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What Does Canada’s Carbon Complacency have to do with Typhoon Haiyan?

The human tragedy playing out in the Philippines deserves a serious moment of pause. No one aware of the devastating toll Typhoon Haiyan has taken in the region can avoid reflecting on what it must be like to be in the shoes of a mother or a son who has lost everything.

Experts are saying Typhoon Haiyan is the strongest ever recorded due to the atmospheric disruption and rising sea levels resulting from our changing climate.

Scientists at esteemed organization like NASA and the Royal Society have been warning us for years that warmer oceans will lead to stronger weather events, like typhoons and hurricanes, and rising sea levels will lead to larger and more devastating storm surges.

Something is definitely up with the weather. 

Significant Warming Trend Continues

Scientists from the World Meterological Organization (WMO) are already saying 2013 will be one of 10 warmest years on record.

"All of the warmest years have been since 1998, and this year once again continues the underlying, long-term trend. The coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998," said WMO head Michel Jarraud.

"The Philippines is reeling from Typhoon Haiyan…and is still struggling to recover from a typhoon one year ago," Jarraud added.

"Although individual tropical cyclones cannot be directly attributed to climate change, higher sea levels are already making coastal populations more vulnerable to storm surges."

Canada's Carbon Contribution

Typhoon Haiyan is the latest and most poignant, not to mention the most tragic, example of what is in store for humanity as governments like Canada continue to allow fossil fuel producers to pump carbon pollution into our atmosphere unregulated.

Last year saw record global greenhouse gas emissions and worldwide fossil fuel subsidies to the order of $500 billion.

Canada, after abandoning its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, is failing to meet its new emissions reductions targets under the Copenhagen Agreement. 

So if we know that the intensity and devastating impacts of Typhoon Haiyan are a result of climate change and record levels of industrial greenhouse gas, what is Canada's level of responsibility for what happened in the Philippines?

The impacts of climate change are cruelly disproportionate. The poorest, most vulnerable countries are being hit the hardest, while developed nations, countries like the U.S. and Canada, are responsible for the majority of the climate pollution in the atmosphere.

Canada, who is by far one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas, will likely not see any major impacts of climate change for many decades. The Philippines by comparison is a very minor producer of carbon pollution, but that country is shouldering the climate burden created by high-polluter countries like Canada. 

The Burden of Responsibility 

Individual Canadians cannot be blamed for what happened in the Philippines. Yet there is still a conversation to be had about the role nations and governments play in the international failure to mitigate climate change.

As individuals we can switch our lightbulbs, drive less and make our houses more efficient etc., but all those actions (while very important) are not going to come close to offsetting the bad policy of a government that favours industry. In Canada the Harper government refuses to put in place the necessary measures to reduce the oil and gas industry's greenhouse gas emissions. 

Yet Canadians want leadership on climate change and are demanding the government listen. A recent opinion poll found that more than 76% of Canadians want our government to sign on to an international agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Canadian government not only refuses to sign a deal, it is considered a laggard and an obstructionist at international climate negotiations.

In a functioning democracy the will of the majority ultimately dictates the decisions of lawmakers. Unfortunately in Canada our democracy is suffering with divided parties, split votes, weak-willed leaders and a majority government not elected by the majority of the people. 

This weekend Defend Our Climate events are planned across the country to pressure our government leaders to regulate carbon emissions and halt projects like the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.

These carbon mega-projects ensure that Canada will continue to grow as a source of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

If Canada has anything to learn from Typhoon Haiyan, it is that that shift away from climate-warming carbon energy involves international cooperation. Canada's leadership has never before been so necessary and so absent.

Image Credit: NASA

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