A coalition of more than 125 groups from across Ontario have launched the ‘Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign,’ and is calling on candidates in the upcoming provincial election to treat climate change as an emergency.
In a press release, the non-partisan coalition, which represents more than 475,000 people, said the latest International Panel on Climate Change report is “unequivocal.”
“We are in a climate emergency, on track towards and unlivable world of more than double the 1.5C limit agreed to in Paris in 2016, with catastrophic results for both humans and the planed,” the release reads.
The coalition, made up of environmental groups, health groups, faith communities, businesses and others, are now calling on the provincial election candidates to commit to a “climate action plan” which includes “setting binding climate targets consistent with global efforts to limit planetary warming to 1.5 C, investing in a thriving, regenerative, zero emissions economy; and prioritizing and respecting Indigenous sovereignty and autonomy.”
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Lana Goldberg, Ontario climate program manager at environmental defence, said Ontario is “not on track to meet its weak target of cutting emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.”
“Even if it was, this would still not be enough for Ontario to do its fair share to limit planetary warming to 1.5 C, which would require a 60 per cent reduction by 2030,” she said.
Goldberg said a government could meet this target if it was “serious about climate change, and took the required measures.”
Goldberg listed a number of measures the province must take, including phasing-out gas fired electricity and investing in renewable energy.
According to Goldberg, the province must also bring back efficiency programs to adopt a net zero building code, incentivize retrofits and phase out gas heating systems.
“It must ensure that high high emitting industries pay their pollution pay for their pollution, while encouraging them to decrease emissions by strengthening the emissions performance standards,” she said. “It has to cancel plans to build new mega highways — like Highway 413 — which would put more cars on the road, increase emissions and promote car dependent sprawl.”
Goldberg said instead, the government “must invest” in affordable and accessible zero emissions public transit and build walkable and cycle-friendly communities.
“For those who want to own cars, the province needs to bring back incentives to purchase electric vehicles and implement a zero emissions vehicle mandate,” she said.
Goldberg said the province must also protect natural carbon sinks, restore natural ecosystem functions and preserve biodiversity, adding that a “good first step” would be to restore the “full mandate and independence” of conservation authorities.
“All of these measures are entirely possible if we have a government that is committed to climate action,” she said.
Dr. Samantha Green, a family physician and board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, noted that the World Health Organization has called climate change the “biggest health threat of this century.”
Green noted deaths caused by the heat dome in British Columbia, droughts in the prairies that have pushed food prices higher and the devastating wildfires in western Canada and northern Ontario, that have led to “an increase in lung and heart disease, poor diabetes control and poor pregnancy outcomes.”
“Furthermore, climate change is a driver for future pandemics,” Green said. “Climate change will lead to habitat disruption, leading to new proximities between humans and disease vectors, likely leading to zoonotic spillover events.”
However, Green said there is “reason for hope.”
“The Lancet has called the climate crisis the biggest health opportunity of our time, and acting on climate change will lead to tremendous health benefits through reduced air pollution-related illness, increased active transportation and increase in access to green space in nature, and an increase in plant rich diets,” she explained.
“Air pollution is estimated to cause one in five deaths worldwide, and meeting the targets of the Paris climate agreement would be expected to save overwhelming 1 million lives a year from air pollution alone by 2050.”
She said as we “redesign our society and economy” to “tackle the climate emergency,” we will “all lead healthier lives.”
Deena Ladd, executive director of Workers Action Centre, said included in the action plan is a principle to invest two per cent of the province’s GDP to “advance the zero emissions decarbonize economy and create many thousands of decent, secure, sustainable jobs across multiple sectors.”
“The government of Ontario could focus on current low carbon jobs that are low-wage and precarious, and turn them into decent and secure jobs,” Ladd said. “We have to transform these current low carbon jobs into decent, healthy and well paying jobs. So we can actually move people from fossil fuel connected jobs into other sectors.”
Speaking in a pre-recorded video shared at the press conference, Dr. David Suzuki said we are in a “state of escalating global climate emergency.”
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has declared a code red for humanity, our window of time to act is rapidly closing,” he said.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation, said all of the solutions needed to “prevail” exist.
“Our governments just aren’t implementing them fast enough,” Cullis-Suzuki said. “Our only way to ensure a Livable Future is to urgent climate action, massively and collectively driven at every level of our societies and governments.”