Guest's blog

The Canada-China FIPA Restricts Canada's Climate Options

This is a guest post by Gus Van Harten, professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada's Lopsided Investment Deal with China. This post originally appeared on the Globe and Mail.

For years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government told Canadians that it could not act on climate change until China joined in. Yet, in 2014, the government quietly finalized a 31-year investment treaty that, in essence, gives Chinese oil companies an advance bailout against a range of steps that Canada may need to take on climate change.

Take, for example, the call by more than 100 scientists for limits on oilsands expansion until a serious Canadian plan on climate change is in place. What is a serious plan? The scientists said it would need “to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health and respect treaty rights.”

Now, consider Canada’s new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China. 

Right-wing Circles Angry but Pope's Climate Intervention Makes Complete Sense

This is a guest post by Charles J. Reid Jr., professor of law at the University of St. Thomas.

It is a line repeated with tiresome regularity in right-wing circles: Pope Francis has no business proposing solutions to the crisis of global climate change. He is not a scientist, they say. He should stick to morals and to matters of faith and doctrine.

Pope Francis' defenders point out that climate change is a moral question. If the destruction of the planet's ecological health is not a moral concern, then what is? But while climate change is certainly a moral issue, it is something much larger and more significant than that. It is a threat to the common good of the world.

Canada’s Emissions Cost the World 8,800 Lives and $15.4 Billion Every Year

This is a guest post by Andrew Gage, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law.

Canada is not a super-power. We’re geographically large, but small in terms of population. And when it comes to climate change we’re used to hearing politicians say that we’re “only” responsible for about two per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — so what we do to stop our contribution to climate change doesn’t matter.

West Coast’s climate work focuses on the reality that we can’t keep pretending that greenhouse gas emissions are not a deadly serious problem. The world (including Canada) is experiencing disastrous flooding, sea-level rise, extreme storms, droughts and heat waves, increased frequency and intensity of forest fires, the spread of pest species and other climate-related impacts here and now. Because of the scale of the damages, even smaller contributions are responsible for devastating results.

I Hate to Break it to You, B.C., But You're Not a Climate Leader

This is a guest post by Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner with the Sierra Club B.C.

If you live in British Columbia you might think that our province is a climate champion, because you heard it from our government. Last month, for example, the provincial government sent out a bold press release touting B.C. as a world leader in climate action. The release highlighted B.C.'s carbon tax and the accomplishment of “meeting our 2012 GHG reduction target.”

However, just a few days later, the Canadian government released its latest greenhouse gas emissions data showing that B.C.'s emissions actually increased by 2.4 per cent in 2013 (to 63 million tons of greenhouse gases, from 61.5 in 2012). This is a big deal, because the threat of global warming has reached a point at which we cannot afford our annual emissions to continue to increase.

In March, the monthly global average concentration of carbon dioxide passed 400 parts per million. When the concentration of greenhouse gases was last this high, temperatures were several degrees warmer and sea level many metres higher.

Communications Breakdown: Speak Boldly and Carry a Big Schtick

This article was originally published in “Canada's Map to Sustainability,” a special issue of Alternatives Journal (A\J) in partnership with Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD). Comments on the A\J website will inform SCD's white paper on how Canada can achieve sustainability later this year.

Even though people pay attention to images of oil-soaked birds in the aftermath of oil spills, researchers know that another, less perceptible, issue is the death of algae from the use of chemical dispersants after these disasters. Although people focus on shifting to hybrid cars to reduce their carbon footprint, researchers show that we also need to think about methane emissions from the global livestock industry.

Though people promote the environmental benefits of digitization in our workplaces and media consumption, researchers remind us that this shift generates massive amounts of e-waste with its own ecological footprint. Despite nearly universal scientific consensus about the harmful impacts of climate change, government and the public keep ignoring it.

Three environmental communication dilemmas help to explain: The scale of environmental issues, difficulties portraying environmental problems and a tendency to individualize problems.

China’s Disastrous Pollution Problem Is A Lesson For All

V.T. Polywoda via Flickr CC

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Beijing’s 21 million residents live in a toxic fog of particulate matter, ozone, sulphur dioxide, mercury, cadmium, lead and other contaminants, mainly caused by factories and coal burning. Schools and workplaces regularly shut down when pollution exceeds hazardous levels. People have exchanged paper and cotton masks for more elaborate, filtered respirators. Cancer has become the leading cause of death in the city and throughout the country.

Chinese authorities, often reluctant to admit to the extent of any problem, can no longer deny the catastrophic consequences of rampant industrial activity and inadequate regulations. According to Bloomberg News, Beijing’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that, although life expectancy doubled from 1949 to 2011, “the average 18-year-old Beijinger today should prepare to spend as much as 40 percent of those remaining, long years in less than full health, suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, among other ailments.”

China’s government also estimates that air pollution prematurely kills from 350,000 to 500,000 residents every year.* Water and soil pollution are also severe throughout China.

The documentary film Under the Dome, by Chinese journalist Chai Jing, shows the extent of the air problem. The film was viewed by more than 150 million Chinese in its first few days, apparently with government approval. Later it was censored, showing how conflicted authorities are over the problem and its possible solutions. The pollution problem also demonstrates the ongoing global conflict between economic priorities and human and environmental health.

Rather than seeing China’s situation as a warning, many people in Canada and the U.S. — including in government — refuse to believe we could end up in a similar situation here. And so U.S. politicians fight to block pollution-control regulations and even to remove the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, or shut it down altogether! In Canada, politicians and pundits argue that environmental protection is too costly and that the economy takes precedence.

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