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Climate Change: reclaiming the conversation

By: R. Cusson, S. Jansen, C. Curtis | July 17, 2017

“One doesn’t change an economy overnight, but one does need a vision of the future that ensures today’s policies will create the kind of future we want.”

French President Macron recently announced that France will “stop granting licences to new oil and gas exploration and promised a sharp increase in renewable’s investments, a huge renovation program to improve the efficiency of French homes, and an acceleration of the deployment of zero-emission vehicles.”

Just prior to that announcement, The Energy Mix reported that “Trans Canada Corporation, Exxon Mobil and Russian gas giant Gazprom are on the list of half-dozen companies whose stocks have been dropped by AP7, Sweden’s largest pension fund, on the grounds that they’ve violated the Paris agreement.”

These are just two examples of measures being taken around the world to move to minimal carbon economies.

The world is changing, and it is changing without us in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Terry Paddon, the province’s Auditor General, reported last month that our government is not on track to meet the 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions. To stress the point, he added in his media release that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the planet,” and that “greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of climate change.”

This announcement, among others, has led those of us who first met to form Climate Watch NL to conclude that the issue of climate change is far too important to leave to the provincial government alone.

Pull Quote Climate Watch NLThe oil and gas industry has provided for many families in Newfoundland and Labrador in recent decades. But, as a result of the policies, and the politics, of those decades we have become dependent on the fossil fuel industry to an extent that is no longer sustainable. The world’s economies are moving on from fossil fuels, and while they do we still lack our own exit strategy – a vision beyond fossil fuels.

Here is our mandate: Climate Watch NL is a network of concerned citizens that envisions a minimal carbon economy for Newfoundland and Labrador by 2050. Our aim is to participate in critical public dialogue about climate change and call for meaningful policy that will both decarbonize the economy and reduce carbon emissions in this province.

Central to our focus are the issues of climate change adaptation and fossil fuel extraction. We want to engage with government and civil society in a productive conversation by asking important questions about our future direction as a province, and by researching effective solutions to the current climate challenge.

We are twice vulnerable, in a precarious position due to our dependency on fossil fuels, and also because we are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

As a northern coastal province many of our communities do not have the financial means to mitigate and to adapt to the challenges of a changing climate. We are already starting to see the effects of climate change here, such as degraded sea ice and coastal erosion. Other impacts of concern include increased risk of geo-hazards, and growth in invasive species, and changing marine ecosystems which can have significant impacts on the fisheries and other local industries.

We recognize that social inequality, public health and our ecological footprint are intimately linked, and therefore need a socially just transition of the economy that ensures that the most vulnerable citizens do not bear the largest burden. There are many ways to achieve this goal.

Pull Quote Climate Watch NLIn Newfoundland and Labrador we must cap our own carbon emissions. This should include a commitment to limit fossil fuel extraction. Current research advises that Canada leave over 70 percent of its oil reserves in the ground in order to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees. This is a reality that has ramifications for our province and others. It will not happen overnight, but a new mindset must be cultivated, beginning today, and the policies that govern this province need to reflect that new mindset.

Around the world and in our province there are currently many effective, unique solutions to help reduce emissions and decarbonize our economy. In order for these solutions to be implemented in a meaningful way, however, we need both the political and societal will to make this change happen.

Climate Watch NL wants to engage Newfoundland and Labrador in discussing the solutions to pressing questions such as:

• What existing solutions will help decarbonize the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador?
• How do we best implement these solutions?
• What are the barriers to the implementation of these solutions?
• How do we address the current economic situation while laying the groundwork to a decarbonized future?

Climate Watch NL is promoting policy action and research in transitioning to a low carbon society and economy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Our argument is just as much about contributing to the prevention of a climate catastrophe as it is about securing the economic well-being of this province. The potentially disastrous economic consequences of an oil dependence have been felt by all of us in the collapse of the oil prices in 2015.

One doesn’t change an economy overnight, but one does need a vision of the future that ensures today’s policies will create the kind of future we want. These policies each work in their own way to help transition us from where we are now to a minimal carbon economy.

Our primary policy recommendations as well as priorities for further research are:

1. We advocate for a local, renewable, sustainable energy economy instead of megaprojects that can come with substantial social, environmental and economic risks.

2. We support putting a fair price on carbon. Revenue from a carbon levy must be re-invested in reducing emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. This must include offsetting any new costs to vulnerable families and communities, particularly to rural communities, low-income households, and regions struggling to cope with the growing impacts of climate change.

3. We recommend substantial provincial investment in green energy and infrastructure initiatives, particularly in low carbon transportation systems (supporting public transit, electric vehicles, and active transportation), low emissions commercial and residential buildings, green energy production systems, and energy efficiency.

4. We support training and skill development for workers to transition to employment in green industries and renewable energy.

5. We urge the provincial government to align its economic development plans with the new international reality that most remaining fossil fuel reserves cannot be extracted.

6. We call for an end to subsidies to the fossil fuel industry as well as divesting from it. It is time to focus instead on subsidizing and investing in the green energy sector.

7. We encourage the provincial government to focus on developing industries that can be managed sustainably for the long term, such as fisheries, agriculture, and eco-tourism. The development of ecological forms of agriculture is key to both mitigation and adaptation. This focus also includes the development of policies which protect these sectors from the impacts of climate change and other unsustainable industries.

8. We call on the provincial government to fully ban hydraulic fracturing.

9. We urge the government to stay proactive with their net metering policy and to make changes as necessary to ensure that it becomes and attractive option to the residents of this province.

10. Regarding adaptation, we stress the importance of financial and personnel support for municipalities, particularly in more distant rural communities, who are likely to face the greatest impacts of climate change.

Raymond Cusson, Simon Jansen, Conor Curtis
Steering Committee members, Climate Watch NL
info@climatewatchnl.ca

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