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A smokestack is seen at a thermal power plant in Inchon, west of Seoul, on Feb. 1, 2007.

JO YONG-HAK/REUTERS

For those who believe that the threat of global warming is overstated, the conclusions of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should serve as a jolt of reality. According to hundreds of scientists who authored the report, the future appears perilous if nothing is done. The panel warns that climate change is actually happening, and the world is not adequately prepared.

The IPCC says it will threaten food and water supplies, and lead to rising sea levels and species extinction. It will affect everything from what our farms produce to where we live. Unsurprisingly, the effects of a warmer climate will be most pronounced in the poorest parts of the world: coastal communities, like the Philippines, which have the least capacity to fend off these dangers. But Canada is hardly immune, and Ottawa needs to rethink its current do-next-to-nothing policy on emissions along with the rest of the world to avoid the worst-case scenario painted by the IPCC.

Canada is one of the world's largest per-capita greenhouse gas emitters, ranking third out of 17 OECD countries. While it's true that Canada's GHG emissions per capita have fallen since 1990, our peers have managed to decrease them by even more. Germany and the U.K., for example, reduced per-capita GHG emissions by 27 per cent between 1990 and 2010. On carbon emissions, Canada's efforts rank as an epic fail.

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Yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right to argue that the Kyoto agreement, from which Canada withdrew in 2011, was hollow because the world's largest polluters – the United States and China – were not included. But post-Kyoto, Ottawa and the rest of the world's governments must commit to meaningful reductions of greenhouse gases. And given that the world's countries share one atmosphere, no state can act alone. An agreement won't hold, nor will it accomplish much, unless it includes all major polluters, including still-developing countries such as China and India.

The IPCC says world leaders have just a few years left to reduce carbon emissions enough to stave off catastrophic warming that would dramatically disrupt human life. Canada has a role to play in avoiding that outcome. This country is threatened by the consequences of climate change, and of inaction, along with everyone else.

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