Climate change strategy in the works, and not a minute too soon

News Provincial

A pan-Canadian climate change strategy is finally in the works, and on Tuesday, March 8, students at UVic will have a chance for their voices to be included in the province’s leadership plan.

Canada’s climate reputation is on the line. Speaking at the UN climate summit in Paris last December, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced to the world, “Canada is back.” Our new Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, declared our country’s support for keeping global warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — not the 2°C goal which was anticipated, but the literal low water mark the Alliance of Small Island States say is necessary for their survival.

South of the border some politicians are still calling human-caused climate change a hoax, but McKenna has the support of most British Columbians. According to research done by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), based here on campus, over 78 per cent of people in B.C. want to see a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

A consensus this strong is very rare in politics. So what is the province doing to respect that consensus?

B.C. implemented its first Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) in 2008, and now we have the revenue-neutral carbon tax under our belts. We also have a new Leadership Plan coming out later this year, which will take more of the human dimensions of climate change into account. And the provinces have been meeting without the federal government until now: Provincial leaders are currently forming working groups and plan to meet in Vancouver on Thursday, March 3, this time with the feds at the table.

The executive director at PICS, Dr. Sybil Seitzinger, points out how the B.C.’s plan is already “very much in line with the type of thing that is needed by provinces, by countries, to begin to move towards those commitments.” However, it is still being written and public input is needed. When it is done, B.C. will be locked in for five years.

The province is being very open, and began public engagement on Jan. 25 by asking, “What should we do?” There will be a two-way webcast on Tuesday, March 8, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., allowing people across the province to participate in a conference taking place in Vancouver to discuss the plan. PICS will even be hosting an event in the boardroom at House 1 on UVic campus so that students can participate as a group.

Of course, it can’t just be B.C., or just Canada. Around the world, government plans need to synergize local actions with global climate objectives as a matter of national security. The environment is necessarily a priority for every government: we cannot exist without its protection. For Canada’s part, McKenna has recently met with her provincial counterparts but there isn’t enough time to craft a national plan; in April, the countries that attended COP21 will come together again to sign the global action agreement. Once 55 countries have signed, it becomes internationally binding.

Meanwhile, the provincial plan will be implemented right where we live. Collaboration and partnerships have been established to develop it and turn it into a reality. PICS brings together experts from government, the business world, the wider community and from BC’s research universities.

“I think we’re seeing an increasing interest on campus again about climate,” says Seitzinger, explaining that students are looking for opportunities to build careers after graduation. For example, UVic now offers a master’s and doctoral program in Civil Engineering focused on green infrastructure.

We all have an opportunity to help shape the plan for B.C. And with any luck, Justin Trudeau will be able to show that Canada really is back when he signs the binding agreement in April.