Net-zero Emissions Future—Inquiry

By: The Hon. Amina Gerba

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Hon. Amina Gerba: Honourable senators, I am honoured to speak to you today from the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.

I rise today to speak to Inquiry No. 4 introduced in the Senate by our colleague, Senator Mary Coyle, on the urgent need to address the effects of climate change in our country and elsewhere in the world. I thank the honourable senator for reminding us of our duties at a time when, according to a very recent Léger poll, 70% of Canadians are worried or very worried about the effects of climate change.

Colleagues, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to 18.

Parties at the previous conference, COP26, who gathered in Glasgow, reaffirmed the goal agreed to by the international community and known as the Paris Agreement to maintain the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Glasgow also emphasised the need for urgent scaling up of clearly stated actions, funding for capacity building and technology development to build the necessary resilience and reduce the vulnerability of many populations, if not all, to climate change.

A new UN climate report shows that countries are flattening the global greenhouse gas emissions curve but that these efforts are not enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. According to the report, the combined environmental commitments of the 193 parties to the Paris Agreement could cause the planet to warm by about 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The published report also indicates that current commitments will result in a 10.6% increase in emissions by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.

Colleagues, climate change is not a figment of the imagination. It is hitting every continent hard and has recently had a significant impact on our country, on British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and part of Quebec. Alas, climate change is an unfortunate reality. We see its impact everywhere.

We see the impact in Africa, where governments and civil society groups are working harder than ever to build climate resiliency. Experts say that Africa is bearing the brunt of global warming even though the continent produces far less pollution than every other continent. Africa actually accounts for barely 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but warming trends there are accelerated, with temperatures steadily rising faster than the global average for both land and sea.

The effects of these changes are considerable: rising sea levels, melting glaciers on African mountains like Mount Kenya in Kenya, the Ruwenzori Mountains in Uganda, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and continent-wide drought. It’s worth noting that 14 of the 23 countries that experienced drought-related emergencies over the past two years are on the continent of Africa.

Drought affects both rivers and lakes, like Lake Chad. It accelerates desertification and the degradation of farmland, displacing residents and causing famine. Currently, there are an estimated 1 million climate-displaced persons in Somalia and more than 20 million people at risk of famine in East Africa, according to the World Food Programme.

Climate change is also intensifying flooding on the African continent, with horrific consequences, such as property damage and outbreaks of disease. In Nigeria, unprecedented floods have caused 363 deaths, displaced nearly 2 million residents and destroyed more than 618,000 homes. In South Africa, in April, serious flooding caused nearly 400 deaths.

Without decisive action around the world and in Africa, it is estimated that 100 million Africans living in extreme poverty will be hit hard by the effects of climate change by 2030. One hundred million people is almost three times the population of Canada.

In light of such present and future disasters, one question needs to be asked: Is there an African perspective and are there African solutions to the challenges posed by climate change?

Dear colleagues, at the most recent United Nations General Assembly in New York, Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current chairperson of the African Union, stated, and I quote:

 . . . we also have Africa as a provider of solutions, with its natural, human and agricultural resources, governments on the job, and vibrant and creative youth who innovate, undertake and succeed.

Honourable senators, African countries have implemented a number of initiatives to reduce the continent’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change and to increase Africans’ ability to adapt. Some of these solutions are inspired by nature itself. They involve using the tools of the natural world to slow the evolution of climate change and address it.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, protecting forests and mangroves could help Africa prevent up to $500 billion in losses related to climate change. UNDP experts on climate issues in Africa believe that, “[f]or example, the Congo Basin forests are endowed with a significant climate change mitigation potential.”

Madagascar recently introduced an aquatic plant known as rambo or grey sedge. This crop is drought-resistant and increases the availability of arable farmland. Comoros and Malawi, meanwhile, have opted for continuous tree planting as a way to cope with the effect that climate change is having on the environment and the people. Seychelles has decided to dig dykes to cope with flooding.

Over the past decade, Africa has made impressive progress in its transition to renewable energy. In fact, many countries have been working hard to increase their capacity to move toward a sustainable energy future. For example, over one third of Morocco’s electricity is already renewable thanks to the Noor Ouarzazate solar complex, which is the largest concentrated solar power complex in the world.

That is also the case for the wind farms in Ethiopia and Cap-Vert, which are increasingly reducing their use of fossil fuels and their toxic gas emissions. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s outlook, Sub-Saharan Africa could meet 67% of its power generation from these energies by 2030.

Some African countries and the African Development Bank are promoting and investing in sustainable transportation. In Senegal, for example, Dakar’s public transit system now includes an express train and a rapid bus transit system with electric vehicles. In 2021, Kenya equipped itself with thousands of electric motorcycles for getting around the city and has been encouraging people to adopt this method of travel ever since.

As you can see, honourable colleagues, African countries are working harder and harder to increase the resilience of local populations and their ability to adapt in order to deal with climate change.

The greatest climate resilience initiative in Africa, however, is the Great Green Wall. It is a flagship program that seeks to combat desertification and fight against food insecurity and poverty. The goal of this program is to change the lives of millions of people by creating a broad mosaic of green, productive landscapes across North Africa, in the Sahel region and in the Horn of Africa. Adopted by the African Union in 2007, the Great Green Wall initiative brings together more than 20 African countries as well as international organizations, research institutes, members of civil society and community organizations. This wall will link Dakar, the capital of Senegal, to Djibouti, covering 11.7 million hectares.

However, although Africa is presenting innovative solutions to strengthen climate resilience, the African continent is facing financial challenges in their efforts to accelerate climate resilience.

It is my hope that Canada will champion respect for these commitments to the continent at the United Nations, the G7, the OECD, COP27, in sum, in every forum where climate emergency is on the agenda. I sincerely hope that Canada will advocate for African countries in these fora and back their calls for support of their policies in this area.

When the Senators For Climate Solutions group was launched, our colleague Stan Kutcher said the following, and I quote:

History will not judge us. . . . It will not remember us for how great our GDP was. . . . It will, however, judge us on how well we supported our most vulnerable and what kind of Earth we left for our children, and climate change will be the focus of that judgment.

Honourable senators, I encourage you all to speak out about this important subject, to share your own opinions and perspectives, and, if you haven’t already done so, to join Senators for Climate Solutions.

Thank you.

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