“A water crisis is likely to be the biggest issue of the century”
Climate Friendly Economic Development and the Future of Asia: What Role Can Canada Play? with the Hon. Stephane Dion, 22nd July 2016, Institute of Asian Research @ UBC
On 22nd July 2016, the Institute of Asian Research at UBC welcomed Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion, for a town hall with the university’s staff and students. The focus of the town hall consisted of two sections: 1) the role that Canada plays in Asia and 2) Canada’s environmental policies. Both issues are centre to the concerns of the Canadian people and their government. Dion was also joined by the parliamentary secretary for his ministry, Pamela Goldsmiths-Jones, who is also the Member of Parliament for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country. The event started with Minister Dion warning the guests that he might have to cut his time at the venue short in the event that the Munich shooting requires his immediate attention – indicating the lack of boundaries and confinement in his position as a Foreign Affairs Minister
Dion opened his remarks for the town hall with a brief comment on Asia-Canada relations and the roles that the two parties play in environmental protection. In addition, he provided some alarming facts on the state of climate change and the environment to demonstrate the significance of the topics discussed:
- Asia is home to 60% of the world’s population, making them the biggest stakeholder in the fight for climate change.
- Some countries in Southeast Asia are in the top 10% of countries affected by climate change.
- A water crisis is likely to be the biggest issue of the century, especially in Asia.
- 45% of global deforestations occur in Southeast Asia.
- An increase in 2 degrees in global temperature can lead to extinction of some species.
Climate change has been a topic which many regard as secondary in politics – an issue supposedly reserved for meditating tree-huggers who allegedly spend their days at demonstrations. However, Dion insisted that climate change is more than just an environmental issue and and that it should be taken seriously by everyone. Climate change has led to many of the political instabilities we have in our world today – it has caused food shortages, low levels of unemployment and many other socio-economic problems. It is a political issue as much as it is an environmental issue affecting all countries involved and we have seen a recent example of that with the Arab Spring in 2010-12.
Dion emphasised the importance of international cooperation in fighting climate change by explaining the “free-rider” problem. It is crucial that Canada maintains a very high standard in its environmental policies – to ensure that other countries would follow suit – despite contributing a small percentage (an estimated 3%) to the global carbon emission rate. If Canada chooses to adapt a flippant attitude towards environmental protection, it is highly probable that other countries will assume a similar approach and hence speeding up the process of environmental degradation.
Due to the Canadian government’s stance on “responsible conviction,” they have invested $2.65 billion to help developing countries fight climate change. They have also promised to integrate aboriginal communities in their environmental policies and to not ignore the leaders of Asia (especially those representing China.)
The event ended with students of UBC raising their concerns to Dion regarding Canada’s policies on Asia and the environment. Some were able to deliver their questions fluently in French, impressing the Quebecois Minister with their linguistic abilities.
- More on the Canadian government’s $2.65 billion investment: Rosemary Barton, ‘Government announces $2.65B to help developing countries fight climate change’, CBC News, 27 November 2015.
- And on Dion’s ‘responsible conviction’: ‘Stéphane Dion: On ‘responsible conviction’ and Liberal foreign policy’, Macleans.ca, March 29 2016.