By the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)
The National Forum on Climate Change, was convened by the NRTEE in 1998 to raise public awareness of the climate change issue and to bring a citizens' viewpoint to the debate. Forum members, comprising 25 Order of Canada recipients, came together to form a citizens' panel that was tasked with developing an objective and unbiased assessment of the climate change challenge facing Canadians.
Over the course of three sessions, Forum members heard a range of viewpoints about the current and potential impact of climate change on Canada's economy and society. Speakers from industry, policy organizations, government, and non-governmental organizations presented diverse perspectives on the gravity of the climate change issue, and on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Canadians.
During the Forum's third session, held in April 1998, Forum members began the work of drafting a consensus statement on climate change. The resulting Declaration sets out members' understanding of climate change, and its potential impact on the environment and economy, and on the health of Canadians.
Endorsed by Prime Minister Jean Chrtien, the Forum was, in part, a response to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, at which Canada and other developed countries set targets for reducing their levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
About the National Forum
The National Forum on Climate Change was sponsored by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy to raise public awareness of the climate change issue and to bring a citizens' viewpoint to the debate. The Forum met in February, March and April 1998.
Most of us came to this process knowing little or nothing about climate change, beyond what we had learned from newspapers, radio or television. Our only obvious link to each other was that we had each received the Order of Canada (or, in one case, an equivalent honour). We came to the Forum from all parts of Canada.
Some of us suspected from the outset that climate change was a serious problem, while others were more sceptical. We all came with an open mind, a willingness to test the conventional wisdom, and a solid commitment to arriving at a responsible opinion on climate change. When we first met in February 1998, we all agreed that we had not come to the Forum to rubber stamp a predetermined policy. We believe this is the same attitude our fellow citizens would have brought to the issue.
The National Forum on Climate Change was a unique process, and we were all pleased and honoured to take part. Never before had Order of Canada recipients been called together to address a national policy issue in this way. We believe this Declaration captures the conclusions that other Canadians would have reached, if they had had the same opportunity to review the evidence. It is our hope that the Declaration will mark the beginning, not the end, of public discussion on this urgent issue.
We, the members of the National Forum on Climate Change, believe that climate change will touch the life of every Canadian. Decisions taken today on this complex and controversial issue will have implications for our communities, our children, and future generations. Climate change, caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases, could lead to dramatic changes in sea levels, storm patterns, and average temperatures. Every Canadian has a role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The time for action is now.
On the balance of evidence, and in the face of uncertainty, we have concluded that there are two compelling reasons to take immediate action on climate change:
What Is Climate Change?
Climate change science suggests that average temperatures around the world will fluctuate as a result of an increase in the greenhouse effect. This natural process has always been with us, trapping a portion of the sun's energy in the atmosphere. If not for the greenhouse effect, today's average temperatures would be lower by about 30C, and the earth would be uninhabitable. The greenhouse effect is caused by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, and by water vapour in the atmosphere, which act much like the glass that holds the heat inside a greenhouse.
The rate of climate change has recently accelerated, and many scientists believe that human activity is the cause. Human activity only accounts for 4% of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but this total has been sufficient to raise the earth's average temperature by 0.3-0.6C over the past century. Most of the increase has occurred in the past 40 years, and greenhouse gas concentrations are expected to double by the year 2100 unless there is a drastic change in world consumption patterns. The majority of scientists believe this doubling will lead to an increase in average temperatures of 1.5-4.5C. Average temperature changes of this magnitude have been associated with major climatic changes such as the last Ice Age.
Since the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by about 30%, largely because of the use of coal, oil, and natural gas the fossil fuels. Clearcutting of forests has also had an impact, since trees and other vegetation absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere.
Climate change due to greenhouse gases should not be confused with the depletion of the ozone layer, acid rain, or smog problems in cities across Canada and around the world.
The Potential Impact
In some parts of Canada, climate change could bring local benefits, such as a longer growing season. However, most of the impacts are expected to be negative:
Action Has Its Costs...and Benefits
There is a great deal of debate about the costs and benefits of taking action on climate change.
Coping with Uncertainty
There is considerable scientific agreement on the subject of climate change. Still, Canadians need to know that there are experts who disagree on the potential environmental implications of climate change, while economists disagree on the costs of addressing the problem. Forum members were concerned about limitations in the computer models that predict the seriousness of climate change and the cost of climate change action. Many of these questions may be answered over the next seven to 10 years, but we believe there are solid reasons to address the climate change challenge now, despite scientific and economic uncertainty:
Although the Kyoto targets are ambitious, they may by themselves have little impact on the drastic problem predicted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists. If the IPCC predictions are true, the Kyoto agreement is a crucial first effort to move the global economy in the right direction, encourage commitments on the part of developing countries, and capture the attention of every citizen on the planet. Many immediate steps can and should be taken to respond to our Kyoto commitment. However, action to fully meet the terms of the agreement should be taken after thorough economic cost analysis and should be coupled with policies that address any negative impacts on Canadian communities.
Canada's response to climate change will require urgent action on the part of governments and industry. At the same time, we must each make a personal commitment to our communities, our children, and future generations.
Action on climate change is beginning now. Members of the National Forum on Climate Change intend to remain informed and active on this vitally important issue. We hope every Canadian will join us.
Monique Aubry Frize
H. Peter Oberlander
Marion Ironquil Meadmore
Ruth Marion Bell