University of Manitoba students are among hundreds of aspiring lawyers appealing to the Trudeau government to address climate change in this week’s throne speech and legislate radical carbon emissions targets.
Winnipeg-born Christie McLeod, a student at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, sent an open letter Tuesday calling on the federal government to adopt 2030 and 2050 emissions targets that comply with efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 C.
More than 450 students and faculty members from 18 law schools across the country — including 29 from the U of M's Robson Hall Faculty of Law — have signed it.
"The legal profession is well situated to make this call because as law students or faculty members, we’re studying or teaching about how legislation can justify government action," said McLeod, who is expected to graduate with both a law degree and a master's in environmental studies next year.
The letter calls on Ottawa to strengthen Canada’s 2030 target to reduce emissions by 55 per cent below 2005 levels and introduce and legislate a net-zero emissions target by 2050. It also asks the federal government to enact legally binding five-year reduction targets along the way.
"The alarms are ringing, yet Canada's sitting here with our inadequate target from the Harper era and we’re not even on track to meet that target," said McLeod, who doubles as the founder of Human Rights Hub Winnipeg. "If (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is) not going to recognize and commit to the level of action needed to protect our future, we have to do everything in our power to try and change that."
Under former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s leadership, Canada promised to tackle emissions for the first time at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Ever since, environmentalists have criticized the country for being an underachiever in its climate-change goals while contributing more than its fair share of emissions.
More recently, Canada agreed to do its part in reducing global emissions "well below 2 C" and attempt to limit a rise in global temperatures to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The Trudeau government pledged to reduce annual emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That goal was previously set by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
Meanwhile, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s 2019 report — which draws on data from 2017 — indicates Canada has seen a net emissions decrease of only two per cent since 2005.
McLeod told the Free Press Tuesday that Canada has to take responsibility for its emissions on behalf of its citizens’ futures and to comply with its promises on an international scale. That’s why she spearheaded the #CanadaCommit campaign.
Jenna Jeffrey, a first-year law student at Robson Hall who signed the letter, said lawyers bring to climate-change policy discussions their understanding of "the political dance," more so than scientists.
"When it’s actually written down and it’s not just something we talk about or an honour system, there is stronger enforceability and stronger accountability," Jeffrey said.
Sabrina Kim, press secretary for freshly minted Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, confirmed Tuesday the minister had received the letter.
"Young people are pushing their governments for accelerated action on climate change. We hear them, and all of the Canadians who sent a clear message this election that continued climate action is a priority," she wrote in a statement.
Kim cited the government's "more ambitious targets," including exceeding the 2030 Paris target and aiming to get to net-zero by 2050. She said the Liberals have committed to putting their net-zero target into law and legislating a series of five-year carbon budgets starting in 2025.
Wilkinson is expected to attend the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Madrid next week.
Tuesday's letter comes on the heels of last week’s publication of the UN 2019 emissions gap report, which projects the planet will warm by 3.2 C before the end of the century. The report states that the Earth's temperature increase can be limited to 1.5 C, but only if serious action is taken on a global scale and countries collectively reduce emissions by 7.6 per cent every year over the next decade.
The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also continues to release reports on the dire consequences expected if the planet warms by more than 1.5 C.
Humans and wildlife will face a future of frequent extreme weather events such as forest fires and floods and the spread of invasive species, pests and diseases if temperatures continue to rise, the IPCC has warned. Food shortages and water scarcity are expected to accompany rising temperatures.
The non-partisan panel of scientists has already declared that human-induced global warming is responsible for current rising water levels, more frequent storms and countless extinct species.
Tuesday's letter is the latest urging governments across the world to take climate scientists’ warnings of catastrophic climate change seriously.
Last month, Winnipeg scientists were among the 11,000 worldwide who signed a study in Oxford journal BioScience, declaring Earth is facing an imminent "climate emergency" and calling for radical changes that go further than negotiations and policy statements.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.