This has been a devastating year in terms of climate impacts. The record Arctic sea ice loss, floods, wildfires and scorching droughts that are expected to affect food prices are all consistent with impacts that climate scientists have been predicting for decades. Climate scientist James Hansen summed it up concisely: "while average global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate ... the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide."
Hansen said that back in August, before Superstorm Sandy pounded the Caribbean and U.S. East Coast. The tragic loss of life and billions of dollars in damage are just the latest consequence of more frequent extreme weather events. As we watch the wealthiest region of one of the wealthiest nations struggle to recover, what does this suggest about the resiliency of poorer nations in dealing with their own climate change challenges?
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The poorest nations (bottom 25 per cent by per capita GDP) are responsible for less than one per cent of annual greenhouse gas pollution. They don't contribute significantly to the problem yet they bear a disproportionate share of the impacts. Just as we would expect a company to pay compensation if its practices damaged an area of land or fouled an entire region, countries that have been damaged by the collective actions of others expect some restitution to fund adaptation measures. These include agricultural programs to increase food security, flood protection systems to combat rising sea level, and advance weather-warning systems to enable timely evacuations. Such measures would improve security for billions of people.
The next attempt to get reliable climate funding in place for the rest of the decade and beyond, as well as an agreement on a global framework for driving down emissions, will begin on Monday, November 26, at the UN Climate Conference in Doha. After disappointing results in recent negotiations, the UN process is being met with a palpable sense of frustration. Nations have been unwilling to commit to binding emissions-reduction targets or climate-funding programs. For instance, three years ago after negotiations stalled, the governments of Canada and several other nations trumpeted the signing of the Copenhagen Accord. The framework of this non-binding agreement allowed countries to voluntarily offer up emissions-reduction pledges, which predictably, would fall short of meeting science-based targets. The Accord was criticized by the David Suzuki Foundation and others for its lack of teeth. One of the few promising measures was the commitment of $100 billion annually toward climate adaptation by 2020. However, this commitment was also non-binding and there was no plan for how these funds would be generated. Three years later, there is no indication that the level of funding will be ramped up to meet the $100-billion target, further delaying the creation of a more climate-resilient future.
The success of this year's UN Conference may hinge on how close it brings us to a binding and ambitious emissions-reduction agreement. With evidence showing that the situation is getting worse by the day, this must be the primary focus. But establishing binding commitments to climate financing through to 2020 would also be a significant accomplishment. I hope that wealthier nations will agree to support developing nations and empower them in laying the groundwork for a safer, resilient future.
What can you do?
Many positive things are happening at the municipal and provincial levels, making our communities more sustainable.
Check out our report card on provincial climate change action to see how your province is tackling climate change. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has a database of municipalities that have set emissions-reduction targets and implemented action plans.
Show your support for strong action on climate change by joining the growing number of demonstrations across the country throughout the year. 350.org is an excellent resource to see what's happening in your area.
Speak out against activities that are compromising Canada's ability to take responsibility for its greenhouse gas emissions—from proposed pipelines to gutting environmental assessments to cuts to government science programs and staff. Let your social network, your government representative and your local newspaper know that Canada's environment is worth protecting.
Vote for a responsible government
Whether at the municipal, provincial or federal level, we need to elect candidates who will work to reduce Canada's carbon footprint and make our communities more resilient to climate impacts. Do your candidates have a vision for a low-carbon Canada? Ask them!