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opinion

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, on Sept. 22.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The pace at which the world is warming has nudged the planet perilously closer to a number of critical tipping points that could pitch global weather systems into irreversible decline.

That is the major finding of a new study out of Europe – one that has major implications for this country. Among the conclusions: the permafrost which covers almost half of Canada could soon completely thaw, releasing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

And that would spell doom for the country’s carbon-emissions reduction plan.

Of course, there isn’t a day that goes by now in which more evidence is released detailing just how critically ill the planet is. We seem to be doing our best to try to kill it, while mouthing platitudes about the need to change our ways.

Which brings me to new Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

He ran an entire leadership campaign basically ignoring climate change. Well, perhaps not completely: he talked about it in the context of promising to kill the federal carbon tax if he becomes prime minister. This, at the same time as he would clear any roadblocks in the way of building more pipelines “south, north, east, west,” as he told a campaign audience in Calgary a few months ago.

While a lot of attention has been focused on some of Mr. Poilievre’s more controversial statements and decisions – courting support among the so-called Freedom Convoy participants; promoting Bitcoin, promising to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada – little has been said about his complete lack of a clear plan for climate change.

Mr. Poilievre has said he believes technology holds the answer to reducing emissions, including some enthusiasm for carbon capture technology. But he would leave it to the provinces to figure out how to meet any federal targets. I can see a potential Premier Danielle Smith in Alberta smiling already over that idea.

But beyond that, Mr. Poilievre hasn’t said how technology will help Canada meet its commitments under the Paris climate accord. (The federal government has stated it plans to reduce GHG emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.) In fact, he refused to say if a government led by him would even honour those commitments.

“We will aspire for ambitious targets that are based on what is doable for our economy and our population,” he said in April of this year.

A government can aspire to all sorts of things, but without meaningful rules in place, climate targets based on hope are meaningless. It seems clear that Mr. Poilievre won’t do anything that impairs the economy in the slightest.

Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Canadians are concerned about climate change and support measures to rein in rising emissions and keep the planet from warming much more than 1.5 degrees C hotter than pre-industrial levels, a tipping point after which climate-related problems become much worse.

Since the Paris accord was inked, Canada has been the worst performer in terms of reducing emissions of any member of the G7. And that is on the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who proved that words are cheap. Now, at least, there seems to be a semi-credible reduction plan in place.

Mr. Poilievre is in a trickier spot. In March, an Angus Reid poll showed that just 12 per cent of his supporters believe climate change is a “top issue” facing Canada. And only last year, delegates at a federal Conservative convention voted against adding “climate change is real” to the party’s policy book. That is the CPC base. But the views of that base are not aligned with the majority of Canadians.

During his campaign, Mr. Poilievre went to Alberta and promised the province the moon: Pipelines in all directions; repealing Bill C-69 (dubbed the “no more pipelines act” by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney); repealing the Liberals’ tanker ban off the West Coast.

You can see where this is going already.

If Mr. Poilievre is serious about reviving the Energy East pipeline, there will be hell to pay politically in Quebec, which wants no part of the project. If he promotes another oil pipeline to the West Coast, there will be a tough price to pay politically in British Columbia too.

It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear on the campaign trail – to tell Albertans that you will boost oil production, even if it damns the climate.

But Mr. Poilievre needs to be aware that a majority of Canadians will never support such an irresponsible position when the fate of the world is at stake. The Conservatives need to get serious about climate change, or accept losing elections as a general rule.