Acting on climate change: Solutions from Canadian scholars

Catherine Potvin, a Canada Research Chair Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests, has convened colleagues from 30 Canadian universities to join her in a collective initiative called Sustainable Canada Dialogues. The resulting group, that mobilizes over 60 researchers from every province, has built a consensus around a plan of sustainability solutions to help Canada successfully achieve transition to a low-carbon society. Potvin spoke with the Reporter about what government officials and ordinary citizens can do to mitigate climate change.
“The mobilization of Canadian voters is essential to give courage to politicians and push for larger-scale, meaningful political responses to climate change,” says Catherine Potvin, Canada Research Chair Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests.

In fall 2014, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon exhorted all countries to raise the ambitions of their climate change policies to avoid a global temperature increase of more than 2oC during this century. Since the Rio+20 Conference, he has repeatedly called for a greater contribution of science to resolve environmental problems. Responding to this call, Catherine Potvin has convened colleagues from 30 Canadian universities to join her in a collective initiative called Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD). The resulting group, that mobilizes over 60 researchers from every province, has built a consensus around a plan of sustainability solutions to help Canada successfully achieve transition to a low-carbon society. This network representing crosscutting disciplines ranging from engineering and sciences to social sciences, wishes to encourage public debate on climate policy in view of the upcoming Federal election and the December 2015 climate summit in Paris.

Potvin is a forest ecologist specialist in global environmental change, including climate change and biodiversity loss. A professor at McGill, she holds a Canada Research Chair Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests and has actively engaged in policy-making, serving as Panama’s negotiator at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change between 2005 and 2011. In the wake of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, Potvin has been selected as one of 23 women visionaries for the future of Canada by the initiative a “Bold Vision.”

What can Canadian citizens do for climate change?

One of the biggest challenges in mitigating climate change is transportation. This is where every citizen of Canada can have the biggest impact by examining how they transport themselves and adopting more sustainable modes of transportations that suit their need.

However, there are limits to what each Canadian can do: they are limited by the vehicles available for sales – need stricter standard; they are limited by the choices that are offered to them – need more efficient public transportation and urban planning; they are limited by affordable and livable housing projects next public transportation. Governments have a role to play to help Canadians make sustainable choices.

Consequently Canadian citizens should seriously consider the climate change policies of the various political parties as they head to the polls for the next federal election but also during provincial and municipal elections. The mobilization of Canadian voters is essential to give courage to politicians and push for larger-scale, meaningful political responses to climate change

What are the key actions that governments could take in front of climate change?

We identified 10 key policy orientations that could allow Canada to immediately transition towards a low carbon economy and a number of actions could be immediately implemented. Two stand out: (i) there needs to be a price on carbon now throughout Canada. It is not very different than taxes on cigarettes. Cleaning up carbon pollution, as the USA now calls it, needs to be paid by those who cause it. The second one is (ii) to ensure electric connections between the provinces that produce hydro-electricity and those that do not. Such interconnection would allow Canada to have 100% carbon free electricity and could become the backbone of our transition to a low carbon sustainable society.

In parallel, it is essential that the government help by supporting the stricter standards for energy use and appropriate urban design that will offer to citizen a high quality of life environment with minimal green-house gas production.

People are tired of hearing about climate change, what novel aspects can you put forward?

We propose that the “problem” of climate change should be viewed as an “opportunity for change” that will improve the well-being of all Canadians. For us sustainability entails a vision of the future that improves social and environmental well-being. Seen in this context, climate change policy should promote a transition, similar to the transition that occurred during industrialization.

It is important therefore that Canadians ask themselves what future they want. Climate change mitigation is an opportunity to collectively move Canada in the direction of these desired futures.

There are examples of countries that have managed to use this transition successfully along these lines. Being proactive is much less costly than being reactive.

Climate change is costly how are your proposing to finance your proposed action plan?

Three points here.

First, not doing anything will be costly. Many studies have shown that the cost of adapting to climate change will soar if no mitigating action is taken. This means that climate change mitigation could be done at “no-net cost” if we act rapidly.

Second, the transition to a low carbon society can be used as a way to propel the Canadian economy into the future, to make it more competitive and more sustainable. Of course, this means that some economic sectors will shrink while others expand. But this is exactly what Schumpeter called creative destruction whereby the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

But overall, the economic, environmental and social gains will exceed the losses. The sectors that will likely benefit more from the transition are those that are proactively trying to adjust. This is why it is important to move now and not to wait until this change is imposed on us from the outside. Just like businesses, the governments that are the forefront of issues are the most likely to succeed.

Finally, Canada is currently renewing much of the infrastructure that we built in the 1960s and 1970s. Incorporating the mitigation strategies into this infrastructure will be much less costly that correcting the errors in 10 or 15 years. An analogy is the state of California making sure its infrastructure (buildings, bridges) are prepared for earthquakes – it does not know when it will occur but it invests now – the state does not take a wait-and-see attitude. One of the most cost efficient mitigation strategies involves incorporating climate change mitigation into the design and reparation of existing and new infrastructure. In this way the cost of mitigation is folded into current infrastructure budgets.

Learn more about Sustainable Canada Dialogues.


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9 years ago

Science’s 99% certainty and Joe Biden’s 110% certainty that we need to SAVE THE PLANET makes 34 MORE years of failing to achieve climate action a 100% certainty.
Exaggerating science’s vague consensus just to hate conservatives made neocons out of all of us in the history books.

k mac
9 years ago

There is a factor of government, most of who know nothing of the climate warming, that are in it only to address the optics of doing something and then using carbon tax as the bases of doing something. I am not convinced by a long shot that global warming is all anthropogenic or even close. Can anyone explaining why the curves showing solar activity (sun spots) over the past 1000 years so closely model the same temperature curves all attributed to CO2? They are the same curve if you care to investigate. But my point is that politicians know too… Read more »

9 years ago

ACTING on climate change?
You “believers” are delusional being blind to the last 34 YEARS of climate action failure.

Bryson Brown
9 years ago

I’m not surprised to see desperate deniers seizing this comment thread– with no science to back up their knee-jerk rejection of the facts, comment threads are one of their last strongholds.

Carm Hofen
9 years ago

This is highly irresponsible propaganda. Don’t take man-made climate change/man-made global warming as a given, because it’s not. “Climate change has become a powerful political force for many reasons. First, it is universal; we are told everything on Earth is threatened. Second, it invokes the two most powerful human motivators: fear and guilt. We fear driving our car will kill our grandchildren, and we feel guilty for doing it. Third, there is a powerful convergence of interests among key elites that support the climate “narrative.” Environmentalists spread fear and raise donations; politicians appear to be saving the Earth from doom;… Read more »

Christopher O'Brien
9 years ago

Bryson Brown is right. There’s no point in having this comment thread as it will be filled with deniers babbling on and taking up what could be useful space. I’m assuming that we go to Sustainable Canada Dialogues to comment on what these scientists are proposing.
I’m out of here!

Ken Forest
9 years ago

Accolades to K. Potvin and her team for the research report. I would like to hear more about the potential for geothermal turbine generation, especially in BC (ring of fire). On a different note, can electric cars run efficiently in -40C temperatures and if not, what is the solution?
Aside: Mememine and others on this site are paid shills who go by a number of names to block climate change solutions. They are dogmatic, ideological, likely paid, and certainly scientifically illiterate. Not worth responding to.

Cathy Orlando
9 years ago

Merci, Miigwech and Thank you for this initiative: Sustainable Canada Dialogues.
QUESTION: Is this official site to leave comments?
ASIDE: I agree with Ken Forest. Ignore them.

Christine Penner Polle
9 years ago

Thank you SO much for your leadership on this issue, Dr Potvin. It’s time we have an adult conversation about this threat to our country’s future prosperity and security and this initiative will take that conversation a huge step forward.
As the ridiculous comments from the anti-science trolls who jumped on this thread immediately demonstrate, “the world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” Charles F Kettering.

Willy Ens
8 years ago

Solutions? … More chatter … they have no ‘solutions’ … and their ‘bottle cap saving initiatives’ … won’t do it!
No … WE NEED LEADRSHIP! …. because a PhD in Political ‘science’ may be pseudo-science, psychology at best … but it is not education in hydro-carbon combustion … which is what the problem stems from.
For a “Real Solution” of substance, scope and volume to make a ‘meaningful’ difference see;