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Environmental groups urge Liberals to budget for climate change costs

Environmental groups urge Liberals to budget for climate change costs
Canada
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Almost two dozen Canadian environment groups are urging the federal Liberal government to make sure its next budget acknowledges that climate change is costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

“These costs are actually really big and if we are ignoring them there is a big hole in the budget,” said Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer and project lead for the climate change program at West Coast Environmental Law.

The organization is one of 22 environment advocacy organizations in the Green Budget Coalition, which released its annual list of asks for the federal budget Wednesday. Although the Liberals’ next budget is still months away, the coalition’s wish list is normally released during the fall budget planning season.

This year, the group is hoping the added momentum for taking action on climate change, emanating from this year’s election campaign, gives a little more oomph to their demands.

The 72-page green budget document says Canada has to use the next federal budget to step up climate action with actual dollars that show the Liberals truly understand the urgency of the situation.

“Climate change is a massive issue and we need to scale up action on the climate emergency,” said coalition manager Andrew Van Iterson.

Hundreds of scientists say the world has to cut global greenhouse gas emissions almost in half by 2030, and to net zero by 2050, in order to prevent the world from getting so warm there will be no way to stop the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Net zero means that all the emissions being produced are absorbed by natural sinks like forests, or technology like carbon capture and storage.

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The green budget suggests the next federal budget invest in a number of energy efficiency upgrades, including $200 million over three years to train workers how to build energy efficient homes and buildings, $200 million over five years to install fuel-saving devices on heavy trucks, and $85 million in 2020 alone to help cities buy zero-emission buses.

They also want a massive increase in how much Canada is contributing to global climate finance efforts, where wealthier countries help developing countries and smaller nations respond to climate change and find ways to reduce their own emissions. Such financing was a part of the Paris climate change accord, and in 2015, Canada committed $2.65 billion over five years to the effort.

The green budget says Canada needs to scale that up to $2.9 billion a year. The groups say that would be a share of the global pool of climate financing equal to Canada’s share of global emissions.

But for the first time in its 20-year history, the Green Budget Coalition is putting a heavy focus on trying to get Ottawa to acknowledge and budget for what climate change is already costing Canadians.

Halifax scientists endorse climate emergency letter

Halifax scientists endorse climate emergency letter

The 2019 budget, they note, only included $130 million for disaster financial assistance in 2019 and 2020 to help provinces and territories cope with the increasing number of large-scale natural disasters, even though the program has been spending at least three times that every year.

A 2017 report from Public Safety Canada found the program averaged more than $360 million a year between 2011 and 2016 and the parliamentary budget officer estimated the program would average more than $900 million a year between 2016 and 2020.

“That just seems like bad planning,” said Gage. “You can’t just pretend these costs don’t exist.”

Should Canadians be worried about the debt the government has accumulated?

Eastern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick experienced major floods in two of the last three years, costing insurance companies and governments hundreds of millions of dollars. British Columbia had two record-breaking forest fire seasons in a row in 2017 and 2018, together costing more than $1.2 billion.

And a freak early snowstorm in Manitoba last month caused significant damage to trees and infrastructure, costing the city of Winnipeg at least $8 million and Manitoba Hydro more than $110 million.

Gage also said more money should be spent on exploring ways to protect buildings and infrastructure from the impacts of severe weather.
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