Photo: New government faces climate challenges and opportunities

(Credit: Moyan Brenn via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Our new government appears to be taking climate change seriously. With the UN climate talks starting in Paris on November 30, Canada can play an important role in reducing greenhouse gases at home and helping others around the world do likewise. U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to reject the Keystone XL oilsands pipeline reinforces the fact that we can't continue burning fossil fuels at current rates.

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Although Canada's government is heading to Paris without a strong plan, it has indicated it's ready to represent Canadians' interests. One of the first encouraging signs is the new cabinet.

In the reduced, 30-member cabinet, equally divided between women and men, the minister of environment's title has been expanded to include climate change, and we now have a minister of science and a minister of innovation, science and economic development.

I and others have been warning about global warming and its consequences for decades. I spoke to science writer Isaac Asimov about it in 1977 on CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks. In 1989, The Nature of Things did its first global warming program and I hosted the five-part radio series, It's a Matter of Survival, in part about climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation has worked hard over its 25-year history to inform people about climate change and to research solutions, recently through the Trottier Energy Futures Project.

The UN climate conference, just weeks away, presents an immediate challenge for the government, but Canada is in an ideal position to make positive contributions. Besides the new minister of environment and climate change and the prime minister, a cabinet committee on environment, climate change and energy will attend, headed by Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion.

Recognizing the role of provincial governments and other parties in addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also invited provincial premiers and other party leaders, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May, to the conference.

Given the ever-increasing urgency of the climate crisis, the UN process has been frustratingly slow and lacking in the kinds of concrete actions required to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2 C. The goal of the Paris talks is for developed and developing nations to adopt a legally binding universal climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide financing for developing nations.

To help guide negotiations, the David Suzuki Foundation has offered recommendations to Canada's new government. The first is to develop a national climate action plan that sets new, ambitious emissions-reduction targets. We agree with the Climate Action Network Canada that cutting carbon emissions by one-third within a decade, or 35 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025, would fit the bill, and that reductions should begin immediately with targets enshrined in law.

The Foundation also believes the federal government must work with provinces to set a minimum standard for pricing carbon emissions, through carbon taxes, cap and trade or both, reaching at least $100 per tonne by 2020, and applying targeted regulations or standards where carbon price alone is not enough to meet emissions targets.

We'd also like to see government move ahead with commitments to low-carbon infrastructure, including investment in public transportation, renewable energy and climate adaptation, as well as employing natural systems to reduce impacts. Energy-efficiency standards for vehicles and buildings are also essential, as is a commitment to support the UN Green Climate Fund for developing nations.

We and other organizations will offer suggestions on a range of issues. For us, these include species at risk and habitat protection, marine protected areas, environmental rights, natural capital evaluation and improved relations with indigenous peoples. We realize the new government faces numerous challenges and must deal with competing interests around falling oil prices, pipeline projects, missing and murdered aboriginal women, national security, international commitments regarding terrorism and more. It won't be easy and they'll have to hit the ground running.

YES — I'll send a message to Canada's leaders.

As leaders from Canada and the U.S. head to Paris with real commitments to address climate change, there's hope for progress. This government seems open to engaging in conversations with Canadians from all walks of life and all parts of the country, and to accepting our global responsibilities. I wish them the best.

November 11, 2015

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