Category Archives: Climate Change

Climate Strike: Demanding Action Now!

Today, youth, hopefully accompanied by people of all ages, will take the street across Canada and the world to demand concrete and immediate action on climate change. The necessity of this strike comes from the timid response, to say the least, of world leaders to the climate change crisis, one of the biggest environmental and socio-economic problems our species has ever faced. As states maintain the status quo of unrestrained economic growth powered by fossil fuels, young people, who will have to live with the potentially disastrous effect of climate change, have little choice but to take the street in the hope of saving our future. The situation is aptly summarised by 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg during her speech at the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

Today, I gladly join the climate strike in Toronto to fight for a better future. The consequences of climate change are already being felt (acutely in some regions of the World, like the Arctic) and are predicted by the scientific community to reach catastrophic proportions if the raise in global temperature is not limited to 2oC, preferably 1.5oC. In my main field of research, marine environmental law, climate change is already causing havoc. Marine biodiversity—already under considerable stress from overexploitation, marine pollution and loss of habitats—will be particularly impacted by the effects of climate change. Warming waters can significantly disturb marine ecosystems by affecting spawning, distribution, and abundance of species. The recent and gruesome image of thousands dead chum salmon in Alaska is but one example. The absorption by the oceans of large quantity of CO2, the main culprit behind climate change, is resulting in ocean acidification. This acidification spells disaster for many species relying on calcium carbonate structures (e.g. shells) for survival as such structures will weaken and eventually dissolve. There is also evidence that acidification may decrease species’ reproductive capacity, slow their growth and increase their susceptibility to disease. These are but examples, as there is more.

While the Paris Agreement and its parent convention, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, provide for a global framework to mitigate climate change, its effectiveness depends on states’ ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. So far, the targets are lacklustre, and the action to meet them are even more disappointing. In the marine context, the situation is worse as the current international legal framework is simply not adapted to respond to climate change. It is already struggling at reaching its current environmental objectives without factoring in climate change. It is thus crucial that states approach climate change in an integrated manner; i.e. equitably tackle all the consequences of climate changes, socio-economic and environmental, in addition to dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A start would be to address the root of the problem, which is to say humanity’s callous use of natural resources and other living beings pushed by western and now dominant ideas of nature. This difficult but important restructuring of most societies’ way of thinking is not only necessary to ensure our survival, but it also provides an opportunity to renew for the better our relationship with the rest of the natural world, including marine life.

This global climate strike is a momentous opportunity and we must seize it. It is time to make our voice heard. It is time to demand change. We will not sit idly by as world leaders ignore the most pressing issue of our time. We must use this opportunity to initiate the changes that are needed to ensure the integrity of our planet, to take matters in our own hand for a more just and sustainable future. In the words Greta Thunberg: “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Canadians in Paris – Some Thoughts on the Paris Agreement

When the COP 21 (the 21st session of the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC) started this fall in Paris, I had little hope we would accomplish anything. In all honesty I spent more time thinking about what would happen if the world couldn’t agree on something concrete in Paris. However, the international community realised it was no longer possible to postpone or ignore the issue. We needed to act now, and to my great relief we did through the last minute adoption of the Paris Agreement and the accompanying COP 21 Decision.[1] It is of course not the best agreement, and on its own it is clearly not enough to stop catastrophic climate change. But it is a first step that binds the international community, and a much needed signal that we need to take climate change seriously. In this post I will first briefly summarize what the Paris Agreement entails. I will then offer some thoughts on what the Agreement means for Canada.

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Turtle v Wind: When Environmental Concerns Collide

Environmental litigation often brings in the popular imagination a battle between some big polluting corporations and marginalised people abandoned by the state (the movie Erin Brockovich comes to mind). Those cases do exist, but the majority of environmental law is operationalized by government agencies balancing competing interests, usually economic development with environmental protection. This often results in a compromise: allowing a polluting activity, but with some mitigation measure to limit the environmental effects. But what happens when the two competing interests in front of the executive are environmental protection? This is what the Environmental Review Tribunal of Ontario (ERT) had to deal with in the case Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County v Director, Ministry of the Environment, ultimately largely upheld by the Court of Appeal.[1] This case presents the interesting issue of balancing the need for renewable energy and the impacts such a project can have on the environment, such as the endangered Blanding’s turtle.

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The International Rule of Law Part Deux: Good Faith, Kyoto and Canada

It has been a while since I wanted to write this post. As work and graduate applications kept my mind away from this blog, the situation that inspired this post evolved, evolved further, ended and restarted. In the end, I’m glad I waited as the developments made this topic much more interesting. That topic is the involvement of Canada in the Durban Conference negotiations and its Canadian climax: the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol.[1]

After what can be considered many failed attempts to agree on the next step to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change[2] (UNFCCC) (basically the replacement of Kyoto after its end), the State Parties to the UNFCCC met in Durban, South Africa, at the 17th conference of the parties (COP17), hoping that some agreement could be reached over the pressing issue of climate change. The Copenhagen Conference resulted in what many considered a sad failure. However, it seemed that the international community had matured sufficiently to reach something concrete in Durban. Sadly, that statement does not apply to Canada, who seems to have regressed in it international maturity level since 2006.

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