Americana 2015: Acting on Climate Change \ Photo courtesy of Catherine Potvin Americana 2015: Acting on Climate Change \ Photo courtesy of Catherine Potvin

On March 17 and 18, I had the opportunity to attend Americana 2015, the “largest environmental multi-sectoral trade show and conference in North America.” I got to wander the trade show floor and witness many wonderful new technologies and innovations that will contribute to a more sustainable world; nanotechnology and solar energy storage (showcased by Advanced Solar Storage), waste and water treatment (Pyro Green Innovations), electric cars and car-sharing (such as the car share company MOPeasy in France), environmental networking (Réseau Environnment, Renewable Energy Hamburg), and information services (ERIS, Ecolog), just to name a few.

Perhaps my most notable experience was sitting in on discussions about the “Acting on Climate Change” report released by Sustainable Canada Dialogues and published in A\J. There is no way that I can capture all the ideas and thoughts mentioned during the two hour panel, but there were several strong themes.    

1. We must act, and we must act now.

Unless the world changes the high-carbon course that it is on, humanity is going to face some dire consequences, some of which are already beginning to affect us (the record-breaking snowfalls on the East Coast this winter being a prime example). Panel members Helle Bank Jorgensen, David Cadman and several others spoke of the fact that the longer we put off action against climate change the higher the costs will be. Increasing food prices and insurance premiums, biodiversity losses, rising sea level and more extreme weather are just some of the results of global climate change. In Canada in particular, many of our natural resources (farms, forests, fisheries) on which our economy relies are at risk.             

2. We must act together.

Uniformly, every member of the panel spoke of the need to work together on the issue of climate change. Catherine Potvin nicely summed up much of the rhetoric, saying, “we need collaboration, not confrontation.” So often, in the debate about what should be done on climate change, we look for somewhere to point fingers. It was stressed, time and time again, that everyone needs to take action, in both the public and private sectors, and at every level of government – and many solutions were put forward.

Private sector

As showcased on the trade show floor, many businesses are in fact leading the way in sustainability initiatives. A talk by Cary Krosinsky on “the business case for sustainability and low carbon” was particularly enlightening. Krosinsky pointed out that often in the political arena, the environment and the economy seem to be at odds. But in fact, he said, having a good business very often means having a low-carbon one. Simply put: businesses that are energy and resource efficient save money. Furthermore, businesses that want to both manage their risks and maintain a good public image realize that working to limit climate change is imperative.

Everyone needs to take action, in both the public and private sectors, and at every level of government.

Federally, Provincially, Municipally

Cities were often cited as the drivers of change and centres of innovation when it comes to sustainability. And since more than 80 per cent of the Canadian population lives in cities, they will necessarily be areas where change can have a great effect. Comprehensive urban planning, promoting green infrastructure, and supporting active and public transit are all tactics that will play a key role in mitigating climate change.

Provinces also have a large role to play in Canada's fight against climate change. In part by providing funding, but also by planning for large transit schemes and pressuring the federal government to act as an example for both Canadians and the larger international community. Currently, the federal government is playing catch-up to Canadian provinces and cities when it comes to green initiatives, and the actions outlined in the “Acting on Climate Change” report are a way to return Canada to its position as a leader in environmental stewardship on the international stage.

Globally

Getting every country at the table to discuss global climate change is imperative. Nicolas Chapuis, the French ambassador to Canada, pointed out that no country in our hyper-globalized world operates independently. This necessitates international co-operation and networking. The Belgian and French pavilions showcased examples from their countries, including the Advancity science and business cluster that has been created in Paris in order to foster innovations in environmental technology and policy.

The Ambassador expressed high hopes for the climate talks in Paris in 2015, and stressed the importance of putting forward solutions that are equitable. In previous international climate change meetings, developing countries have often decried international climate policies (where strategies to reducing carbon emissions may affect their economic growth) as “new colonialism.” We need to promote shared responsibility, but remain flexible in our policy-making and recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For example, developing nations can’t be asked to curb their carbon emissions without technological and monetary support from developed countries.

3. There is hope, and lots of it.

Overall, there was a pervading feeling of hope at this conference. Every speaker was confident that change could happen – and, in fact, is already happening. Cap-and-trade schemes (in Quebec and California) and carbon taxation (in British Columbia) are already decreasing carbon emissions. Interestingly, neither strategy was promoted as the “right” one, as they both have their pros and cons. It was simply stressed that carbon pricing is a necessity and it was important to choose a strategy that was appropriate for wherever it was being applied.

Furthermore, many cities have already taken it upon themselves to become carbon-neutral, or are adopting “smart growth” policies. Public transit plans like Bus Rapid Transit in Curitiba, Brazil are up and running – and are environmentally, socially and economically successful.

Finally, I think the most important point was made by Mark Stoddart: any action on climate change needs to both educate and, critically, to engage the public. Everyone is – or will be – affected by climate change, but everyone can also take action, no matter how small, to lessen the impacts. It’s just a matter of getting everyone talking, thinking and doing something about it.

Sibeal McCourt is pursuing her Master's of Urban Planning at McGill, and is passionate about promoting urban agriculture. She is also an avid gardener, dancer and knitter.

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