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Canadians want more action on climate change, but are worried about ‘economic hardship’

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It was another year of dramatic climate change in Canada’s Arctic. Inuit activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier has spent her life witnessing the changes and explains what’s at stake for Canada and beyond.

A majority of Canadians say the country needs to be doing more to address the urgent threat of climate change, but many are skeptical Canada will be able to significantly reduce emissions over the next decade, a new Ipsos poll suggests.

The survey, conducted for Global News as part of yearend poll, found the 71 per cent of Canadians believe the country needs to take the lead globally on the fight against climate change and 76 believe the country needs to be doing more on the issue as a whole.

However, Canadians also appear to be feeling pessimistic in the climate fight, with 58 per cent of respondents believing the solutions will cause economic hardship and 50 per cent agreeing Canada won’t be able to significantly carbon reduce emissions.

WATCH: Here’s how climate change will impact the region where you live

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The poll, which interviewed 1,002 Canadians online from Dec. 3-5, also found that 64 per cent of respondents believed Canada should capitalize on the global need for fossil fuels. Unsurprisingly, respondents in Alberta were most likely to agree with this statement, at 79 per cent, while support was also strong in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, each at 73 per cent.

Forest fires, historic flooding, and melting Arctic ice are some of the immediate impacts of how changing climate is affecting different regions of Canada.

READ MORE: Two Canadian places that could be under water in 100 years — or sooner

Projected annual temperature change for Canada this century under a low emission scenario (RCP2.6) and a high emission scenario (RCP8.5).
Projected annual temperature change for Canada this century under a low emission scenario (RCP2.6) and a high emission scenario (RCP8.5). (Climate Change Canada)

And the recent warnings for the United Nations and the 2019 Canada’s Changing Climate Report paint an even more dire picture if government efforts are not dramatically increased to reduce emissions.

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Steve Easterbrook, director of the University of Toronto’s school of the environment, said that if Canada is going to take the climate crisis seriously, it means moving away from oil and gas production.

“That means a large number of jobs disappearing. So naturally, people are concerned,” Easterbrook said.

Throne Speech: Government calls climate change the ‘defining issue of our time’
Throne Speech: Government calls climate change the ‘defining issue of our time’

In November, the national economy posted its largest monthly job loss since the financial crisis, shedding more than 71,000 jobs. Alberta lost 18,000 of those jobs as the provincial unemployment rose to 7.2 per cent from 6.7 per cent.

The premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario have also been combative in the battle against the federal “carbon tax” often describing it as a “job killing” tax.

READ MORE: The point of no return? Recapping a year of dire climate change warnings

And if Canada is going to be successful in transitioning towards a greener economy, political leaders are going to have to do a better job of selling it, Easterbrook said.

“It will be difficult, no matter what, but people will have to see a clear vision as to what replaces those [oil and gas] industries,” he said, noting that millions of jobs could be created from retrofitting older buildings to have net-zero carbon emissions.

“Until people can see lots of good, made-in-Canada jobs associated with that, I don’t think people are going to be on board,” he said. “It’s much easier to be worried about your current job than to buy into a future job.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Canada is “on track” to meet its Paris Agreement target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. In his speech from the throne, Trudeau pledged to achieve “net-zero” emissions by 2050.

But several reports, including the most recent UN report, have Canada missing its targets by roughly 15 per cent, even under the best-case scenario.

What can we do?

Tourists up approach an iceberg in Bonavista Bay, N.L., on June 11, 2019. A report from an international scientific panel concludes that damage to Earth’s oceans and glaciers from climate change is outpacing the ability of governments to protect them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
Tourists up approach an iceberg in Bonavista Bay, N.L., on June 11, 2019. A report from an international scientific panel concludes that damage to Earth’s oceans and glaciers from climate change is outpacing the ability of governments to protect them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

Jackie Dawson, the Canada Research Chair in Environment, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, said until leaders are able to clearly show that a greener economy can be more prosperous, we will continue to “butt heads” regionally.

“We sometimes think we have to continue down this same economic path and we don’t,” Dawson said. “We have to link the environment to the economics.”

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“The youth are already on board. It’s the older generation in power that are less so.”

READ MORE: These issues will dominate federal politics in 2020

Dawson said tackling climate change won’t just come from government policies but from citizens making changes in their day-to-day lives to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to estimates from the World Resources Institute, Canada produces about 1.6 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gases. It may seem like small amount, but it places Canada as the ninth biggest emitter in the world.

UN warns countries are failing to cut carbon emissions
UN warns countries are failing to cut carbon emissions

And a separate report from Climate Transparency, a coalition of international climate organizations, found Canada is among the highest per-capita users of energy, with emissions from both the transportation sector and buildings four times the G20 average.

Dawson said there are some obvious choices like choosing public-transit, eating less meat, and using air travel less.

Even something as simple as continuing to engage in conversations around climate change and getting politically active at the municipal or local level can help, Easterbook said.

“People say, what does that achieve? Until we are more honest about our fears and discover that other people have those same fears, we just don’t realize how widespread the desire to do something about [climate change] is,” he said. “We have to be talking about it, with neighbours, with co-workers, with family, so we all realize we are in this together.”

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This poll was conducted between Dec. 3 and 5.. For this survey, in total a sample of n = 1,002 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed via the Ipsos I-Say Panel. Quotas and weighting were employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians been polled. 

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