Environment and Climate Change - Backgrounder

Teaching Resources The Kyoto Accord – What it Means for British Columbia
Backgrounder by Ruth Yates

Everyone agrees that the weather is changing. We can see it in British Columbia where there is less rain in the summer and we have more hot days and while that may seem like a good thing, it is not so good for farmers. It is also milder in the winters, and this is especially noticeable in the North, where the logging season is shorter because the loggers who rely on frozen ground can’t spend as much time in the woods. It also means that insects like the Pine Beatle survive through the winter and are able to do more damage than they have in the past. Alberta is suffering through a terrible drought and there seem to be more forest fires now than in the past. Some weather fluctuations are normal; others, scientists say, are the effect of greenhouse gasses collecting in the atmosphere and changing the natural environment. For more information about climate change see http://www.ec.gc.ca/cc/default.asp?lang=En&n=E584B5CF-1. To discover how climate change will affect British Columbia, see http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/air/climate/indicat/abouttrends.html

Greenhouse gases consist of the emissions from burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil. These fuels power our industries, our homes and our cars and we have become dependent on them for our economic survival. Scientists predict that unless something is done about these emissions, major changes will take place in the earth’s atmosphere that will have a devastating effect on all our lives. To respond to the need to change the ways we create power, world leaders have developed a plan to cut emissions. It is called the Kyoto Protocol because it was first presented to the world’s leaders at a summit meeting in Japan in 1997. For more information about the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, see http://www.mapleleafweb.com/features/environment/kyoto/02.html.

It has been five years since the plan was introduced and there is still no universal agreement that it should be enforced. The United States is unwilling to ratify it. Canada has largely been in agreement with the goals of the accord but has been unable to ratify it because Alberta, an oil rich province says that trying to meet the emission reduction targets set by Kyoto would devastate their economy, which is based on the production of fossil fuels. The question politicians must deal with is whether the short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain of cleaning up the atmosphere. Should Canada enter into an international agreement that binds them to reduce emissions, by using less and selling less of the resources that are the basis of our economy? For more information about what Canada will be expected to do under the Accord, see http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.pdf.

The Kyoto Accord is one of a number of international agreements that countries will be asked to participate in to preserve the planet. Agreeing to participate requires the cooperation of all Canadians through the democratic process. But before entering into a commitment like this one on our behalf, politicians must consider all the people who will be affected by the laws that will have to be passed in order to meet our obligations. During the debate voices will be heard representing interest groups. The environmentalists will use the scientific evidence to encourage government to support the plan. Industry spokespeople will produce data to show the economic losses that will occur with the resulting job losses and the devastating effect that will have on communities that produce the offending fuels. The expense of finding new sources of energy will be passed on to all of us as consumers who will have to find alternate ways of powering our lives. For more information about the debate in Canada, see articles in the Vancouver Sun dated August 30, 31 and September 4th 2002. They are also available on the Vancouver Sun’s website under Archives at http://www.canada.com

Participating in the Process
The implications of committing Canada to such an agreement are immense and we need to be aware of them as we participate in and observe the consultation process. We will be required to live by the laws and regulations that will result from the decision, so it is important that we know what consequences and benefits will come from them. In order to appreciate how differences about the preservation of the environment have been resolved if the parties must resort to the courts, we have posted two case studies in the Teaching Resource section of the Law Connection. The case studies are not directly concerned with the pollution of the environment, but are related to other matters that have been the concern of environmentalists and ordinary citizens. One group has felt so strongly about the protection of a bird and their forest homelands that they are willing to fight prolonged court battles. Read about the recent decisions both in and outside of the court that have affected the fate of the brown spotted owl. The second case has spent many years before the courts and has not yet been fully resolved. It can serve as a reminder for how not to solve problems arising from the use of land.

Questions for Class Discussion
Students can discuss the process for ratifying such an agreement as the Kyoto Protocol as well as the implications if the world’s major countries fail to support the Accord. Living up to the terms of the Accord will affect Canadians economically, students should consider what costs will be involved for them and what environmental crises will develop if action isn’t taken now to reduce harmful emissions. Should government leaders make this decision and what consultation should take place? What if some provinces refuse to cooperate with the terms of the Accord?

Related Teaching Resources
The first Case Study would be suitable for students from Grades 5 – 11. It involves a court case and the controversy surrounding the Northern Spotted Owl an almost extinct owl that lives primarily in the forests near Hope, British Columbia. Logging has threatened its last habitat and an environmental group tried to stop logging in the region to protect it. The case study describes what steps were taken by each side in the dispute to protect their interests and provides an opportunity for younger students to get involved in the issue and see how it was managed by the government, the courts and the players.

The second case study designed for senior level students involves a series of court hearings and other attempts to mediate a dispute between a logging company and the residents of a Gulf Island as they tried to prevent clear cut logging on their island.