This month the International Panel on Climate Change issued its most stark message yet to policymakers and the global community. A path forward to avoid the worst impacts of climate change remains, but that path is getting narrower. We have all of the practices and technologies required; we know they are effective; and that they are more cost-effective than the current carbon-intensive, business-as-usual approaches to energy use across the planet. They are also achievable in time frames that will make a difference. But the race is on to avoid many irreversible consequences.
The Report was especially striking in its emphasis on issues of equity as we continue the fight against climate change. This strikes a chord with us at CELA as we advocate for solutions to climate issues affecting vulnerable communities. Extreme climate events are imposing food and water insecurity. Impacts from climate and weather extremes including heat are causing serious health impacts and deaths, and the impacts are unequally imposed on low-income households. In urban areas, states the report, adverse impacts are “concentrated amongst economically and socially marginalized urban residents.” For this reason, CELA and colleagues have been calling on the Ontario coroner to track deaths from heat events so that we can understand and take better prevention steps in Ontario.
The IPCC stated that proven mechanisms to reduce these inequitable impacts from climate extremes include ecosystem-based approaches such as urban greening and restoration of wetlands and forests; these have multiple co-benefits including reduction of flood risks and urban heat islands. CELA has been preparing fact sheets showing how local communities have the legal tools to take action to reduce heat and flood effects and to pursue solutions to heat islands.
In pointing the way forward on mitigation, the report calls out “solar energy, wind energy, electrification of urban systems, urban green infrastructure, energy efficiency, demand-side management, improved forest, and crop/grassland management, and reduced food waste and loss.” It notes these are already technically viable, increasingly cost-effective, and carry public support. These solutions are mirrored in the submissions to the federal government this year by the Green Budget Coalition; of which CELA is a member; with strong themes focussed on climate, biodiversity, and equity.
Because pricing solutions can be borne inequitably, the IPCC report notes that equity impacts of carbon pricing can be “addressed by using revenue to support low-income households, among other approaches.” CELA has advocated equity-focused solutions to offset these impacts for the past several years, as governments implement market and pricing approaches to the mitigation of carbon emissions in Canada.
One of the most emphatic and important statements contained in the report stresses the need to prioritize the role of equity. The report states, “Prioritising equity, climate justice, social justice, inclusion, and just transition processes can enable adaptation and ambitious mitigation actions and climate-resilient development. Adaptation outcomes are enhanced by increased support to regions and people with the highest vulnerability to climatic hazards. Integrating climate adaptation into social protection programs improves resilience.” CELA has long noted the inter-twined aspects of climate and environment, and social justice. Issues of environmental equity and justice, including climate justice, are top of mind in Canada this year as separate federal initiatives make their way through Parliament.
Taking heart from the support the report provides to the role of law and the importance of public participation, CELA will double down on our work advancing environmental equity and ensuring decision-makers understand the contexts that produce inequities. As the report states:
“Effective multilevel governance for mitigation, adaptation, risk management, and climate resilient development is enabled by inclusive decision processes that prioritise equity and justice in planning and implementation, allocation of appropriate resources, institutional review, and monitoring and evaluation. Vulnerabilities and climate risks are often reduced through carefully designed and implemented laws, policies, participatory processes, and interventions that address context specific inequities such as those based on gender, ethnicity, disability, age, location and income.”