When we talk about climate change, we often focus on the number 1.5.

This number was at the heart of the landmark UN climate change report released last fall. It’s also the global temperature rise limit that Canada committed to working towards when it signed the Paris Agreement in 2015.

But you may be surprised to learn that, in Canada, we have already blown past the 1.5 C mark.

In a report released last week, Canada’s own scientists concluded that between 1948 and 2016, Canada warmed 1.7 C—double the global rate. The North is warming at three times the global average.

This underscores the fact that climate change does not affect every person and every place in the same way.

In the North, Indigenous peoples and communities are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. There is less extreme cold. Snow and ice cover seasons are shorter. Permafrost is thawing.

On the ground, this means it is more difficult to access traditional foods, it is less safe to travel over ice and people are experiencing “ecological grief,” a sadness directly linked to the changes in their environment.

Elsewhere in Canada, there are more extreme heat waves, which can cause heat strokes and even death. There are more forest fires, which can force evacuations, produce smoke that aggravates respiratory problems and cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Seniors, people living in poverty and/or in inadequate housing and those with chronic health conditions are all particularly vulnerable to these impacts.

The government’s new report makes it clear that the changes in climate we’ve seen so far are irreversible. It also says more warming is unavoidable.

For young people and generations to come, this unavoidable warming throws the future into uncertainty. It makes it unlikely they’ll be able to live and thrive in the same climate-safe Canada older generations enjoyed.

It’s no wonder students across the country, inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, are taking to the streets as part of the worldwide Fridays for Future strikes.

If we want to protect the climate for generations to come, there is no time to waste.

Experts say tackling climate change could be this century’s greatest opportunity to protect human health. The Trudeau government must act on this opportunity now, starting with updating Canada’s climate targets and committing to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. These new targets must be enshrined in new climate accountability laws that empower the public to hold government to account for its climate promises.

The government’s new report describes what the future might look like if we act now to reach near-zero emissions in the next 50 years. It also looks at what would happen if we continue to grow emissions at the same rate we are today.

While people in Canada would continue to feel the impacts of climate change under the first scenario, it is survivable. The second, which would see temperatures in the North rise as much as 11 C or 12 C near the end of this century, would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Members of the current government—and anybody vying for a seat in the upcoming election— must prove they are willing to do what it takes to avoid the catastrophic second scenario. If they don’t, they could face consequences when Canada votes for its next government in October.

According to a recent Abacus poll, 69 per cent of Canadians say climate change will be an important factor in how they vote this fall. That same polling found that 27 per cent of respondents, representing about 8 million voters, said they were “extremely” personally concerned about climate change.

Climate change can feel impossibly complex. But there are concrete steps we can and must take now to address it. At the federal level, this must include setting stricter, legally-binding targets and arming the public with tools to hold government to account for meeting those targets.

The climate in Canada is changing faster than in the rest of the world. For the sake of future generations, our laws need to catch up.

This op-ed was originally published in The Hill Times on April 8, 2019.

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