Peace and Eco Briefs, November–December 2008

Peace and Environment News — Insider, November–December 2008
by Mike Buckthought

UK to Reduce GHG Emissions by 80%

The British government committed the UK to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by the year 2050. The new target replaces an earlier commitment to reduce emissions by 60 per cent by the middle of the century. Ed Miliband, Britain’s energy and climate change secretary, emphasized that the recent economic turmoil would not stop plans to deal with the climate crisis. He promised to amend Britain’s energy bill to allow home-owners to generate wind and solar power, and sell the electricity at a guaranteed price. The “feed-in tariffs” will encourage small-scale local generators of electricity to plug into the electrical grid. (The Guardian, October 16, 2008)

Ottawa River Pollution

Recent tests have found 10 toxic chemicals in the Ottawa River. One of the toxins is perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS), a chemical that causes problems such as birth defects and cancer. Another toxin is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical associated with non-stick coatings on Teflon cookware. It is also found in coatings on paper packaging used for fast food such as pizza and popcorn. Other chemicals found in the river include: bisphenol A, acetaminophen, carbamazepine, lincomycin, progesterone, diclofenac, lasaloid A and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The report comes at a time when many citizens are concerned about pollution. According to a recent survey, 49 per cent of Ottawa-Gatineau residents believe the Ottawa River is highly or quite polluted. (Ottawa Sun, October 20, 2008; CBC News, October 17, 2008)

Disappearing Sea Ice

Climate change has led to a dramatic warming in the Arctic, and the rapid melting of sea ice. On September 14, the Arctic sea ice cover reached its minimum extent for the year. It is the second-lowest area recorded, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Over the month of September, the sea ice had an average area of 4.67 million square kilometres. That is 34 per cent below the average for the years 1979 to 2000. According to preliminary data, 2008 represents the year with the lowest volume of Arctic sea ice on record. With the loss of sea ice, climate change accelerates. Open water absorbs more sunlight, leading to more warming — and as the ice disappears, polar bears lose their habitat. (National Snow and Ice Data Center, October 2, 2008

Canada’s Costly War in Afghanistan

Canada’s war in Afghanistan is costing a lot more than expected. According to a recent report, the war will cost up to $18.1 billion by 2011. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page explained that the war could cost significantly more than this most recent estimate. He said not all of the relevant government departments gave enough information. He criticized the lack of transparency: “When compared with international experience, Canada appears to lag behind the best practices of other jurisdictions in terms of the quality and frequency of war cost reporting to their respective legislatures.” The estimate is based on the assumption that 2,500 troops and support staff remain in Afghanistan. Costs could escalate, if the mission is expanded. (Canadian Press, October 9, 2008)

Exporting Cancer: Canada and Asbestos

The Canadian Medical Association Journal is criticizing the federal government for its interference with international efforts to control asbestos. United Nations-sponsored negotiations are set to start on October 27. During the talks in Rome, delegates will consider whether or not to list chrysotile asbestos as a dangerous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. Although Canadians do not use much asbestos any more, Canada exports a lot of the mineral to developing countries. The asbestos is mixed in with cement and other building materials, and causes deadly diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. According to the World Health Organization, the use of asbestos leads to 100,000 preventable deaths annually around the world. (Globe and Mail, October 20, 2008)

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and social justice issues.

Published in the Peace and Environment News Insider, Volume 23, Number 6, November–December 2008, page 2.

Day of Action to Stop Climate Chaos

Peace and Environment News, November–December 2008
by Mike Buckthought

On December 7, 2008, Canadians from coast to coast will take to the streets to urge governments to stop climate chaos. The national day of action is part of a global movement, with protests planned in many countries. Last December, thousands of Canadians joined the demonstrations, in solidarity with people marching in 80 countries around the world.

The climate crisis is the central challenge of our time. Unless we take immediate action, our planet faces a catastrophic decline in biodiversity. Climate change could lead to the loss of many of the Earth’s plant and animal species.

Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) talk about some of the consequences of dangerous climate change. If the global mean annual temperature increases by 2.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, an estimated 21–52 per cent of plant and animal species could become extinct.

Climate change will also have devastating economic and health impacts, if we do not take action now. Economic losses could total trillions of dollars, and people around the world could be threatened by extreme weather events, droughts and disease. A billion people in Asia could face water shortages. Hundreds of millions of people could be threatened by famine.

During the recent election campaign, there was a focus on recent economic difficulties, and we were warned about the economic consequences of putting a price on carbon. A carbon tax would lead to economic devastation, we were told — though countries such as Sweden have thrived, with carbon taxes in place.

Not everyone has been fooled by the election rhetoric. Climate change is acknowledged to be one of the most critical challenges facing our country. According to a recent poll conducted by Strategic Communications, 71 per cent of Canadians would like all political parties to put climate change at the top of the political agenda — even with a weakening economy.

The IPCC has talked about what is needed to find a way out of the climate crisis. In order to avoid the most dangerous climate change, developed countries need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 25–40 per cent from 1990 levels by the year 2020. By the year 2050, emissions must be reduced 80–95 per cent below 1990 levels.

By contrast, Canada plans to reduce emissions by 3 per cent from 1990 levels, by the year 2020.

During the upcoming climate talks in Poznan, Poland, will the Canadian government show leadership, or will it continue to be a laggard, obstructing international negotiations, as it did in Bali?

Join us on December 7, to call for action on climate change. Canada needs to show leadership by committing to targets for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, in line with the recommendations of the IPCC. Canadians must do our fair share to stop climate chaos now.

For information about protests planned during the December 7 Day of Action, contact the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition

Mike Buckthought is Sierra Club Canada’s National Climate Change Campaigner.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 23, Number 6, November–December 2008, page 8.