April 23, 2014

It's not too late for climate change solutions

As published in Country Routes

Measures to counter the damaging effects of climate change can be achieved without catastrophic costs and devastation of the world economy, according to new studies in the debate over global warming.

That’s music to the ears of environmental activists like Erin’s Liz Armstrong, who have pushed for practical climate action at the local level.

She has started a chapter of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL), designed to influence political decision makers at various levels of government.

Liz Armstrong
Two recent reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say that while the risk of increasing droughts, floods, crop failures and severe storms due to the carbon from fossil fuels is reaching an alarming level, the ability to do something about it remains well within the reach of national governments.

“It will get worse before it gets better, but it’s not too late, and it is not going to cost the earth,” said Armstrong. “We have to buckle down and steel ourselves to do this. It is the developed countries that are causing the problem. There is no excuse not to act.”

The IPCC report says climate change is “unequivocally” caused by people burning fossil fuels and that it poses a serious threat to peace and stability. Scientists warn that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent or more by mid-century to avoid calamity.

“The good news is that it will not cost much compared to the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and compared to the cost if we do nothing,” said Armstrong.

Her group is meeting on the first Saturday of each month at Erin United Church, training on how to engage politicians and the public, planning local action and getting updates from CCL leaders. She can be contacted by email: liz@lizarmstrong.ca, and more information is available at www.citizensclimatelobby.ca.

The federal Conservative government has put a lot of energy into oil sands expansion, pipeline plans and energy exports. They have promised tougher environmental legislation, and say Canada is on track to trim greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from their 2005 level. But The Toronto Star reports that Environment Canada is less optimistic, saying last fall that at the current rate, we will achieve a mere 0.4-per-cent cut.

The Citizen’s Climate Lobby favours a “Carbon Fee and Dividend”, essentially a carbon tax placed on fossil fuels at their source. This would result in higher fuel prices, but all of the extra money would be rebated equally to Canadians. It would be a market-driven system, benefiting those who use less fuel.

The Lobby also objects to the current distortions in the marketplace, in which taxpayers’ money is used to mask the true cost of energy. A report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calculated that Canada provided $26 billion to subsidize the energy industry in 2011, which is $787 per person.

IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton said removing these subsidies worldwide could lead to a 13 percent decline in carbon dioxide emissions. This would reduce global energy demand and strengthen incentives for research and development in energy-saving and alternative technologies.

Canada already has a thriving “green” sector, innovating and making money in areas such as energy, infrastructure, transportation, biorefinery, industrial processes and wastewater treatment.

“Canada’s clean tech sector is now a $11.3 billion industry, it employs more Canadians than aerospace, and has the potential to grow to $50 billion by 2022, representing 2% of the global market share,” said Armstrong, suggesting that subsidies for clean technologies instead of oil would be a better investment for Canada.

A study by Analytica Advisors estimates employment in the clean tech sector could grow from the current 41,100, to more than 75,000 in the next eight years.

“Canadian innovation is helping to clean up contaminated land and water, store energy for use during peak demand, improve efficiencies in solar systems and transform greenhouse gases into stronger concrete to build greener buildings,” says the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, commenting on the study.

“Other countries have taken notice, buying environmentally-friendly Canadian technologies that help reduce and recycle solid waste, improve efficiencies and reduce our reliance on fossil fuel and petro-products. Approximately 74 percent of Canadian clean technology companies are exporters, with 42 percent of export sales going to non-US countries.

“While Canadian clean technology enjoys strong market diversification overseas, it struggles to compete domestically. One challenge is the price of carbon-based energy, which is relatively cheap in Canada compared to many countries.

“At a time when the world is thinking twice about investing in a high carbon future, Canada can ill-afford to put its economic eggs in the oil sands basket. According to the IPCC, the world must keep two thirds of all fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid dangerous global warming.

“Canada is at a crossroads. Does it invest in dirty oil and pipelines, and lock the country into a high-carbon economy, or does it focus on transforming its economy, using clean technology to drive innovation and economic growth?”

“Building a green economy will create more long-term jobs,” said Armstrong, who remains hopeful that some of those companies could be attracted to Erin. “Smart municipalities are making plans and looking to the future. Election candidates need to say what type of development they would like to see here in the next 50 years.”

Climate change could mean a low flow of water in the West Credit River at certain times. As a precaution against excessive contamination from treated sewage effluent, a 10% cutback has been made in the maximum number of new residents to be allowed in Erin village and Hillsburgh.

Food is another key aspect, with crop yields and fish harvests declining as the world population increases, making it difficult to sustain a quality, affordable supply.

“This is no longer a picture about poor farmers in some regions being hit by climate change,” said Tim Gore, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam. “This is a picture about global agriculture being hit – US, Russia, and Australia – with global implications for food prices.”

A TD Bank report says natural catastrophes will cost Canadians an estimated $21-$43 billion per year by 2050.

“The frequency of weather events has increased,” said lead author and TD economist Craig Alexander. “Storms that used to occur every forty years are now occurring every six years. And because of the composition of Canadian economy and society, we’re ending up with more damaging events.”

He said city dwellers are at the highest risk, and with Canadians becoming wealthier, they have more valuable assets to lose in the event of a catastrophic storm. Repairs after a catastrophe tend to inflate the GDP, masking the costs that are shared broadly via the insurance industry and government relief funding.

The TD report highlights estimates that for every dollar invested in adaptation to climate change prevention, such as severe weather resistant buildings, from $9-$38 worth of costs will be avoided in the future.

“Here in the Town of Erin, we should be cognizant of these predicted increases of weather and climate extremes when planning and building new (or replacing old) infrastructure, housing, roads and bridges, etc., significantly boosting their capacity to withstand more punishing climate stresses than in the past,” said Armstrong.

“All of these suggestions were brought forward in 2011 by Amaranth Mayor Don MacIver, an Environment Canada climatologist who was a member of the IPCC. Our Council (present and future) needs to be aware, and prepared to act on his suggestions and forewarnings.”