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Trudeau's Government Believes In Climate Change, Wants to Do Something About It

The Canadian government said a lot of nice things today, but will it actually do anything?
Image: Flickr/Alex Guibord

Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the country's premiers and territorial leaders on Monday to talk about climate change, and the result was pleasantly surprising. After years of the Harper administration muzzling its climate scientists, cutting environmental research funding, and rarely discussing the issue publicly, everyone apparently agrees that climate change is real (whoa) and we're not doing enough about it (double whoa).

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The meeting was called to plan for the upcoming climate talks in Paris, to be held at the end of November. In a public briefing held Monday afternoon to discuss the government's plans, new minister of science Kirstie Duncan kicked of the public event with a statement of purpose, saying that "climate change is one of the most serious threats we face. It is real, it is happening, and it is an issue of today and not of tomorrow."

What followed was a schooling for any climate change doubters in the room—I mean, really basic Enviro 101-type stuff, from two of the country's top climate change scientists (greenhouse gases like carbon monoxide trap heat inside the Earth's atmosphere, in case you didn't know). But mixed in with the "scientifically unequivocal" facts, as former Environment Canada climatologist Alain Bourque put it, were some hard messages.

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For example, Canada's rate of warming is about twice the global average, and in some parts of the Arctic, that number jumps to three times the average. The effects of climate change will persist "for centuries," Bourque said, because greenhouse gases last for a long time, even if we do something right now. The effects of climate change are already being felt, Bourque added. For example, polar bears are becoming leaner and hungrier as the melting sea ice diminishes their access to food. Moreover, Canada's current climate commitments aren't enough to change the tide. The Conservative government's plan to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 is "most consistent with warming of about three or three and a half degrees," said Gregory Flato, a research scientist at Environment Canada, while we need a more aggressive plan that keeps us under two. So, what does the government plan to do about its newfound commitment to climate change? The briefing didn't give much indication, but after the talks in Paris, which will seek to establish new global climate change targets, minister of the environment and climate change Catherine McKenna said the government is committed to forming a "pan-Canadian framework" for implementing the measures needed to achieving the new targets.

In sum, some government officials said some very, very nice words about climate change today. That's great! Now, let's see if they put them into action.