Scientists, youth urge Harper to work on climate change

But government may link up with U.S. on environmental cleanup


Prime Minister Stephen Harper is under pressure to say how Canada plans to tackle climate change.

That’s because his government has already started slashing the Liberals’ climate change programs — and many worry how these will be replaced.

“Deal with climate change” was the message, which a group of 90 climate scientists delivered to Harper last week in a letter, urging him to provide “national leadership” in addressing climate change.

“We urge you and your government to develop an effective national strategy to deal with the many important aspects of climate that will affect both Canada and the rest of the world in the near future,” says the letter, dated April 18.

Youth groups also warned Harper that Canada’s future is at stake. The Sierra Youth Coalition and the Youth Environmental Network issued a joint statement, saying young Canadians want to see cuts to greenhouse gases, not to climate change funding.

By late last week, Harper was sending out signals that he does indeed have a new climate change strategy up his sleeve.

And it looks as if Harper is mulling over a climate change strategy, which is similar to that promoted by Conservatives in the UK. They’re calling for a formula that would rely on business to clean up the environment. This strategy would use the tax system and market mechanisms to encourage investment in clean energy technology.

This market-based approach to fighting climate change also appeals to the U.S. government, which has rejected the emission reduction targets set in the Kyoto Protocol.

“We do have a ‘made in Canada’ plan to resolve the problem of pollution and also greenhouse gases,” Harper told reporters in Montreal.

“But in order to resolve these issues, in this continent and within our economy, we have to have the participation of the United States. Otherwise, really, there won’t be much impact from our efforts… I think you have to try and achieve success at the international level, at the continental level and also at the national level. And our government is looking at all the options.”

Mounting concern over Canada’s new direction on climate change follows a recent announcement by the federal government that it is cutting 15 climate change programs, including the much publicized “One-Tonne Challenge,” which asked Canadians to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by one tonne.

The Conservatives have said they plan to cut 80 per cent of Environment Canada programs aimed at curbing global warming, and reduce climate change budgets in other government departments by 40 per cent.

Among the other possible cuts are the $260-million the Liberals pledged to the United Nations to fund its international climate change programs and federal funding for wind power projects.

Canada’s official support for the Kyoto Protocol and its targeted cuts on greenhouse gas emissions is also softening. Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has said it’s impossible to meet Canada’s Kyoto targets — that is, cutting greenhouse gas emissions six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012 — and that Canada must set more realistic goals.

“We can’t dismember Kyoto. A lot of thought and care went into that and it gave us a lot of flexibility to design our own program. It’s one thing to say we can improve on it, but another to have to come up with something substantive and strategic,” said Dr. John England, a long-time Arctic researcher from the University of Alberta, who signed the recent letter to Harper.

“I think the letter is very important, and it’s especially important to northerners because they’re carrying the brunt of this fundamental change that is going on. Hopefully, the new administration listens carefully to this request for thoughtful consideration.”

The 90 concerned scientists say they’re willing to help Harper on climate change policy in any way.

Meanwhile, youth groups are calling on youth to send Harper, Ambrose and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty faxes of identification documents such as birth certificates, passports or driver’s licenses, along with the statement: “I was made in Canada, I live in Canada, invest in me. Invest in climate change solutions. Keep Kyoto!”

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