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Flattening the climate curve requires national plan, carbon budget says McGill professor

Last Updated Mar 25, 2021 at 5:56 pm EDT


Flattening the curve requires social cohesion, a like-minded understanding that climate change is here

While Canadians agree on many things, the cause and effect of climate change isn't one of them

In order to reach emissions targets the climate crisis can't be divisive

The phrase ‘flatten the curve’ may sound familiar to you. It’s been tossed around in media briefings from epidemiologists and politicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. But scientists have been using this phrase since at least the 1980’s and its origins didn’t start with a deadly virus.

‘Flatten the curve’ has been used to describe how a shift away from fossil fuels could have put the world in a better position than it is in 2021, facing a climate crisis with a limited amount of time to make massive overhauls.

But flattening the curve requires social cohesion, a like-minded understanding that climate change is here, irreversible, and the global community needs to work together to get back on track to avoid the worst. (A note here: the term ‘social cohesion’ was first heard from Dr. Miriam Diamond, a University of Toronto professor, in a pre-interview for the Citvtv documentary ‘The Fight for Tomorrow.’)

While Canadians agree on many things, the cause and effect of climate change isn’t one of them, despite the science.

“The understanding of climate change is not the same across the country,” said Catherine Potvin, a biology professor at Montreal’s McGill University, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in climate mitigation and tropical forests.

“[In] central provinces, people are much more confused about the roles of humans in climate change. People in Quebec are very clear about that.”

Part of the issue is the way climate change has been spoken about – and debated – by lawmakers.

“I think one of the problem[s] with Canada is the fact that we don’t have a country vision that resists changes in political parties. In the UK, for example, climate change has become a non political issue,” said Potvin.

The UK has used a carbon budget since 2008, which operates like a financial budget, putting a ‘spending’ cap on total greenhouse gas emissions which should not be exceeded.

“If you want to reduce your emissions, then next year you add up a reduced carbon budget. So you will emit less and you will see where the cuts are made,” said Potvin.

“It is like a planned diet of carbon dioxide that allows you to program how your country will advance in its reduction. We don’t have such a rational approach now. And I think it’s hurting progress.”

Canada is one of the worst emitters on the planet – yearly, it jockeys with the United States and Australia as the top worst emitter in the world, a prize no country should want.

Potvin suggests a simple solution: in order to reach emissions targets the climate crisis can’t be divisive.

“That is the desire for Canada, that we have a state policy that transcends political parties and allows us to advance in reducing this very high footprint that each and every one of us, as Canadians have.”

With data and facts on their side, Potvin says it’s now the role of climate scientists to spell out what needs to change in Canada, to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.

“In Canada, the oil industry is almost half of the emissions of the country. So we will never be able to reach targets unless there is a difficult but necessary conversation on how to phase out that industry,” she said.

“It’s not about closing tomorrow, there’s too many jobs at stake. It is about how to support this industry and all the workers that depend on this industry to move to other sectors. If we don’t do that, the industry, I believe, will collapse.”

The year 2020 marked five years since Canada signed the Paris Agreement, committing to reduce emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

“People can change a lot in 10 years, society can evolve rapidly in 10 years. So, it’s not all doom and gloom, but the time is getting short,” said Potvin.

Catherine Potvin is featured in a new Citytv VeraCity documentary, The Fight For Tomorrow. The film explores the impact of the climate crisis on Canada’s largest cities and how eight Canadians are trying to change the course of our future. Produced and written by Megan Robinson, The Fight For Tomorrow premieres Tuesday, March 30 at 10pm/9pm CT on Citytv and Citytv.com. Join us for a live discussion about the documentary on Facebook, March 31 at 12pm EST.