TORONTO (CCN) — Climate change is “a challenge to our moral imagination” and “a moral mission” that requires “the moral courage to change,” former United States Vice-president Al Gore told the Climate Summit of the Americas July 10.
Held in Toronto three weeks after Pope Francis issued Laudato Si’, the summit had politicians and senior bureaucrats from Argentina to the Arctic tweeting pictures of Pope Francis and talking about his encyclical.
California Governor Jerry Brown said he was travelling with a copy of Laudato Si’ and “going through it carefully.”
“I like the language in it, which is not the language of markets,” Brown told a press conference on the first day of the two-day meeting that brought together representatives from 30 states, provinces, cities and First Nations. “But it’s the language of spirit, of metaphor, of poetry, of humanity.”
Twenty-two sub-national jurisdictions capped off the summit by signing a Climate Action Statement which commits their governments to implementing some form of carbon pricing — whether a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade market.
“We’re on the road to Paris,” declared Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, host of the summit. The Western Hemisphere climate gathering was a prelude to United Nations climate negotiations planned for Paris in December.
Although Pope Francis prefers a carbon tax, Ontario has announced it plans to join California and Quebec in a unified cap-and-trade system, with the first auction of carbon emission allowances due in the first three months of 2017.
The shift to a low-carbon economy is necessary, possible and even profitable, Gore told an enthusiastic gathering at the summit before kicking off a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training session.
“Now there is a much more powerful voice giving us an answer to the question ‘Must we change Mother Nature?’ ” said Gore. “You can go around the world and see that Mother Nature is sending us a message.”
Brown, a one-time Jesuit novice and four-time governor of nearly 39 million Californians (elected twice in the 1970s and twice in this century), said the pope’s discussion of climate change as a moral issue is critical as the world tries to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“What we’re dealing with here is not just some market transaction. We’re dealing with the future of humanity and how human beings live and treat one another, as well as other living things,” he said. “And the pope has really captured that spirit in the encyclical.”
Brown wasn’t the only leader at the summit talks to specifically reference Laudato Si’ and Pope Francis. Chief Larry Sault of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation called Francis “one of my heroes” and a “climate change warrior.”
Sault addressed delegates wearing a ceremonial head dress representing the indigenous nations of North and South America, standing between two large screens displaying a quote from Laudato Si’.
“It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed,” read the quote.
Acting on climate change is “a moral obligation,” said Wynne.
“The people in this country believe we have a responsibility,” Wynne said.
“We have done either nothing or too little,” she said, pointing out that Canada is the world’s ninth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
“My country, Canada, was founded on the belief that we have more to gain together than we would apart,” Wynne told delegates as she boasted about Ontario’s plans to join with California and Quebec to form a cap-and-trade market. Under the system industrial polluters pay for allowances to emit carbon and may sell unused allowances or permits to other industrial polluters.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called the cap-and-trade initiative of Ontario and Quebec “the most important initiative in Canada.”
“Each time a new partner joins us it becomes more solid,” he said.
Quebec has operated the system with California as part of the Western Climate Initiative since 2014. Once Ontario’s system is up and running, 70 per cent of Canadians will be living with a price on carbon — either through British Columbia’s carbon tax or the systems in Quebec and Ontario, Couillard said.
Couillard framed the cap-and-trade system as an opportunity for social justice, pointing out how Quebec government revenues are directed into a green fund used to support vulnerable communities.
“Let us reject this false choice between growth and the environment,” said Couillard.
In April the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences declared the Paris climate change summit “may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2 degrees C, and aim to stay well below 2 degrees C for safety, yet the current trajectory may well reach a devastating 4 degrees C or higher.”