Commentary by Elizabeth May: We must end our reliance on fossil fuels

a10 10152019 green-may.jpgGreen Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks at the federal leaders’ election debate on Thursday in Gatineau, Que. Oct. 10, 2019 Photograph By CHRIS WATTIE, THE CANADIAN PRESS

“Humanity is conducting an unprecedented, uncontrolled globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to global nuclear war.”

That was the opening sentence to the consensus finding of international scientists gathered for the first global climate conference, “Our Changing Atmosphere; implications for global security.”

It was held in a heat wave, in the last week of June 1988, in Toronto. As senior policy adviser to the minister of environment, I helped organize that conference.

I was optimistic. We had public attention. Two prime ministers (Canada and Norway) addressed the conference. We kick-started the launching of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the negotiations leading to the foundation framework treaty on the threat of global warming.

Is it a gift or a curse to be prevented from seeing the future?

Had I imagined then that more than 30 years later we would still be arguing about when we should get started in earnest, I do not know how I could have handled the horror of it.

It is a slow-motion horror. In June 1992, every nation on Earth committed at the Rio Earth Summit, in a legally binding treaty, to reduce greenhouse gases such that we could avoid levels of climate change that could be “dangerous.” Instead, between 1992 and now, humanity has burned more fossil fuels, emitting more greenhouse gases, than between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and 1992.

In other words, well past the point that we understood human-caused climate change to be a major threat to our future, we put our foot on the gas to amplify the risk.

No wonder Greta Thunberg is shaking with rage. So am I.

…It is clear to me that two major obstacles blocked our progress. One was the well-funded campaigns of Big Oil to lie to us about the science. The other was the perennial problem of short-term political thinking, always seeking partisan advantage. We must set aside partisanship. I am calling for the equivalent of a “war cabinet” to ensure a non-partisan approach to our survival.

Holding to no more than a 1.5 degrees C global average temperature increase is not a political target. That goal, agreed to by all the nations in Paris, is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with physics. It is now Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advice that shooting past 1.5 degrees means that children alive today are unlikely to have a functional human civilization through their lives. Shooting past 2 or 3 degrees means that the hospitality of this planet for lifeforms like us is very much in doubt.  MORE

In-depth Q&A: The UK Becomes First Major Economy to Set Net-Zero Climate Goal

The UK is to raise its ambition on climate change by setting a legally binding target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to “net-zero” by 2050, prime minister Theresa May has announced today.

No.10 Downing Street at night, London, UK. Credit: Jeff Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo.
No.10 Downing Street at night, London, UK. Credit: Jeff Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo.

The 2050 net-zero goal was recommended by the government’s official adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), last month. The CCC’s advice was requested following the 2015 Paris Agreement, which raised global ambition with a target to limit warming since the pre-industrial period to “well below” 2C and to make efforts to stay below 1.5C.

In a letter confirming the decision, May says: “Ending our contribution to global warming by 2050 can be the defining decision of this generation in fulfilling our responsibility to the next.” The UK would be the first member of the G7 group of major economies to legislate for net-zero. It joins others having set net-zero targets, including Sweden, New Zealand and Japan.

May’s announcement diverges from the CCC advice on some details, including the use of international “offsets”. It does not explicitly mention emissions from international aviation and shipping, but responding to questions from Carbon Brief the prime minister’s office says: “This is a whole economy target…and we intend for it to apply to international aviation and shipping.”

Draft legislation implementing the new goal must now be approved by both houses of parliament, in a process that could be finalised in a matter of days. The government says it will review the target within five years “to confirm that other countries are taking similarly ambitious action”.

Why is the UK setting a net-zero target for 2050?

The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act includes a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. This was set in the context of international ambition to limit warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial temperatures.

In 2015, the Paris Agreement changed the rules of the game by raising global ambition to “well below” 2C and adding an aspirational goal of limiting warming to 1.5C. The Paris deal also commits signatories to “balance” greenhouse gas emissions and sinks “in the second half of this century” MORE

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Is Ontario doing its fair share on climate change?

YOUNG PEOPLE ASK: IS OUR FUTURE WORTH LESS THAN THAT OF OTHER GENERATIONS?

“We can still, as a society, choose to comply with the Paris Agreement. If we don’t, the subtext is clear: our future, the future of Canada’s young people, is worth less than that of the other generations. I prefer to choose hope. “

On April 2, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) tabled a report on Canada’s changing climate.

The effects of climate change can seem abstract and far off, but that is not the case in this country. Canada is already seeing its climate change. And according to the report, these changes are only unfortunately just beginning, and their effects will only become more pronounced over time.

The effects of climate change on Canada’s climate are irreversible, but we can still limit the amount of warming in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects. The report’s authors considered two scenarios: one where global emissions are kept below the 2°C temperature limit set by the Paris Agreement and the other one, the status quo.

Not considered in the report, was a scenario where the temperature increase would be limited to 1.5°C, the threshold for avoiding the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

The ECCC report indicates that regardless of the scenario, Canada will warm twice as fast as the global average, an increase that will be felt particularly during winter. Since 1948, Canada’s average annual temperature has already climbed by 1.7°C.

How can we justify this disconnect between our scientific knowledge on the future of the planet and the absence of political leadership needed to effect a true energy transition?

CANADA’S YOUTH DEMAND CONCRETE, IMMEDIATE ACTION ON THE CLIMATE

This is why youth are mobilizing, week after week. They are following Greta Thunberg’s lead by walking out of school on Fridays and marching in the streets to demand action on climate change. On March 15, 150,000 young people and their allies flooded the streets of Montreal, asking: “Why should study when our future is uncertain?”; and “Why bother with an education when governments don’t listen to educated people?”.

Climate change is not simply an environmental issue; it also involves social and intergenerational justice. While the threat of climate change is starting to be felt in many of our lives, some communities have been dealing with it for centuries. It is essential that this debate forces society to reflect on the disproportionate burden the exposure to environmental risks has imposed on marginalized communities, including Indigenous and racialized peoples. That is why intersectional approaches, like those in the Green New Deal (proposed by the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots political youth group, and championed in Congress by the youngest Congressperson in history, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), are supported by a majority of millennial electors. MORE

There is hope! Five recent developments which might actually help fight climate change

In October 2018 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which provided a sobering update on the state of the environment. According to the report, “unprecedented changes” are needed to achieve the target of keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, after which the risk of extreme weather conditions – such as droughts, floods and forest fires – will significantly increase.

It’s not all bad news though. In need of hope, I turned to Lexology to see how lawmakers are responding to global calls for action and found that many countries are taking positive steps in this regard. Here are five recent developments from around the world which may actually help to mitigate the risks of climate change.

1. US Green New Deal

As the second highest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, many of us have a vested interest in what action the United States takes to mitigate global warming. One positive step in this regard may be Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, the outline for which was made public on 7 February 2019. According to Bergeson & Campbell PC, the policy package aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the transformation of the US economy. Among other things, the deal calls for:

  • a transition to 100% renewable energy;
  • investment in infrastructure and industry; and
  • a commitment to clean air and a sustainable environment.

Of course, the proposed package is just that – a proposal. As Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP has pointed out, Cortez’s deal calls for action on issues well beyond the environment, and broad proposals such as these often struggle to attract sufficient consensus to gain approval. MORE

To curb climate change, we have to suck carbon from the sky. But how?

Once considered a distraction, scientists now say using technology—and nature—to remove CO2 from the atmosphere is not only possible: It’s a must.

Radish cover crop traps nitrogen; mystery follows

The long radish root creates deep channels in the soil that can make it easier for subsequent  to reach water in the soil below.

At McCarty Family Farms, headquartered in sun-blasted northwest Kansas, fields rarely sit empty any more. In a drive to be more sustainable, the family dairy still grows corn, sorghum, and alfalfa, but now often sows the bare ground between harvests with wheat and daikon. The wheat gets fed to livestock. The radishes, with their penetrating roots, break up the hard-packed surface and then, instead of being harvested, are allowed to die and enrich the soil.

Like all plants, cereal grains and root vegetables feed on carbon dioxide. In 2017, according to a third-party auditplanting cover crops on land that once sat empty helped the McCarty farms in Kansas and Nebraska pull 6,922 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil across some 12,300 acres—as much as could have been stored by 7,300 acres of forest. Put another way: The farm soil had sucked up the emissions of more than 1,300 cars.

Moves like this are among a host of often overlooked steps that scientists now say are crucial to limiting the worst impacts of climate change. MORE

Why everybody should rid themselves of old habits—and go vegan

Jessica Scott-Reid: Eating animals and the food they produce is no longer necessary—and there are cheaper and healthier options in the Western world


Replacing meat farming with more efficient food production could help ease the strain on the planet. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Where once the decision to not eat meat was perceived as an act of radical rebellion, plant-based eating and cruelty-free shopping has now become a major trend. Vegetarianism and veganism have gone mainstream: plant-based meat alternatives are increasingly available at grocery retailers across North America, and there’s been a boom in subscribers to Meat Free Monday, the Paul McCartney-endorsed initiative to cut meat from meals one day a week.

According to Euromonitor, global sales of meat substitutes have risen an average of 9.3 per cent each year between 2012 and 2017.

A …report in the journal Nature pointed to a number of crucial solutions, which included a call to Western countries to reduce beef and pork consumption by 90 per cent, poultry and milk by 60 per cent, and to replace that with four to six times more beans and pulses. MORE

Related: 10 tasty and easy vegan dinner ideas

Immediate fossil fuel phaseout could arrest climate change – study

Scientists say it may still technically be possible to limit warming to 1.5C if drastic action is taken now

Climate change could be kept in check if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately, according to research.

It shows that meeting the internationally agreed aspiration of keeping global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible. The scientists say it is therefore the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal.

The study found that if all fossil fuel infrastructure – power plants, factories, vehicles, ships and planes – from now on are replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of their useful lives, there is a 64% chance of staying under 1.5C. MORE

“THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY”: A PREVIEW OF HOW CLIMATE SCIENCE COULD PLAY OUT IN THE COURTROOM, COURTESY OF JULIANA V. UNITED STATES

As you know, in Juliana v. United States twenty-one individual youth plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Oregon against the United States, the president, and various other federal officials and agencies, claiming that the “nation’s climate system” is critical to their rights to life, liberty, and property; that the federal government has violated their substantive due process rights by allowing fossil fuel production, consumption, and combustion at “dangerous levels;” and that the government has failed to fulfill its obligations under the public trust doctrine.

As a remedy, the plaintiffs asked the court to compel the government to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions so that atmospheric COconcentrations will be no greater than 350 parts per million by 2100 – a science-based target consistent with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C.  MORE