David Miller is the author of the forthcoming book Solved: How the World’s Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis. He is director of international diplomacy at the C40 Climate Leadership Group and a former mayor of Toronto.
There is a reason that climate change is top of mind for voters in the federal election, and it isn’t just because of Greta Thunberg. Citizens are seeing the consequences. Hurricanes. Typhoons. Wildfires. Droughts. And the consequences aren’t just measured in money – although the losses are in the trillions. They are measured, too, in human lives. People know this, are deeply worried, and want and expect leadership and action.
Nationally, we haven’t seen nearly enough of either. The current Liberal government, despite good intentions, has made no substantial progress. The Conservatives have proposed no goals, targets or material actions to address climate change – unsurprising given the provincial conservative government’s actions in Alberta and Ontario. Canada is a country with some of the largest per-capita emissions in the world. We are part of the problem – and if we don’t do our part, persuading others to do theirs, such as China and India, will be impossible.
As a country, we are stalled. Inaction is the order of the day.
But it doesn’t need to be.
There is every sign of a federal minority government, in which the NDP and Green Party will have significant influence. Such a Parliament could address climate issues with vigour. There are real actions we can take today that can materially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and get Canada on track toward scientifically required targets, starting by learning from mayors of leading global cities.
More than 30 mayors announced last week at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Denmark that their cities have already peaked emissions – by addressing transportation, electricity, buildings and other areas. There are Canadian best practice examples to learn from, too. None of these require the invention of something new, simply doing what works somewhere, everywhere.
First is clean electricity – under the leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles recently released its climate plan in which it will stop the generation of electricity through natural gas and rely entirely on clean energy.
There is abundant clean electricity in Canada, much of which is exported to the United States. Connecting these intraprovincial grids and ending the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, in Canada is technically feasible today. The only obstacles are political; in the climate emergency we face, it’s time to find a political solution to that political problem.
Clean buildings are another best practice. All new buildings should be mandated to dramatically increase energy efficiency on a path to being carbon neutral by 2030; existing commercial and multiresidential units must dramatically reduce emissions by the same date.
Vancouver has used the new B.C. building code to create regulations designed to ensure all new buildings meet that goal, and New York has mandated all existing large commercial buildings to dramatically lower emissions by 2030. Both these provisions can be duplicated everywhere in Canada – and have the added benefit of creating significant numbers of jobs.
Third is clean transport: Milan, Italy, Shenzhen, China, London and Los Angeles have made massive progress on electric buses – part of a change movement that has led to more than 66,000 electric buses in international markets from a handful five years ago.
Ottawa should be mandating that all future purchases of public transit vehicles are electric – and building on this, all fleets. Using existing technologies, all new vehicles added to taxi (traditional or app dispatched), post office, courier and utility fleets could be mandated to be electric. And there are thousands of General Motors workers in Oshawa, Ont., who would love the chance to build those vehicles.
Fourth, capping emissions: Under former premier Rachel Notley, Alberta worked with the oil industry and environmentalists to achieve a workable cap on emissions from the province’s oil industry. The industry was clear it could succeed economically while meeting simple and enforceable targets. It’s time to bring it back.
And finally, a just transition for workers. People in affected industries need jobs where they live. They have significant skills and the government must lead the creation of new work in those communities.
A good place to start is Oshawa. If GM won’t retool its plant to take advantage of the highly skilled and productive work force there, the federal government should lead the effort to ensure that the electric buses, vans and cars we need are built there by another manufacturer. Those workers deserve no less.
Do these steps work? Undoubtedly. Leaders such as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Michael Bloomberg, Al Gore and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez came to the summit in Copenhagen to praise the efforts of leading mayors and cities, and to learn more. These cities are already dramatically reducing carbon emissions, while continuing to prosper.
In Toronto, for example, by taking similar measures, greenhouse gas emissions are down 33 per cent over 1990 levels, the base year mandated in the original climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol.
By taking the best of these ideas and replicating them at scale, we can help Canada to quickly get on a path to cut emissions in line with the scientific evidence, and thereby prevent climate breakdown. A sustainable future that benefits every Canadian citizen and resident is possible. We just need to choose it.
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