More than a dozen subnational jurisdictions from across the Western Hemisphere gathered at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel on Wednesday for the first day of The Climate Summit of the Americas.
Delegates were on hand to build momentum and “light a fire” under less enthusiastic national leaders, leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December.
California Governor Jerry Brown whose province has joined Quebec in a cap-and-trade system told the Harper government to “get with it.”
“What we are dealing with is not just some market transaction; we’re dealing with the future of humanity, how human beings live and treat one another and other living things,” he said during a press conference with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
In the next three years, Ontario is also expected to join the cap-and-trade system to help create the reality of a fossil-free environment.
Overwhelming scientific evidence points to fossil fuels as the main instigator of climate change. The international community has set ambitious targets of diminishing global warming by 2 degrees; however, the International Energy Agency now warns that the world is heading somewhere between a 3.6 to 5.3 degrees of warming.
Looming among this evidence are questions, such as will our existing and yet-to-happen efforts counteract the environmental damage already done? Couillard suggested it’s only the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow; it’s a decade-long process and it’s not going to happen because we’ll eventually run out of oil. It’s going to happen because people have innovated and invented new technologies that will take us elsewhere,” he said. “The Stone Age didn’t end because of a lack of stones.”
Wynne added that if we don’t deal with issues it will be more difficult for people to insure businesses and homes due to the impact of climate change, a fact that is already being realized.
“The practical costs of inaction are horrendous compared to the costs of action,” she said.
Earlier in the morning, Wynne said the real fight to achieve zero reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 will come from subnational governments, municipalities and non-profits.
Meanwhile, Ontario has yet to meet its 2020 target of a 19 megatonne reduction in GHG’s. Wynne acknowledged the long road ahead, pointing to building and transportation sectors, along with, carbon pricing, as a means to attaining this goal.
“On our own, none of us can fight climate change; it’s just not possible. It doesn’t mean we are powerless,” she said to a crowd of delegates. “It’s that sense of urgency we want to build upon in conversations to reach meaningful green house gas reductions globally.”
Indigenous leaders who often feel ostracized from this conversation were in attendance. Ontario Minister of Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray, welcomed a few throughout the day.
“For the First Nations, the climate change crisis is as much a spiritual and cultural crisis as it is a climate crisis,” said Murray. “One of the things we have to learn in addition to this knowledge is to take each other and the earth as sacred again, to bring sacred back into the fundamental discussions.”
Assembly of First Nations Designate Kim Scott, who took the stage in the afternoon, vowed that the indigenous community will be a stronger voice in climate crisis management.
“Respect is growing for the indigenous world view that we are of the land; we belong to it and we are connected to all life in profound and intimate ways,” she said. “The sustainable use of energy from the sun, water, wind and earth will provide for us in ways that will guarantee an even distribution of health and wealth and also a reflection of traditional indigenous values.”
Scott highlighted net-zero buildings as a reflection of indigenous teachings—the idea of taking only what you need and giving in return.
“We live in an abundant world where universal access to energy is more real than ever before,” she said. “Every minute energy falls from the sun to power everything everywhere for an entire year, solar PV prices have dropped 83 per cent in the past five years and are expected to continue dropping.”
National renewable energy policies increase across the globe and clean energy markets are being created to channel this economic evolution.
“The economic transition is underway; unstoppable,” said Scott. “The decade of sustainable energy for all has arrived.”
On Thursday, July 9, during the second day of the Summit, Ontario and 22 other states and regions signed the first-ever Pan-American action statement on climate change, acknowledging the need to work together to continue reducing emissions.
Photo by Salvatore Sacco, Canadian Press.
Pictured from left to right: Quebec Premiere Philippe Couillard, Ontario Premiere Kathleen Wynne and Governor of Vermont Peter Shumlin sign first Pan-American action statement on climate change.