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The Honourable Perrin Beatty
President and Chief Executive Officer
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Sent by email: July 15, 2010
Dear Mr. Beatty,
Through an article in the Montreal Gazette I have learned that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is urging its members to sign a letter to Senators stating that Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, is a threat to Canada's economic competitiveness.
According to the article, you believe that the science-based targets that the bill supports will impose "great costs on the Canadian economy.” The reasons you cite are: the targets do not correspond to the targets set by the United States; the 2020 target is too steep; and the targets will eliminate consumption.
You also acknowledge that “responding to climate change will take the biggest single investment in the history of humankind.” This implies that you acknowledge that anthropogenic climate change is real and requires a significant response. The challenge is: how do we effectively transition to a low carbon economy, quickly, while safeguarding economic well-being during the process?
As you know, the challenge faced by the global human community is Herculean. Based on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average global temperature must not exceed two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels if we are to avoid dangerous runaway global warming. The Minister of the Environment himself joined the chorus of global leaders acknowledging that warming must not exceed an additional two degrees.
The consequences of limited action will be staggering. As Sir Nicolas Stern outlined in his Economics of Climate Change, ecological fallout will lead to economic fallout. According to Sir Stern the “costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.” The costs of inaction, he warns, could rise to a crippling 20% of GDP or more. In other words, the measures required to stave off runaway global warming are akin to a rain shower, compared to a hurricane if we do not act.
What are the targets required to prevent a two degree increase in global temperature?
The IPCC, which has gathered data from thousands of climatologists from approximately 130 countries, has advised that in order to avoid this dangerous tipping point, global emission targets must be 20-40 percent below 1992 levels by 2020 and 80-90 percent below 1992 levels by 2050. There is now mounting evidence that even this target will not be enough to avoid the tipping point we’re all struggling to avoid.
The IPCC did not pick these targets out of a hat during the time of its latest report. They are not based on targets acceptable to current business-as-usual practices. They are based on the findings of thousands of climatologists from around the world. If these are the targets to avoid a greater than two degree Celsius increase in global temperature, why is the Canadian Chamber of Commerce insisting that we set the targets well below the mark? Does industry believe that it can negotiate with our planet’s climate system and biosphere?
As to your point that the science-based targets to which Bill C-311 are more stringent than US targets (and will therefore compromise the Canadian economy), please consider the following:
During his tenure as Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney did not wait for the US to lead on issues concerning the environment. He stepped in and actually affected change in the United States. He was instrumental during the ratification of the biodiversity convention and the climate change conventions in the early 1990s. He states: “Under Jean Charest's inspired leadership, at the Rio Conference in 1992, we helped bring the United States on board in support of the Convention on Climate Change, and we were the first industrialized nation to sign on to the Bio-Diversity Accord.”
Mulroney instructs, base on his own experiences: “So there are three elements to Canada playing an important role on the environment: First, leading by example, claiming the high ground. Second, engaging the Americans, and at the highest level of government. Third, involving industry in solutions.”
Our elected representatives are prepared to lead on this issue and set the bar for the United States to follow. Given that President Obama once embraced these targets, Canada, and Europe, will help Obama send a strong message to Congress and the Senate to take meaningful action to address greenhouse gas emissions. Canada, however, must be the first to act, as Mulroney wisely advises.
Finally, regarding your concern that these targets will undermine our economy, why are you so sure about that? Limitation can lead to great innovation and economic diversification if managed well. We need to understand and respect the science-based targets and bring our best minds together to find ways to make Canada a world leader in clean tech development. As you may know Canada trails woefully behind Europe, the US and Asia in this area. This is not a good situation. Clean tech is the industry of the 21st century. Canada cannot afford to trail behind everyone else. We are losing our talent to other countries, potential jobs and the opportunity to diversify our markets.
You claim that the targets will eliminate consumption. How so? Why are you so sure? There is an exciting market opening up. The fastest growing industry is green tech and other green products. Programs are opening up at universities to teach and train students for these industries.
There is no doubt that we face great challenges in transitioning to another economy, quickly. Countries such as Spain have suffered by moving too quickly. Others, like Germany, are enjoying success. We can learn from these experiences.Perhaps the greatest challenge in shifting from a carbon-based economy to low carbon involves the shift in the way we think of ourselves in our world. Consider the following:• Is the economy a static system or is it best described as a highly complex ecosystem whose very survival depends on how it can adapt to a changing climate?
• What does economic well-being look like on a planet with finite resources?
• Does economy come before ecology, or is it the other way around?
• Does resiliency come from a top down approach, or bottom up?
• Do the current Canadian government and industrial leaders truly understand the constantly changing socio-economic environment? Why did the economic meltdown come as such a surprise to so-called economic experts?
• Must consumption be linear, or can it thrive in a circular system where waste is a valuable input?
• Are our current measures of economic well-being limited? Do they take into account true human wealth, well-being and output?
• What will our grandchildren ask us in ten or 20 years? Were we the generation that faced a Herculean challenge and saved the day? Or were we the ones who blew it, paving the way to unimaginable suffering.
When it comes to climate change, we need to get moving immediately. Killing Bill C-311 will only stall legislative action and continue to waste precious time.
I have a niece and nephew, ages six and four. They and those of their generation will live with the consequences of government policy on climate change, and the course it sets at this time. We still have time. I implore you and your colleagues to seriously consider the fall out of weak emissions targets and the missed opportunity to lead on transitioning to a low carbon economy. This is a moral issue. It’s also a strategic one. We don’t want to miss out on the clean tech revolution. And we don’t want to miss Mother Nature’s deadline. We have a short window to get this right. Emissions must peak and then fall by 2015. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. We just need leadership.
The House of Commons has offered that leadership. Please do not deny it. In the spirit of democracy and in the spirit of our greenest Prime Minister, please endorse Bill C-311.