When the history of this age is written how will Canada be remembered? Did we help lead the world to climate safety? Or did we abandon our own best ideas and, even though we knew better, became one among many nations that let the world drift into catastrophe while we haggled and delayed?
Last week we urged every political leader of every party, federal and provincial, to read the scientific report on climate change presented to The United Nations and tell Canada what they would do about it. Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader, stepped forward and asked that that an emergency debate be held in Parliament and that it be held now. She has been joined by Guy Caron, House Leader for the NDP and Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. We applaud them.
Rule 52 empowers the speaker to set aside other business and debate “a genuine emergency, calling for immediate and urgent consideration.” The language could not be more apt. That is exactly what the scientists were attempting to wake us up to last week in their report. We face a genuine global emergency so urgent that failure to respond will have dire consequences for us all. But so far the global response has been underwhelming.
Now, Ms. May has handed Speaker Geoff Regan an opportunity to send a message to the world on behalf of all Canadians. Yes, we believe this is a genuine emergency. We are going to debate the choices fully and decide how Canada will respond. “Canada’s Parliament must respond to this crisis and review the scientific report in a non-partisan spirit,” Ms. May wrote. “We must genuinely seek to educate each other.”
That is just the right tone. No one has a corner on wisdom here. We need everyone’s ideas about how to protect the atmosphere and our standards of both prosperity and political liberty. This isn’t going to be easy. But the alternative is to continue in the delusion that nothing much is really wrong. The scientists, as Ms. May noted, told us last week where that leads.
Temperature increases well above 2 degrees Celsius. Catastrophic storms, rising seas, displaced humanity at an unimaginable scale. “This is an emergency,” she wrote to the speaker. “The risks are not to something external called “the environment.” The risk is the collapse of human civilization. The risk is to the survival of millions of people and of millions of species. The risks are beyond anything faced by humanity with the exception of full-scale nuclear war."
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Canada was the first country to say that temperature rise needed to be held below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That goal is quickly moving beyond our grasp. We still have the chance to reassert leadership. We should seize it.
The speaker has been asked to make a decision that will matter not just to Canada. Are we in a genuine emergency? Say yes, Mr. Speaker, the world needs that truth.