What can be done now?
One of the biggest challenges in mitigating climate change is transportation. It is in this sector that every citizen can have the greatest impact. We must reconsider how we our moving ourselves across the landscape.
- Walking and cycling when possible is good for both the environment and our health.
- Prioritize public transport and actively demand improvements to your local networks.
- If you must use a car, consider car-sharing before buying.
- Make sure your next car is electric. The era of cars and gas-guzzling SUVs is over.
There are, however, limits to what everyone can do. We are limited by our choice of vehicles for sale—we need stricter standards. We need better public transport, especially in rural areas, and more efficient urban planning. We need affordable housing close to public transit. Governments thus have a role to play in helping us make sustainable choices. For example, we would like to see a medium-term (within 10 years) ban on the sale and advertisement of new gasoline vehicles, just as we have banned cigarette ads.
- Ask your provincial government to invest in public transit, instead of expanding its road system. Let's be imaginative and reinvent how we move.
- We are the ones who give courage to politicians. We must demand meaningful political responses.
- In provinces like PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and BC, we can take advantage of clean electricity to take action in our heating systems. The same is true for trade and industry. The more we use electricity as a source of energy, the better it will be for the climate.
- Consider eating locally. Local fruits and vegetables taste better. Buying local products encourages our rural economy and reduces our carbon footprint. During the winter, you can defrost dishes prepared in advance to savour the flavours of summer.
In our first report, Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars, we identified 10 key policy orientations that could allow Canada to transition rapidly to a low-carbon economy, and a number of actions that could be implemented immediately. Two actions stand out: (i) Those provinces that have a price on carbon must keep it and consider increasing it, while encouraging other provinces to do the same. The price of carbon is not very different from the tax on cigarettes—it is the polluter pays principle. (ii) Providing electrical connections between the provinces that produce hydroelectricity and those that do not would allow Canada to have 100% carbon-free electricity. Electrification could become the backbone of the transition to a low-carbon society in Canada, and we have a lot of know-how in this area.
At the same time, it is essential that the government help by supporting the highest standards of energy use and appropriate urban planning that will provide citizens with a better quality of life with minimal greenhouse gas emissions.
We propose that the "problem" of climate change should be seen as an "opportunity for change" that will improve the well-being of all. For us, sustainability requires a vision of the future that enhances social and environmental well-being. In this context, climate change policies should support a transition similar to the transition that occurred during industrialization.
It is therefore important that citizens dream and act on their future instead of fearing it. Climate change mitigation is an opportunity to collectively move Canada in the direction of this desired future.
Three points here.
First, doing nothing will be expensive. Several studies have shown that the cost of adapting to climate change will increase if no mitigation measures are adopted. This means that climate change mitigation could result in "zero net costs" if we act quickly. Being proactive is much less expensive than being reactive. We talk about it in our Re-Energizing Canada: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Future report.
Second, the transition to a low-carbon society can be used as a way to propel the Canadian economy into the future, to make it more competitive and sustainable. Of course, this means that some economic sectors will shrink while others expand. This is what Schumpeter called "creative destruction", the process of industrial change that is constantly revolutionizing the economic structure from the inside, destroying the old structure by constantly creating a new one. Overall, however, economic, environmental and social gains will outweigh the losses. The sectors that are likely to benefit most from the transition are those that are trying to adjust proactively—this will increase their competitiveness. Like businesses, governments that place these issues at the centre of their concerns are the most likely to succeed.
Finally, Canada is replacing much of the infrastructure we built in the 1960s and 1970s. Incorporating climate change mitigation strategies into these infrastructures will be much less costly than correcting errors in 10 or 15 years. An interesting example is the State of California, which ensures that its infrastructure (buildings, bridges) is prepared to withstand earthquakes. The State does not know when these natural disasters will occur, but is investing now; it is not waiting to act. One of the least costly mitigation strategies is to incorporate climate change mitigation into the design and repair of existing and new infrastructure. In this way, the cost of mitigation is incorporated into existing infrastructure budgets.