Responsibilities of Senators

Tony Dean is an unaffiliated senator from Ontario and a member of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (the Committee). He set out the responsibilities of Senators in these terms:

“The only thing asked of us by the PM [Trudeau] was that we should bring an independent perspective to our work and work hard on behalf of Canadians. . .. We are embracing this important responsibility. It has taken politics out of the equation and respects our constitutional responsibility . . . [for]. . .  studying issues of concern to Canadians.”

With this perspective, the Committee can be a forum to hear the views of average Canadians on climate, without these views being swamped by e.g. the preferences of the fossil fuel industry and the political instincts in some regions of our country.

As we have previously noted, there is a threshold issue that the Committee must tackle:  What should be Canada’s emission targets for the decades ahead?

The level of such  targets is within the mandate the Committee set for itself fifteen months ago:

“ . . . to examine and report on the effects of transitioning to a low carbon economy, as required to meet the Government of Canada’s announced targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions.”

The Paris Accord targets have been studied at length. The Committee is in a position to advise the Canadian public

  • whether Canada’s emission targets are an adequate contribution to keep global warming within the levels Canada agreed to at Paris in 2015;
  • alternatively whether Canada should urge further emission reductions by the countries to the Paris Agreement so that the world can avoid levels beyond what international scientific opinion regards as the maximum tolerable warming.

The Committee does not require further expert evidence on these questions.  Reputable environmental organizations – such as CAN-RAC – have already spoken clearly that the current reduction targets are not sufficient.  If members of the Committee require more information, they should read ‘UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017, a UK Government publication.

One of the key messages in this Risk Assessment bluntly states:

“ The Paris Agreement is a significant step forward. 195 nations including the UK will “pursue efforts” to prevent more than a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures. Current commitments to reduce emissions however, even if fully implemented, will lead to an estimated 2.7°C rise.”

The Senate should include this caution in any commentary it makes on the subject of climate change.  Its report should lead Canadians to recognize that the world is not in a position to do a balancing act between the environment and the economy.

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