This year, as every year since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sets its Doomsday Clock to indicate how close humanity is moving to destroying itself. This year, the scientists, in consultation with 17 Nobel laureates, have set the clock at three minutes to midnight, in part to reflect the threat of “unchecked climate change.”
The threat of climate change to a just and sustain-able future is real, and people in Saskatchewan have a special responsibility—and special opportunities—to do their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
CLIMATE CHANGE CHALLENGES
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere (including carbon dioxide or C02) are higher today than they have been in the past 800,000 years, and that human activities have been the primary cause of warming since the mid-20th century.
A global rise in average temperatures of two degrees celsius must be avoided if catastrophic consequences for human, animal and plant life are not to follow.
Some signs of significant harm from climate change are already apparent:
- Worldwide, the 12-month period January to December 2014 has gone on to be the warmest year in the 135 years since humans have been keeping accurate records of temperature.
- 2013 was the hottest year on record in Australia. California has experienced severe droughts and an extended wildfire season.
- Globally, crops are being affected, ice sheets are melting near the poles, global sea levels are rising, pests are spreading into new areas and some diseases such as malaria are affecting new populations.
- In Saskatchewan, which disproportionately contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions and therefore to climate change, threats include more extreme weather events, damage to valuable agricultural land, and harm to sensitive prairie species and ecosystems.
SASKATCHEWAN’S SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY
The IPCC has said that if greenhouse gas emissions are not addressed quickly, disadvantaged persons and communities around the world will suffer a disproportionate share of the risks. Climate change is an issue of global fairness and social justice.
Unfortunately, Saskatchewan governments have been too willing to pursue financial wealth and short-term economic development at the expense of local and global well-being.
Saskatchewan has set a goal of reducing emissions to 20% below our 2006 level of emissions by 2020. Yet, emissions continue to rise even as the provincial government cuts funding to the Ministry of Environment.
Saskatchewan’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are over 74 million tonnes, making us the highest per capita emitters in Canada. For each Saskatchewan person, approximately 67 tonnes of greenhouse gases are sent into the atmosphere each year.
According to a recent study issued by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Saskatchewan’s single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions is its oil and gas industry, including the venting and flaring of natural gas during oil and gas extraction.
Electricity generation and transport are Saskatchewan’s other two largest emission sources. Together they account for 42% of Saskatchewan’s annual greenhouse emissions.
Yet, despite Saskatchewan’s huge greenhouse gas emissions and the challenges they create for the local and global climate and environment, the provincial Ministry of Environment’s budget has decreased 12.5% since 2007, from $186 million in their first budget in 2008-09 to $162.7 million for 2015-16.
The ministry branch responsible for climate change has seen its budget drop from $16.7 million in 2010-11 to $2.6 million in the most recent budget, according to a report in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
SOLUTIONS AND ACTIONS
Saskatchewan has great potential for renewable and sustainable energy sources such as solar power, wind power and geothermal energy for heating.
We could phase out coal-fired electricity generation in 10 years, invest in better transit systems, improve building codes to make houses and offices more energy efficient and reduce subsidies to oil and gas development.
CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE
Later this year, there will be a major international climate change conference in Paris.
In advance of the conference, email Premier Brad Wall or your local Member of Parliament to say that you want Saskatchewan and Canada to do our part to reduce our reliance on an unsustainable and unjust plan for short-term economic development.
Premier Brad Wall: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Boughen: email@example.com
Tom Lukiwski: firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Scheer: email@example.com
Sources: Star Phoenix, Leader-Post, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, International Panel on Climate Change