Politicians and negotiators have cut a deal in Paris that commits the world’s nations to confronting climate change. Finally, after two decades of political prevarication we have an international acknowledgement from the rich and powerful that our current path is unsustainable.
As climate scientists have been arguing for decades, humanity simply can’t go on burning things the way we have been doing. If we do, climate disruptions and extreme weather events are going to make life very insecure for people all over the globe.
Decision-makers have finally acted on this insight, and committed us to finding alternative ways of living to secure a sustainable future for humanity. We have to get serious about building cities, farming our food and organizing an economy in ways that don’t depend on burning things.
The sooner we start to do this the easier the transition will be and the less severe climate disruptions will be, both for us and for future generations.
For Canada this means that the future is not what it used to be. The assumption that we can base our prosperity on digging up bitumen or coal or natural gas and have future generations live off the proceeds no longer holds.
Neither does the assumption that cheap energy can continue to fuel our inefficient vehicles or heat our leaky homes. While we are beginning to address some of these issues, much more will need to be done in coming years.
Studies in Canada have already sketched out some of the new energy systems that we need to adopt and how to do so. Municipalities are already starting to work on such things as improving energy efficiencies in buildings and introducing better public transit. But more, much more needs to be done.
Two things in particular will help us move ahead on the path to a non-fossil fuel based economy, both to live up to our international responsibilities and to ensure the future prosperity of Canada.
First it would be enormously helpful to revive the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, a body that was shut down by the Harper government in 2012. Its researchers tackled various policy issues around the environmental impacts of economic development, and provided suggestion on how to find the best balance between, for instance, resource extraction and sustainability. They provided useful practical advice to government and industry about emerging technologies and how they could be used.
Crucially a revived NRTEE needs to become the NRTEEE, with the first “E” referring to energy. With the international consensus now in place requiring us to reduce, and then eliminate fossil fuels before the end of the century, such practical research and policy advice is urgently needed. The Paris agreement means that we need such an institution more than ever before.
Second, we ought to establish a think-tank to engage us all in a wide-ranging national discussion on how to make Canada a carbon neutral country by the middle of the century. This sort of “Canada 2050” project, looking ahead to the long-term future, is a much needed to complement the practical short-term focus of the NRTEEE.
In addition to technical changes to energy systems we need to think about new ways of financing innovation and new social arrangements so that municipalities, schools and hospitals as well as businesses can function in a new post-carbon economy.
We must tell ourselves, and the world, a new national story about Canada as a responsible prosperous country in the 21st century.
In 2017 Canada will celebrate 150 years since confederation. By the time Canada turns 200 in 2067, we will need to have left fossil fuels behind. The planet’s future climate stability depends on it. So what better way to celebrate our sesquicentennial than to set up the key new institutions to get us to the secure carbon neutral future our grandchildren are going to need?