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Conservatives Hitting the Snooze Button on Climate Change Is a Snore

10/22/2013 06:04 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Once again, Canada's Conservatives are bound and determined to roll right over, close their eyes and sleep through the alarm bells on climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) most recent assessment is a reminder of the urgency of addressing global warming, and the dangers of ignoring rising sea levels and increasing temperatures.

While the rest of the world saw the report as a call to action, in Ottawa there was nothing but exasperation as the Harper government tried to deflect criticism of its poor record on environmental issues by resorting to partisan attacks. Worse, several days later his new Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, astoundingly commented during a television interview that she has doubts about climate change. She further admitted that she hadn't even read the report.

In contrast, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in response that the newest report released by the IPCC is a wake-up call, and "those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire." Our largest trading partner gets it. So where's Canada's government on this critical environmental and economic issue?

The report revealed that global warming is unequivocal and is occurring at an unprecedented rate. It builds on extensive research conducted by leading environmental scientists, and concludes that "it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century." The IPCC points to greenhouse gas emissions as a contributing factor to substantial global warming, and warns that emissions will need to be reduced in order to limit the many effects of climate change.

The Conservative government continues to make excuses instead of choosing to act. In response to the report, the Conservatives refused to address the results and the importance of the findings. Instead, Minister Aglukkaq took the opportunity to critique a non-existent NDP policy, yet another example of Conservative partisan political games getting in the way of working for Canadians. Unsurprisingly, the misleading government statement is nowhere to be found on Environment Canada's website. Nor is any information backing up the minister's irresponsible and unfounded claims about climate change science.

Instead of partisan mudslinging, we need strong leadership on environmental issues, especially because as an Arctic nation, Canada is likely to be particularly affected by global warming. It's disappointing that the environment minister continues to ignore the realities of climate change even in her own riding of Nunavut. The Arctic is one of the regions most impacted by climate change and is experiencing decreasing sea ice coverage, warmer oceans, decreasing snow cover and melting permafrost. Despite this, in the first five years since she assumed office, the environment minister never once uttered the words "climate change" in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives glossed over the significance of the IPCC report by claiming that their government is "already playing a leadership role in addressing climate change" while "standing up for Canadian jobs." However, according to Environment Canada estimates, this country is behind on government emission targets. At the current rate, Canada will only achieve half of its 2020 goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 17 per cent below our 2005 levels.

This country needs stronger environmental policies to help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure long-term environmental stability. If we don't, not only do we risk the devastating consequences of a warming climate system, but we also risk being left behind by countries that have made the fight against climate change a priority.

Canada is trailing other industrialized countries when it comes to research and investment in green energy, which is a missed opportunity. An effective strategy to address climate change would emphasize the importance of a diversified energy economy that would improve trade prospects and keep Canada competitive internationally.

Kerry remarked that the "costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to even contemplate." The Conservative government isn't "standing up" for Canadian jobs -- they're just standing still. Real leadership that protects Canadian jobs, the environment, and our international reputation, requires action on climate issues, not denial.

Canadians don't need any more excuses. In this case, the Conservatives need to get out of bed, stop aligning themselves with fringe climate deniers, and get things done. No more hitting the snooze button on climate change.

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