We stand on guard for thee.

litbonanza.jpgCanadian environmental policy is an issue of human rights.

We pride ourselves as defenders of human life, dignity and equity and espouse these ideals internationally. Scratch the surface only slightly and we discover our hypocrisy. Through the inadequate protection of ecological systems that support humanity, we violate the rights of others.

Canadian policies have implications for current and future generations, domestically and globally. This is true in our forestry practices, in our management of water and air pollution, and is manifestly clear in our federal government’s policies on climate change.

Canada consistently ranks as one of the worst emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs). In 2004, among twenty-seven developed countries, the OECD ranked Canada as the third highest per capita producer of GHGs. Recent estimates by Stats Canada show we had the largest increase in emissions from 1990-2005 among G8 countries.

A 2007 UN IPCC report predicted that the poorest peoples (much lower GHG emitters) and nations of this world will suffer the most due to the effects of climate change. These effects are already showing.

The world’s poorest people are the most vulnerable. Having a lack of resources to adapt and a high dependence on primary resources for their livelihoods, they are left with few options in the face of more frequent and severe environmental disruptions. Climate change is projected to increase droughts, incidences of disease, displacement from rising seas, heatwaves, water stress, and crop failures, all within our lifetime.

Implementing good environmental policies is about equity and responsibility.

Taking the federal government’s climate change plans as an example, it is clear we are failing. We are knowingly and willingly devaluing human life by our very refusal to mitigate our impact on the climate.

Harper’s recent offer to president-elect Barack Obama for a North American climate change plan, and our ratification (and subsequent reneging) of the Kyoto Protocol are indicative of our awareness that climate change is a global problem.

In his book “Unnatural Law” David Boyd, the former executive director of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, shows that the regulation, enforcement and management of nearly all Canadian natural resources is woefully inadequate. According to the Pembina Institute, the proposed federal plan for GHGs is no different.

A resistance to hard caps on GHGs without the US, intensity targets that allow total emissions to rise, obstructionist practices at the 2007 UN Climate Conference, a goal to reduce emissions to three percent below 1990 levels by 2020 that is well below the target agreed to under the Kyoto protocol, and an overdependence on voluntary compliance are all signs of a lack of leadership and commitment to our responsibilities.

How can we explain this disconnect except to admit that the rights of the most impoverished simply do not factor into our environmental policies and public debate, and stands in obscurity next to the dollar.

Need more evidence? In 2002 we pledged a measly 0.7% of our national income to aid. We currently send less than half that amount. What clearer sign is there of our political disregard for the well-being and rights of the poor?

This is not for lack of caring on the part of Canadians.

A majority of Canadians voted for stronger environmental practices than those offered by the Conservatives in the past federal election, and an Environics poll in February found that the environment and pollution topped our list of concerns. An Angus Reid poll in 2007 found that 73% of Canadians did not want the federal government to pursue free trade agreements with countries with a bad record of human rights, and 70% believed we have a responsibility to help poor nations.

We have taken steps in the right direction before and we can again. In setting mandatory standards, the Energy Efficiency Act of 1992 has and will continue to improve the efficiency of a variety of products. Canadian leadership was also demonstrated in the establishment of the Montreal Protocol when ozone depletion threatened the world.

Climate change, like most ‘environmental’ issues, is not just an environmental problem. It is about the future we want for ourselves, for others and our children.

What can we do?

There is good news. Strong domestic environmental policies are beneficial for us and people abroad. In the defence of human rights and our own interests, we must demand action, strong regulation and enforcement in the protection of our environment.

We have a strong democratic tradition. Write to Harper and your MP; let them know that you believe Canada has a responsibility to keep the promises we’ve made internationally.

Tell them that you believe the protection of human rights and a healthy environment go hand in hand. Making this link will remove excuses for federal inaction.

Finally, we can support progressive policies such as the BC carbon tax. We must live sustainably in our own lives, and spread the word. These are our personal responsibilities.

John Donne put it best, “no man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

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Jordan Tam is a Masters student at the University of British Columbia's Resource Management and Environmental Studies program.