achieving carbon neutrality before 2050, as well as six “Big Moves” to accelerate climate action. This included ambitious new commitments around zero-emission transportation, electrification of heating and hot water, and low-carbon construction.
It’s encouraging to see the rise in awareness and urgency, but what really matters is what happens in the next few years.
This a global issue. As such, it requires a comprehensive set of actions in alignment with carbon reduction targets. As we navigate through challenges and opportunities imposed by climate change, we should share successful solutions to work collectively towards a mutually beneficial, healthy, and sustainable low-carbon future. We should advocate for policy change that accelerates meaningful climate action. And we should invest in sustainable, innovative, and evidence-based solutions that aim to reduce carbon emissions.
I know that’s what I’ll be doing at TAF.