Hurricane Sandy was a call to action for US and Canada on climate change

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After the recent U.S. election President Obama told my generation that “we want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened up by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet”. For all our sakes I hope these are more than just words. If they are, making the United States a climate leader, and building a climate legacy of action means that Canada needs to come in line.

If the United States takes action, Canada would no longer be able to use your policies as a shield to divert blame for our lackluster climate action. Canada would be forced to shape up and build a just and sustainable economy, part of the generation that the President stated would “free us from the tyranny of oil”. On the global scale distancing the United States from Canada, the United Nations climate talks consistent pariah, could open the political space for a just and ambitious global climate deal by 2015.

Helping to change Canada’s climate policy is something that the United States can do within its own borders. This week at the United Nations climate talks, Canada released an announcement about their recently passed emissions regulations on coal fired power, touting that their actions would be the equivalent of taking 2.8 million cars off the road. The United States, and President Obama in particular, could triple that number by rejecting the proposed Keystone XL outright, preventing emissions equivalent to over 6 million cars from being released. Something which Canada would surely welcome given their lauding of the reductions of coal regulations.

Fossil fuel subsidies is another place. Canada’s $1.38 billion a year is measly in comparison to dirty energy subsidies in the United States. Re-allocate that money into any number of clean energy, job creation, education or social service projects and it would set a standard that the rest of G8 and G20 economies would follow. 

The tragedy of Hurricane Sandy was the exclamation point on a year that has brought the need to act on climate change squarely to the doorstep of North America. Extreme weather, what the United Nations Secretary Ban Ki Moon called “the new normal”, will become worse and more prevalent as the climate warms. Preventing the high human and financial cost of climate change within the United States means action needs to happen in Canada. The tar sands alone are set to expand 3 times the size that the International Energy Agency says they can for us to have a chance at keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees. Emissions from tar sands oil are on track to alone be double the culmulative emission released from all oil burned on the planet as far back as we have records for. At present, Canada has no plan to defuse this carbon bomb, which is why it is in the interests of the world for you to act.

It is not lightly that we turn outside our borders to call for action. Nor does this come without first having exhausted our options at home, but in many ways this seems like our best shot for real action.

Fenton is national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.