Kent’s New Clothes on Adaptation

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by Chris Bisson and Robin Tress

Tuesday, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Canada’s stancegoing into the UN Climate Negotiations in Durban. The Government of Canada will be committing $148.8 million to domestic adaptation programming, most of which will likely go towards environmental research and monitoring, and will only sign onto an international agreement if all major emitters are required to make emissions cuts. Citing the domestic and international focus on economic recovery, jobs and prosperity, the government was happy to announce its ‘straightforward, practical approach’ to domestic climate change adaptation.

While Minister Kent’s dulcet tones may lull some into a false sense of security, the CYD’s policy hawks are not sold. Not one bit. This announcement of $149 million sounds like a grand gesture, until you remember that $222.2 million was cut from Environment Canada, largely from the Climate Change and Clean Air Division, resulting in a loss of 1211 full time jobs and a massive dismantling of our ability to monitor our country’s environmental changes. Cutting core funding and causing great monitoring programs to implode, only to half-heartedly refund less-functional programs 6 months later is anything but a ‘straightforward, practical approach’. This smokescreen expenditure on programs that have recently been gutted complicates this ‘straightforward’ approach, and things only become more unclear when you consider that by demanding all major emitters make emission cuts we are violating the underlying principle of common but differentiated responsibility that is the foundation of the Kyoto Protocol and is the only fair way to deal with climate debt. By demanding that countries like India and China reduce their emissions, we’re not only neglecting our historical responsibility to make up for the emissions we’ve produced in the last 150 years (a time during which these countries’ emissions were very low), but we’re forgetting the fact that most of these countries’ emissions are created while pumping out goods that are gobbled up by consumers in rich nations like Canada.

From an international standpoint, Canada’s position is no better. Canada has given $738 million collectively to programs like the Fast-Start Financing, World Bank’s climate resilience initiative and the Global Environment Facility, and other international financing bodies. This unfathomable figure is yet another illusion hiding the truth – three quarters of a billion dollars from one of the world’s richest countries is far too little to realistically address the likely impacts of human-caused climate change. Very conservative climate models used in reports like the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate change predicted in 2006 that damages by 2100 in a BAU scenario could be in excess of 2.2% of global GDP. This cost would likely be much higher if current, more sophisticated models were used. Canada’s announced $148.8 million for domestic adaptation needs falls especially short even in comparison to Canada’s commitments on a global scale.  With a recent study by an advisory board to the Government of Canada predicting the domestic impacts of climate change to reach $5 billion per year by 2020, and $21 to $41 billion  by 2050, the $149 million announced today – especially in the context of this summer’s announced Environment Canada job cuts, is deeply disappointing.

What remains silent from this announcement are the even more important yet intangible impacts that human-caused climate change will cause in Canada and around the world. The most climate-vulnerable populations, most notably Indigenous peoples, will be facing irreversible losses to their cultural and economic practices as well as food, water, energy and land sovereignty; fundamental elements to sound community resilience and long term human security. These losses will only be prevented through strong leadership on mitigation coupled with a complete change in policy towards international development, local resource development, food systems and indigenous sovereignty. To me, protecting people’s basic rights to cultural practices, freedom, and safety is infinitely more practical and straightforward than the plan that the government announced yesterday.

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