Last lump of coal, first refugee

By John Bennett

There were four events of note this week--well five, actually. The first two demonstrate the dissonance between the Government of Canada and the rest of the world.

Early Sunday morning the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group on Mitigation released its latest report, and on Monday the National Energy Board (NEB) posted a list of issues it will ‘consider’ before approving the proposed “Energy East” pipeline. While the IPCC warned humanity drastic changes are needed now, or else ("The high-speed mitigation train would need to leave the station soon and all of global society have to get on board," said IPCC's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri), the NEB said it wouldn’t even consider upstream environmental issues (Tar Sands) or downstream issues (climate change) in its Energy East pipeline review--that’s right, what the NEB calls an environmental assessment of the million-barrel-a-day Tar Sands pipeline will not even consider the climate change implications of burning that a million barrels of dirty oil a day.

While the rest of the world is pondering the implications of a rapidly changing climate and how to mitigate it, Canadian authorities are refusing to even listen, let alone acknowledge that urgent action is required. Why?

On Monday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“This report is a wake-up call about global economic opportunity we can seize today as we lead on climate change. So many of the technologies that will help us fight climate change are far cheaper, more readily available, and better performing than they were when the last IPCC assessment was released less than a decade ago. Good energy solutions are climate solutions and this report shines a light on energy technologies available right now to substantially reduce global emissions. These technologies can cut carbon pollution while growing economic opportunity at the same time.”

PETROTHINK

There wasn’t a peep from Canada’s Environment Minister. There wasn’t even a standard-issue departmental press release one would expect considering the magnitude of the report and new findings. Nope…the Canadian government was busy elsewhere extolling the proposed pipeline and telling Canadians about its inconsequential impact on climate change.

Unlike its omnibus bills (which we opposed), it’s more than just a matter of narrow-mindedness: it’s dangerous, wilful blindness.

So that’s two -- the third event was a bit more of an upper, and it came on Tuesday when the Ontario government announced its last coal fired power plant (near Thunder Bay) has burned its last lump of coal, and that lump was the last to ever be burned in the province. The announcement meant the Ontario government lived up its Sierra Club Canada Clean Air Pledge made by former Premier Dalton McGuinty over a decade ago. Ontario’s abandonment of burning coal for energy over the past decade resulted in the only serious reduction in emissions that Canada saw during that period. So the next time a federal government spokesperson tries to take credit for reducing some greenhouse gas emissions, know the truth—that it was Ontario’s shutting down its coal plants and had NOTHING to do with the federal government.

Number 4: The New Zealand Court of Appeal agreed to hear the case of a man who might be the first documented climate change refugee. Loane Teitiota from the Pacific Island state of Kiribati, one of the lowest-lying nations in the World, will argue that rising seas caused by climate change led to his refugee status. No, he wasn’t fleeing from persecution or a corrupt dictatorship—but by a man-made disaster. While certainly not the first to flee climate-related flooding, Loane is the first person anywhere to use refugee laws to seek for protection from climate change.

So, to sum up…in just the first three days of this week:

  1. The federal government confirmed its indifference to climate change and the IPCC by employing ostrich strategy;
  2. The US government sent out its second highest ranking official to draw global attention to the IPCC report and urge the world to come together with real action, like embracing renewable energy and investing in technology;
  3. Ontario shuts its last coal plant; and
  4. New Zealand considers granting refugee status to a man driven from is home by rising sea levels.

What does it all mean?

Oh, right. I said five events! Everyone in the Toronto area is invited to One Sweet Day this Saturday, April 19th at Sorauren Park (at the corner of Sorauren Avenue & Wabash Avenue). The event starts at 10:30 am and ends at 4:00 pm. Please be sure to bring a friend, family member or loved one. I’ll be there and I hope to see you!

John Bennett, National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
jb@sierraclub.ca
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog

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