Will 2015 be the "world's last, best chance" to address climate change?

The next United Nations climate summits will take place this December in Peru and next December in France (just shortly after the October 19, 2015 federal election in Canada). The New York Times editorial board writes, "If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report is to be taken seriously, as it should be, the Paris meeting may well be the world’s last, best chance to get a grip on a problem that, absent urgent action over the next decade, could spin out of control."

"(An IPCC report released last week says) annual emissions of greenhouse gases have risen almost twice as fast in the first decade of this century as they did in the last decades of the 20th century. This places in serious jeopardy the emissions target agreed upon in Rio to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level. Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences. Avoiding that fate will require a reduction of between 40 percent and 70 percent in greenhouse gases by midcentury, which means embarking on a revolution in the way we produce and consume energy. That’s daunting enough, but here’s the key finding: The world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming."

The newspaper concedes, "For the most part, these (UN climate summit) meetings have been exercises in futility, producing just one treaty — in Kyoto in 1997 — that asked little of the big developing countries and was never ratified by the United States Senate." And it notes, "However compelling the science, global warming has not generated the kind of public anxiety and bottom-up demand for change (in the United States) that helped win the big fights for cleaner air and water in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This makes his job harder but no less urgent."

Still, the editorial says, "Governments have an enormous amount of work to do in devising emission reduction strategies by next year." It suggests the ways forward could include: "put a global price on carbon, either through a system of tradable permits ... or through a carbon tax of some sort, thus driving investments to cleaner fuels, ...get each country to adopt binding emission reduction targets and then allow them to choose how to get there, ...(make) a huge shift in investment, both private and public, from fossil fuels."

Emissions soar under Harper
In January, the Globe and Mail reported, "As part of a UN-led effort to reach a global treaty by 2015, the (Harper) government is expected this year to announce an emission-reduction target for 2030 that would be significantly lower than 2020 levels. All countries that committed to reducing emissions file annual reports on their progress with the UN."

But that same article highlights, "Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions will (continue to) rise sharply after 2020 unless there are dramatic efforts to rein in emissions from the oil and gas sector, the Harper government indicates in a new report to the United Nations. The document was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in late December with no announcement or press release. As it was being filed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signalled his government was delaying for as long as two years the release of long-promised regulations to reduce emissions from the booming oil-sands sector. ...Without the climate regulations, the government forecasts that emissions from the oil and gas sector will soar by 23 per cent between 2005 and 2020, and by 48 per cent by 2030, swamping progress in other sectors. Fuelled by oil sands growth, Alberta’s emissions are projected to increase by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2030..."

The Council of Canadians
An essential part of the strategy to stop the increase in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions is to stop Harper's agenda of tar sands pipelines, including Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain, and Energy East. The Council of Canadians has prioritized in our campaign work the largest of these pipelines, the 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East pipeline. The Pembina Institute has calculated the pipeline would result in 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year (not counting the subsequent emissions related to refining, refined transportation, distribution and consumption). They also note that filling the Energy East pipeline would help spur 650,000 to 750,000 barrels per day of additional production from the tar sands, a 40 per cent increase in extraction.

We were present at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010. At those summits, we called on the Harper government to commit to an emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. The 40 per cent emissions reduction target is in keeping with the call for atmospheric carbon to be stabilized at 350 parts per million. We have also stated that Canada's fair contribution to climate adaptation for the Global South should be $4 billion yearly. And we have argued for inclusion and a democratization of the climate change negotiations process.

We have also stated that water justice requires climate justice. This message was recently reinforced by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany who developed modeling that shows the impact of 1°C to 2°C of global warming on water scarcity. Currently, 1.5 per cent of the global population struggles with absolute water scarcity and 3 per cent faces chronic water scarcity. At 1°C of warming that rises to 6 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively; at 2°C it hits 9 per cent and 21 per cent. The areas that were hardest hit under the modeling were the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the southern United States, and southern China.

We have in our calendar the next two United Nations climate summits (COP 20 in Lima, Peru, December 1-12, 2014 and COP 21 in Paris, France, November 30 – December 11, 2015) as possible points of intervention on this critical issue.

Further reading
Will UN climate negotiations lead to a meaningful agreement in 2015?
Climate disrupting oil and gas emissions soar under Harper
UN panel says climate change has implications for North America's water supply
New study shows climate change impact on the world's water