EDITORIAL: Canada a laggard on climate change

Climate change is costing Canadians a fortune and experts say it’s going to get worse.

Yet while Prime Minister talks a good game, Canada’s measurable efforts to slow global warming continue to be among the worst in the world.

Earlier this week, the 16th edition of the Climate Change Performance Index — an annual, independent review of countries’ climate performance by non-profit Germanwatch — placed Canada 58th, fourth-lowest among nations surveyed.

Our performance was “very poor” on greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy and overall energy usage. On energy efficiency, we ranked dead last. Only Canada’s international climate policy received a medium grade; our national policy scored low.

Ottawa did introduce new climate change legislation last month — Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act — with the laudable goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Net-zero means all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions are offset by greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere.

But critics say the new legislation contains no provisions for enforcement or structured plans for involving provinces.

The growing cost to Canada from climate change was spelled out this month by the independent, publicly funded Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.

In a new report, Tip of the Iceberg, one of a series on economic, social and environmental costs of a changing climate in Canada, the CICC said the frequency and destructiveness of weather-related disasters have increased sharply in recent decades.

In previous decades, the economic impact of weather-related disasters, covering private and public costs, was about one per cent of annual GDP, the report stated. This past decade, that increased to between five and six per cent of GDP.

The average cost of weather-related disasters was $8.3 million in the 1970s; between 2010 and 2019, that rose to $112 million.

More ominously, the report warned Canadian governments, communities and businesses seemed unprepared for how much higher climate change-related costs could climb, dwarfing current estimates.

Those include damages from drawn-out events such as sea level rise, ocean acidification (which could hurt important commercial shellfish species like clams, oysters and even lobsters) and permafrost thaw.

The report’s recommendation included increased funding and a more co-ordinated approach among all levels of government.

Worryingly, while Canada’s performance was particularly bad, the CCPI found that although there were notable improvements, no country was meeting its Paris Agreement commitments.

On the fifth anniversary of the groundbreaking global accord among 196 nations to reduce greenhouse gases, and thus limit the rise of temperatures worldwide, GHG emissions still increased slightly through the period surveyed.

On a positive note, U.S. President-elect has committed to the U.S. rejoining the agreement.

This year, due to the pandemic, global emissions fell.

That’s provided a brief respite. But to prevent climate disaster, all countries — especially Canada — need to do far more.

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