Canada’s Shameful Inaction on Climate Change
by Mary Simon
Toronto Star (July 10, 2009) — Each day that Canada does not act with vigilance on the global climate crisis, permafrost melts in the Inuit village of Salluit, 10 kilometres inland from Hudson Strait in Nunavik, northern Quebec. Mudslides have forced the relocation of homes in the community of 1,100 and foundations are cracking on the houses that remain. Just a few years ago, the fire station was moved because its cement floor had collapsed.
Each day that Canada delays taking concrete action on climate change, more shoreline erodes in the Northwest Territories hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, narrowing the peninsula on which it sits and bringing its 1,000 residents ever closer to the punishing tides of the Beaufort Sea. Since the community was established in 1934, the coastline has retreated more than 100 meters. The curling rink and school have been destroyed.
Melting permafrost and eroding shorelines are forcing these communities to consider relocating their permanent settlements, abandoning decades of history and investment. This is the reality of climate change in Canada.
Each day the Canadian government disregards the calls of scientists and researchers, the sea ice grows thinner. The unprecedented retreat in permanent ice cover is endangering the lives of hunters and threatening our food supply. This is the reality of climate change in the Arctic.
Inuit live by the rhythm of the seasons and the predictability of the weather. The Arctic is our homeland. We call it Inuit Nunangat. We have occupied this vast territory for thousands of years. We have developed a culture and language deeply rooted in our physical surroundings. The Arctic defines who we are. In turn, our presence and way of life help define the Arctic.
But our homeland is at the epicentre of this climate crisis. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified the Arctic as one of the most vulnerable regions of the world. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment published by the Arctic Council projects accelerating change, with marked impacts on northern ecology and significant social, economic, human health and cultural effects. The United Nations Environment Program characterizes the Arctic as the world’s “barometer” of climate change.
This week, 24 scientists from the G8 and five developing countries called on leaders from these 13 countries meeting in Italy this week to take immediate action to combat climate change. The appeal was published in the International Herald Tribune. Meanwhile, France has criticized Canadian inaction on climate change. As a former Canadian ambassador, it saddens me that Canada is being lectured by the French government on this issue.
Despite these calls to action, Canada has failed to achieve any sort of workable consensus on the challenge of climate change. Indeed, Canada’s emissions have not declined, but rather have grown by more than 20 per cent since 1990. Each day that goes by pumps more greenhouse gas emissions into the air.
Climate change does not have an ideology, nor is it a card-carrying member of any political party. It is a crisis that requires political behaviour that rises above partisan political considerations and acts for the greater good. We need real action on emissions cuts and effective national policies backed up by federal spending priorities and new legislation.
We need to rethink, retool and re-engineer the way we do things so that we are less dependent on fossil fuels. We need a suite of interrelated polices, including an energy policy, an industrial policy, and a transportation policy to make us all less dependent on fossil fuels.
In 2005, the G8 leaders predicted that the Arctic would “experience the most significant [climate] change.” Yet Canada continues to lag behind its international counterparts, this year coming in dead last in a ranking of climate change efforts. We have among the world’s highest per capita emissions and rate among the few G8 countries whose emissions are actually increasing.
Such indicators are a national disgrace. As Canadians, we all wear this mark of shame. This week, as leaders of the most populous and prosperous nations meet in Italy, I challenge our Canadian leaders to propose concrete climate action in time for the COP-15 meeting in Copenhagen this December.
Next year, when G8 leaders meet in Huntsville, I hope that Canadians will be able to take special pride in how far we have come as a nation.
Mary Simon has been a Students on Ice expedition staff team member and is President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is the national Inuit organization in Canada, representing four Inuit regions – Nunatsiavut (Labrador), Nunavik (northern Quebec), Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories.