May 11, 2009

Planet Before Politics


I signed the following open letter published in the Globe on the weekend. I cannot take any credit for organizing or writing the letter (hat tip to Ian Bruce of the David Suzuki Foundation). On the other hand, I can say that I have co-published with David Suzuki!

It’s time to put the planet before politics

May 9, 2009

In April, scientists reported that another piece of the Antarctic ice shelf, this one six times the size of Vancouver, collapsed. According to David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey, “There is little doubt that these changes are the result of atmospheric warming.”

We know that global warming is caused largely by a build-up of heat-trapping fossil-fuel emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere, but the emissions continue to increase. This past week, our nation received dubious international recognition for having the worst record among G8 countries when it comes to reducing global warming emissions. The costs of climate change are being felt worldwide and are mounting in terms of damage from extreme weather events.

In British Columbia, we are in the midst of an election that pundits predicted would be all about the economy. But climate change and the environment have dominated the debate. As is clear from news headlines, the issue has become incredibly polarized. We implore all parties to refrain from the divisive and polarized politics of the past and help us restore the planet to its natural function.

Scientists alone can’t solve global warming. We need political will and we need action from all citizens. For the sake of the environment and the economy, it’s time to come together on this issue with clear solutions.

Climate change affects us all and is one of the most pressing problems of our time. That’s why we, as leaders from diverse sectors of B.C. society, are joining to call on all B.C. political parties to adopt a fast-track climate action plan for British Columbia.

We believe B.C. already has a model that shows promise and that can set an example for the rest of the country. The latter point is crucial, as measures to combat climate change must be national in scope to be truly effective. But we must keep moving forward.

We pledge to all political parties that we are willing to work together to make B.C. a leader in climate change solutions — including new green jobs and investment — in a way that’s fair, cooperative and positive. Specifically, we’re calling on the next B.C. government, regardless of party stripe, to implement a number of key solutions.

We know we can build healthy communities through investing in green infrastructure. This investment can create thousands of new jobs today and improve our quality of life by reducing traffic, establishing more green spaces and parks, and creating more pedestrian-, bicycle- and transit-friendly communities.

Today, transportation accounts for 36 per cent of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most B.C. communities rely on cars for transportation. This leads to more congestion and air pollution and negatively affects our health.

We need a sustainable transportation network, including faster, more frequent and more efficient transit service across the province.

We’d like to see the B.C. government invest on average $650-million a year between now and 2020 in new provincial funding for public transit to improve service with more energy-efficient buses and rapid bus and rail lines across the province.

Give us a B.C. government that will provide B.C.’s cash-strapped municipalities with the money or tools to deal with their transit-funding shortfalls. For example, B.C.’s 21 Metro Vancouver municipalities need to address the existing funding gap of $150-million now and to ramp up quickly to $450-million per year by 2011.

B.C. should also provide funds to complement U.S. President Barack Obama’s $8-billion high-speed passenger rail plan, which includes a Pacific Northwest section joining B.C. to the U.S. The funds would be used to build the Canadian portion of the network.

B.C. should invest at least $100-million a year in bicycle infrastructure such as bike paths, bike lanes and traffic calming to improve cyclist safety, and increase funding for pedestrian infrastructure.

Give us a government that will offer zero-interest-rate loans to B.C. communities through the Municipal Finance Authority so that municipalities can invest in green infrastructure, such as community energy systems that will reduce emissions and improve the quality of life in our communities.

We want to see more new and affordable clean-energy solutions available to B.C. households, including energy-efficiency retrofits and innovative measures such as solar roofs and more fuel-efficient vehicles. At the same time, we want our businesses and industries to be competitive in the economy of the future by being more clean and energy-efficient. In B.C., industry accounts for about 35 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions.

We’d like to see an increase in funding for home and business energy-efficiency retrofits to $100-million yearly. This level of provincial funding, combined with an increased investment from the federal government, will green more than 400,000 homes in B.C. by 2020 — half of all B.C.’s homes.

Let us improve B.C.’s climate plan by using both the carbon tax and the cap-and-trade system to spur innovation and development of clean-energy solutions. The carbon tax and cap-and-trade system should cover all of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions and should be enhanced over time to enable B.C. to achieve or surpass its legislated emissions target.

We urge the government to increase the existing low-income carbon tax credit at the same rate as price increases on greenhouse gas emissions. We also believe a portion of carbon tax revenues should fund public transit, energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects.

B.C. should adopt world-leading energy-efficiency standards on an on-going basis for cars, light and heavy trucks, appliances and buildings.

B.C. can provide a model for an effective nation-wide climate change plan that can show the rest of the world we’re serious about this problem. This would be good for both our economy and our environment — and for our children.

As citizens of this planet, it is our responsibility to put the planet before politics and urge the next B.C. government and federal politicians to do the same.

* Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier
* Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff
* Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed
* North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto
* Prince George Mayor Dan Rogers
* Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd
* Dr. Warren Bell, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
* David Boyd, Co-chair of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team
* Ian Bruce, David Suzuki Foundation
* Naomi Devine, Common Energy co-founder, UVic.
* David Dranchuk, Coordinator for Societal Ministry, Diocese of New Westminster
* Guujaaw, President of the Haida Nation
* Mike Harcourt, former B.C. premier
* Marc Lee, Senior Economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
* David Suzuki
* Milton Wong, Chancellor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University and non-executive board chair, HSBC Investments (Canada) Ltd.

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