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Experts Call on Federal Parties to Find Pathway to Low-Carbon Economy

A diverse group of experts, scholars, First Nations and civil society organizations recently released a sweeping program that shows just how Canada can transition to a low-carbon society.

Building on a March 2015 report, Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars, a group of academics from Sustainable Canada Dialogues reached out to individuals and groups from across Canada in an attempt to engage society in the question of our low-carbon transition.

The result, Acting on Climate Change: Extending the Dialogue Among Canadians, brings together a broad range of insight from across the social and political spectrum.

The report comes on the heels of an open letter (attached below) to federal leaders, calling for a “national dialogue on climate change policy.” The letter, released by 60 academics with Sustainable Canada Dialogues, states a national conversation is needed “to identify socially acceptable transition pathways to a low-carbon society and economy.”

“We hope each party will enrich its position with ideas put forward by Canadians, before, during and after this election campaign, to restore Canada’s global leadership as a champion for the environment.”

Catherine Potvin, editor of the new report, writes 2015 is an important year for climate intervention.

“It is crucial to elect a federal government that has a climate action target with a coherent plan to achieve it,” Potvin states in the report’s foreword.

“I hope [this report] helps citizens make clear demands on their governments and believe in the future.”

First Nations Rights a Priority Concern

Among the report’s highlights is a submission by the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Sustainable Development Institute that emphasizes the importance of First Nations political sovereignty in government-to-government relations.

“Considering the wide-ranging impacts that climate policies could have on the Aboriginal Title and Aboriginal and Treaty Rights of First Nations, in particular regarding the use of their territories, it is essential that First Nation governments be involved from the beginning in this dialogue,” the authors write.

The importance of First Nations constitutional and territory rights are critical when considering the role the extractive industries play on traditional lands and within the context of climate change.

Government and Industry Need to Seek Opportunities

A submission from the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s president Scott Vaughan questions the capacity for market mechanisms to adequately address the need for urgent climate action.

Vaughan, Canada’s former Environment Commissioner, argues a more intentional collaboration is needed between government and industry to spur low-carbon innovation.

Vaughn points out the “various rigidities” of the oil, gas and coal sectors when it comes to measuring performance and expenditures.

“Climate debates need to turn towards the opportunities,” Vaughan writes, “to accelerate zero-carbon energy options that benefit from a longer tradition of purposeful industrial policy.”

Workers Must be Considered in Low-Carbon Transition

Erik Bouchard-Boulianne from the Centrale des syndicats de Québec (CSQ), one of the largest trade unions in Quebec, said transitioning to a low-carbon economy will bring big changes to each of the provinces. 

“There will be winning sectors and losing sectors,” he said in an interview included in the report.

Bouchard-Boulianne pointed out that Quebec will benefit from a move away from oil, which represents a large portion of the province’s trade deficit. Quebec imported about $18 billion in petroleum products in 2014.

Alternatively, he points out that Alberta, as an oil-producing province, will be hit hardest in the transition.

The key to helping workers throughout this transition is implementing support programs like unemployment insurance and re-qualification training.

Bring Science Back

Science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy argues a low-carbon transition will require both scientific and political leadership.

“Integrity of science and evidence have an important role to play in not only facilitating this transition, but also providing the forecasting and monitoring skills necessary for adaptive management throughout the process.”

Evidence for Democracy recommends the federal government play a central role in reducing carbon emissions, increase funding support for scientists and monitoring programs, fund academic researchers engaged in non-commercial science and produce climate and emissions policies that are transparent and based on best available evidence.

Make it Count for Youth

Generation Squeeze, an organization that advocates for young Canadians, writes a low-carbon society should focus on “leav[ing] at least as much as we inherit.”

That will require the better use and collection of tax dollars, leading to the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies and putting a price on pollution, writes author Paul Kershaw.

“Generation Squeeze recommends that Sustainable Canada Dialogues contribute to telling a broader narrative about generational prosperity and intergenerational fairness.”

Charting Low-Carbon Pathways

The David Suzuki Foundation also contributed to the report, outlining Canada’s various opportunities to cut carbon including reducing the use of coal and prioritizing renewable energy, a sector that now contributes $12 billion to the Canadian economy.

As Canada heads to the UN climate summit, policy makers can look to domestic successes for carbon-reduction opportunities.

“When Canadians head to the polls in October, we are deciding who will represent us at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit and the vision they have for Canada’s role in acting on climate change,” Dr. Mark Stoddart, from Memorial University and one of 60 co-authors of Sustainable Canada’s Dialogues original climate action plan, said.

“Extending the Dialogue Among Canadians provides novel ideas that can inform the next federal government,” he said.

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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