Sunny ways: from Paris to the Kootenays

It’s a sunny day here in Paris as the first week of the UN climate summit comes to a close. Yesterday, in Ottawa, Parliament officially kicked-off with the Speech from the Throne. Every time it’s sunny outside and I’m thinking about the Liberals, I’m reminded of Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” victory speech on election night, and I chuckle, even here in Paris.

If you felt election night was like the Superbowl, with a late night election verdict in the Nelson riding of Kootenay-Columbia, down to those final 285 votes, then the Speech from the Throne is kind of like the first football game of the new season. It’s exciting and sets the tone for the rest of the year.

My highlight from the Speech from the Throne, apart from reconfirming their election promise to bring in a new electoral system, was that the Liberal Government would keep providing leadership “toward putting a price on carbon and reducing carbon pollution.” It’s encouraging to hear the emphasis on climate action from our new government. However, here in Paris, it’s not clear that the Canadian negotiation team is taking that urgency and ambition forward.

Earlier this year Harper’s government submitted Canada’s carbon pollution reduction goal to the UN. It is to reduce emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. This is not our fair share. We need to reduce carbon pollution by a lot more and much sooner than 15 years from now. The Liberal government hasn’t changed this commitment since coming in. Additionally, the same negotiation team that was appointed by the Harper government is still negotiating for Canada in Paris at the climate summit.

Today at the negotiations, we passed a milestone towards getting a global agreement to tackle the climate crisis. The technical negotiations officially closed, with the decision to send the draft climate agreement to ministers to use as the basis for negotiations. Next week will see negotiations continue on how to increase ambition before 2020 in emissions reductions and get enough financial commitments to take renewables forward in developing countries and help them adapt to climate change.

Trudeau has committed a substantial financial package to help developing countries transition to renewable energy and adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, Canada’s fair share is $4 billion per year by 2020 from public sources. A great way to find this money would be to get rid of Canada’s federal fossil fuel subsidies. There would be more than enough money to support developing countries and invest in renewable energy solutions at home in Canada.

Today, Quebec showed its climate leadership by announcing $25 million in funding to cut carbon pollution and support vulnerable people adapt to climate impacts. I’m glad provinces are showing leadership. The question is will the federal government show leadership when working with provinces to make the deeper carbon emissions cuts need in Canada.

Climate change affects low-income people more because they can’t spend their way to temporary fixes to keep them alive in extreme weather events. Developed countries have more money, but there are still people in developed countries vulnerable to climate impacts. I know a lot of low-income people in the Kootenays. Finding good-paying work is an ongoing challenge for our region. Many smart and hard-working people have left to work in places like Alberta on the oilrigs. We need to attract renewable energy companies to help create the transition we are going to have to take on in every city and region across this country.

Let’s create opportunities for renewable energy companies and supporting infrastructure to set up in the Kootenays. Dirty industry is the past, investing in our community with sustainable jobs for the environment and for people is the future.  Governments can help make that transition smooth and make it easy for workers to be retrained for good, clean jobs, support their families and stay in their West Kootenay communities.

The whole point is that we need to avoid the climate crisis. We need global temperatures to not increase above 2C (or much better yet 1.5C, which is what civil society is actually pushing for) by the end of this century. Remember 2015 extreme weather, with the dry winter with little snow and the seemingly endless forest-fire summer, where we came close to running out of water in many communities? That will be the new normal of the full-blown climate crisis.

If we truly want to avoid the climate crisis we need to be off fossil fuels entirely by 2050. This means we need to have 100% renewable energy across all cities, regions and provinces fully up and running by then. This past weekend over 785,000 people gathered in 175 countries to call for real climate action and a transition to renewable energy economies. People all around the world get it. This transition to 100% renewable energy is 100% possible and is 100% going to have to happen. I hope the Liberal government takes the “sunny ways” theme seriously and applies it to the economy and energy sector – think solar, like the Nelson solar garden, but a whole lot heck of a lot more of it.

Montana Burgess is the West Kootenay EcoSociety’s Community Organizer. She’s attending the Paris UN climate summit with the Climate Action Network delegation and is reporting back to the West Kootenays on developments at the negotiations and what they could mean for Canada and our region.