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Vignette: the Climate Change Challenge
Over the past decade, changes in climate and the accelerated pace of the earth’s warming have moved the issue of climate change to the top of the global agenda. Addressing climate change is one of the greatest environmental, social and economic challenges ever undertaken by Canada. NRCan plays a key role in developing and implementing Canada’s response by virtue of its mandate for the sustainable development of many of Canada’s natural resources.
The challenges of climate change illustrate the complexities of sustainable development. The build up of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere – mainly a result of the production and combustion of fossil fuels – could contribute to climate change by increasing the Earth’s mean temperature, which many models predict could include an increase in the Earth’s temperature, altered precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and more frequent extreme weather events (tornadoes, hurricanes). At the same time, these fossil fuels have been a part of the high standard of living and contemporary lifestyles of Canadian consumers, as well as the effective functioning, development and competitiveness of the Canadian economy.
Climate change is a crucial sustainable development issue with implications for the environment, the economy and society. Of necessity, our climate change responses will affect how we produce and consume energy, and utilize forests, peatlands, lakes and agricultural soils as carbon sinks to biologically sequester GHG emissions, as well as the capture and storage of anthropogenic CO2 in geological formations.
The Minister of Natural Resources has the lead for the domestic implementation of federal policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. NRCan is well-positioned to contribute to the climate change file, given its expertise in energy, forestry, mining, earth sciences and remote sensing. Working collaboratively with other federal departments, NRCan advances action on climate change in the areas of science, impacts and adaptation, new technologies, energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative transportation fuels, nuclear energy, forestry, observing and assessment systems, economic and energy use analysis and modeling, and policy development.
NRCan also plays an important international role in climate change negotiations including: policy development for climate change mitigation and adaptation; engaging developing countries through capacity building and market opportunities for technology development and transfer; leading or participating in global science committees; participating in the development of global observation, as well as assessment capabilities and programs.
What this indicator shows
In 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 6% below 1990 levels in the period 2008-2010. The Protocol sets out reduction targets for GHG emissions targets averaging 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2008-2012 for industrialized countries. This chart shows Canada’s emissions for the 1980-1999, with “business-as-usual” projections to 2010.
For Canada, emissions continue to grow, but at a reduced rate. This indicates that progress has been made, but that much more needs to be done.
Moreover, Canada only produces about 2% of global GHG emissions,. Our total annual emissions are equivalent to the two-year growth in China’s emissions alone (China is not a signatory). This underscores the need to involve the less-developed countries in finding mechanisms to limit GHG emissions while at the same time allowing them to develop their economies.
Implications for sustainable development
All countries produce GHG emissions to a greater or lesser degree, and those emissions do not respect national borders. It is therefore important that all nations accept the need to address climate change, and to develop mechanisms that lead to sustainable development while minimizing GHG emissions.
Responding to climate change from a sustainable development perspective necessitates strategies that are both mitigative and adaptive to protect and enhance the natural environment and the socio-economic well-being of Canadians. A risk management approach that is phased – in response to clarification of international agreement developments and domestic capabilities – and which addresses growth and development, competitiveness and regional issues is essential. In addition to helping to improve the sustainable development practices of resource-based industries, these responses produce ancillary benefits including cleaner air and improved human health.
Our Priorities for SDS – Now and for the Future
Improve Scientific and Analytical Understanding
NRCan’s analytical work on carbon budget modeling, GHG emissions projections, modeling and analysis of the economic impacts of mitigative response measures, and the need/potential for adaptation to climate change will contribute to the body of knowledge upon which policy decisions are made. Expanded scientific research will focus on increased satellite-based mapping and innovative on-line service, and forest information systems to enhance the sustainable development of forests.
Strengthen Mitigative and Adaptive Responses
As its contribution to the Government of Canada Action Plan 2000 on Climate Change, NRCan will build on and expand mitigative initiatives including CO2 capture and storage, fuel cell vehicle infrastructure, vehicle fuel efficiency and emerging renewable energy. NRCan leads the national impacts and adaptation program. It is developing a Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN) with the provinces and other parties to determine pragmatic adaptive responses.
Undertake R&D to Develop New Technologies
The Department supports the development and marketing of renewable and alternative energy technologies, as well as hydrocarbon technologies to reduce emissions and enhance efficiency, mainly through the Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative, the Program for Energy Research and Development and Technology Early Action Measures. Innovations developed during this SDS will be financed under the federal Sustainable Development Technology Fund, Action Plan 2000, and the First National Climate Change Business Plan.
Increase Public Awareness and Understanding
NRCan has a number of programs that provide information and advice to affect consumer behaviour in the consumption of energy and, thereby, help reduce GHG emissions. NRCan will work with Environment Canada and the provinces to establish regional information “hubs” to inform stakeholders about climate change and mitigative options.
Enhance National and International Coordination
NRCan plays an important role in the federal-provincial co-management Baseline Protection Initiative (a means to encourage private sector GHG reduction initiatives), as well as the ongoing development and elaboration of the First National Climate Change Business Plan. NRCan will continue to collaborate with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Environment Canada in ongoing Kyoto Protocol negotiations to protect global and Canadian interests.