UN Calls Global Climate Outlook ‘Bleak’

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising and the window for action closing. Still, there are some hopeful trends.

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Credit: Soundplan

The world has refused to slash its collective greenhouse gas emissions, narrowing the planet’s pathway back to a safe climate.

Authors of an annual United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report published Tuesday were uncharacteristically direct in their 2019 assessment of the gap between actual and desirable emissions levels.

“The summary findings are bleak,” they write. “Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.”

How deep and how fast? Nations must halve their 2018 pollution levels by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Global emissions have risen about 1.5% a year in the last decade, plateauing between 2014 and 2016.

The new report is part of a larger trend among high-profile scientific assessments published in the last 18 months, each featuring increasingly blunt language from a community not known for it. Examples include three studies from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They addressed limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, how land is changing around the world and the effects of higher temperatures on iced areas and oceans.

This latest research—the tenth edition of the annual Emissions Gap report—is a hard-check on sentiment, said Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Current policies could lead to 60 billion metric tons of climate pollution in 2030. To have a shot at staying below 1.5 degrees, that figure needs to be 25 billion tons.

“That’s easy math,” she said. “We’re double what we need to be.”

China's Coal Dependence A Challenge For Climate
Smoke billows from a coal fired power plant in Shanxi, China in 2015.  A history of heavy dependence on burning coal for energy has made China a huge source of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images AsiaPac

Of course, “bleak” doesn’t mean hopeless, the researchers said. Political and civic attention to climate change is increasing, led in many nations by younger citizens. Renewable energy is the cheapest source of power in much of the world and new utility-scale systems can already compete with the marginal operating costs of existing coal plants.

Countries know what they need to do, even if they’re not yet doing it. In 2009, G20 nations agreed to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies, although none have actually set a deadline for doing so. Despite scientists’ pleas to zero-out emissions by mid-century, only a few nations—and none in the G20—have given the UN climate administration a timeline for achieving it.

There’s still a path to climate safety, and most of it runs through those G20 countries, since they make up almost 80% of emissions. As a group, the world’s biggest economies are likely to meet 2020 climate pledges made in 2010—though with the notable exception of, among others, the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The new report breaks out specific recommendations for seven key emitters: the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea and South Africa.

China, said the UN, should ban all new coal-fired power plants—despite last week’s news that the country is still on a coal-plant binge) and make electricity carbon-free. The U.S. should regulate power plants, introduce carbon pricing and decarbonize its buildings and transportation systems, the UN says—but the realities of domestic politics in America make that unlikely.

The Chevron Corp. Permian Trove Is Changing U.S. Shale
A pumpjack operates on an oil well in the Permian Basin near Crane, Texas, in 2018. Photographer: Bloomberg

Indeed, the report makes clear that the time for half-measures has passed.

“Incremental changes will not be enough, and there is a need for rapid and transformational action,” the authors write. Climate-proofing the global economy “will require fundamental, structural changes” along with “investments in defensive and adaptive infrastructure” and a massive shift in “values, norms, consumer culture and world views.”

Those changes will require at least $1.6 trillion in energy-sector investment annually through 2050, they estimate. That’s $48 trillion.

Astonishingly, some nations are still increasing their plans for fossil-fuel production, making an already bad situation worse. The  UNEP last week issued its first Production Gap Report, a related initiative that looks at the scale of fossil-fuel resources nations can or expect to develop. Overall, the world may produce 50% more coal, oil and gas than is compatible with a 2 degree Celsius scenario, and 120% more than a 1.5 degree scenario requires.

“The climate problem is mainly a fossil-fuel problem” rather than an emissions problem, said Peter Erickson, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute and contributor to the production-gap report. “In the long-term, it may be better to talk about it that way.”

David Suzuki: Why we’re almost out of time on climate change

“Climate disruption is not going to hit us next generation, or next century. It’s here now ... When voters head to the polls in October, we must put climate at the top of the political priority list,” writes environmentalist David Suzuki.

In 1989, I hosted a CBC radio series, It’s a Matter of Survival, featuring interviews with almost 150 scientists and environmental experts from around the world. Their warning was consistent and stark: Human beings were causing unprecedented changes to Earth’s systems, the detrimental effects were already taking shape, and people would need to reinvent how we live, consume, use energy and move around in order to avoid a looming global crisis.

The public response was impressive. In this pre-internet era, the CBC received 16,000 handwritten letters from listeners eager to act on climate change and other environmental issues. (This would eventually lead to the David Suzuki Foundation’s creation.)

That was 30 years ago.

Today, I’m experiencing a strong — and discouraging — sense of déjà vu…

Last October, hundreds of the world’s top climate scientists, representing almost every nation, gave us another, even more dire warning: We only have about 12 years to reduce our global emissions by half in order to avoid the catastrophic, irreversible effects of locking too many emissions into the atmosphere for years to come — everything from widespread drought, crop failure and water shortages to intensified wildfires and mass human displacement. The world’s best-known medical journal, The Lancet, also tells us the health consequences for humanity — from heat stroke to the spread of diseases and parasites — will be enormous.

This UN report — by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading body on climate — focuses on what we need to do as a global community to meet our Paris Agreement targets and limit average global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. This is the target we must all focus on, and governments, industries and citizens must have the courage to change the way we think and act if we are to meet it.

The IPCC is just one of many organizations with a similar message. In November 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists, representing some 15,000 scientists, issued a second “Warning to Humanity” (their first was in 1992). It was “the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.” The BioScience article stated, “By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”

Luckily, signs of hope are emerging. In many cases, this hope is embodied in young people who have everything at stake.

Just last week, Greta Thunberg — the 16-year-old founder of #FridaysForFuture climate strikes and the unofficial figurehead of the international youth climate movement — landed in New York after journeying from Europe in a zero-emissions yacht to address the United Nations, before she travels to Montreal for the Sept. 27 global youth climate strike.

Earlier this spring, inspired by Greta, millions of young people took to the streets to strike for climate, sending a clear message to governments worldwide: We need climate action now. As Greta says, “I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”

Canadians will soon face another important moment: the Oct. 21 federal election. With just over a decade left to take massive strides toward decarbonization, politicians representing any party must agree that the threat of climate chaos is real and must be met with the same type of response we give to war. When voters head to the polls in October, we must put climate at the top of the political priority list.

This is why co-conspirator and fellow “silverback gorilla” (as we amicably refer to ourselves) Stephen Lewis and I are touring Canada in September and October. We need to spread the message: Everyone in Canada and all political parties must rally together to take action on climate disruption. This isn’t a partisan issue.

We’ll speak in at least six cities, with a special focus on connecting with Canadian youth who have the most at stake from the repercussions of global heating. Other notable Canadians — Indigenous leaders, musicians and public figures — have signed up to help.

Climate disruption is not going to hit us next generation, or next century. It’s here now. And the way we live is still exacerbating it.

Stephen and I have a life’s worth of knowledge and nothing left to prove. Our responsibility now is sharing our wisdom with a new generation, and giving young people the tools they’ll need to navigate the challenges of the world they will inherit.

I’ve been sounding the alarm for more than 30 years, but we don’t have another 30. Please join us and help put the #ClimateFirst this federal election. SOURCE

CarbonWise: From caring to climate action

Climate Action Powell River

“Climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wakeup call.” ~ Naomi Klein

If there is one thing that distinguishes us as human beings, it is our capacity to care. What makes human caring unique (and morally significant) is that we can develop into beings who care for non-human species, forests and oceans, indeed, for the planet itself.

No doubt you are thinking: “Well, if that is really true, then why have we done so many things that cause such great damage to the earth, and inflicted unnecessary pain and suffering on other animals?”

It is important to grasp here that the capacity to care, like any other human capability, must be nurtured, developed and strengthened through education, mentoring and in practical contexts of action.

When we experience sorrow, pain or loss in our lives and someone gives up their time to be there for us, we begin to grasp what it means to care. At a broader level, when we see others gathering together and engaged in community projects and initiatives that demonstrate love, caring and respect for the biosphere, the land and the water, we are captivated and motivated to act.

In a very real sense we become caring beings when we act in caring ways toward each other and the planet. We communicate the meaning of caring to others by recounting stories of people who embody it in their daily lives.

That we don’t often seem to act in a caring way toward the environment has a lot to do with the fact that since the industrial revolution, we have acquiesced to an economic system, which views our planet as nothing more than a “commodity,” or a means to the end of individual wealth, rather than a precious and fragile Earth that provides the very conditions of possibility for life itself.

What environmental science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made abundantly clear to us in the last year is that we need to care much more about our planet in the present for the sake of the future.

A new 39-minute documentary from the UK called The Race is On: Secrets and Solutions of Climate gives us a clue about what it means to care. It is both a sobering account of why governments avoid taking serious actions to mitigate climate warming, and an inspiring story of how we can rise to the challenge of climate disruption, encourage each other to care more and build a better future. Filmmaker and director of Global Sustainability Solutions Dr. James Dyke talks to leading scientists, economists, activists and entrepreneurs who not only understand what we need to do, but remind us that the solutions are out there; they are only waiting for us to act on them.

This documentary is online, free and available to all.

What we learn from it is that caring for our environment is not merely a feeling but more a way of acting toward the earth that demonstrates respect and love for the precious gift of life itself. SOURCE

The Race is On: Secrets and Solutions of Climate (2019)

6 Glimmers of Climate Optimism for the End of a Dark Year

It was a year of frightening reports on the future of our planet. But sustainability experts are still feeling optimistic about some of the strides we’ve made this year.


Photo: Victor Rodriguez/Unsplash

In 2018, we learned from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have around 30 years to fully decarbonize or risk widespread global devastation from warming and sea-level rise. We also learned that current emissions patterns are nowhere near in line with that goal. Even though the Trump administration tried to bury the U.S.’s own findings on climate, the 1,656-page National Climate Assessment backed up the IPCC report, and called for a doubling down on climate protection policies to prevent damage (which is already underway) to the environment and the country’s infrastructure.

The consensus among scientists, researchers, and sustainability experts following this years’ reports is that while stopping climate change will require an undoubtedly Herculean effort, the biggest hurdle is political, not technical. In other words, if all the innovations in sustainable technology and science were harnessed and directed at reducing emissions and environmental collapse, we might stand a chance at meeting the goals laid out in the reports.

Don’t get us wrong: It will take a heroic, global effort if we’re even going to come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius–the point after which, according to the reports, large swaths of the planet will become uninhabitable, and issues like mass starvation will become widespread. And the lack of leadership from the United States, under climate change denier Donald Trump, is making cohesive political action difficult.

But underneath all this, activists, scientists, and business leaders are working to advance progressive climate action, and despite everything, have hung onto a sense of optimism as we move into 2019. Here are some reasons why:

1. We Have the Potential to Radically Shift the Way We Eat

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On the heels of the IPCC report, the World Resources Institute released research tracking global meat consumption, and found that food production, especially animal agriculture, accounts for around a quarter of all emissions. It’s the single-largest driver of climate change. This makes a pretty compelling case for wide-scale adoption of vegetarianism and veganism, but far more importantly, should clue in food distributors, like restaurants and grocery stores, that they need to change their offerings. That’s already happening. This year, the plant-based Impossible Burger started appearing everywhere from airline menus to fast-food restaurants, and is preparing to launch in grocery storesJust, another startup, is growing real meat in bioreactors, which dramatically reduces emissions and the environmental footprint of meat production. It’s possible, now, to imagine a future where factory-farm-produced meat is replaced by plant-based versions, or meat grown in labs.

2. We Can Grow More Food Without Damaging the Environment

“Over the last century, we’ve relied heavily on fertilizer to meet the food demands of a growing population,” says Karsten Temme, CEO of the startup Pivot Bio. Fertilizer is most commonly made from synthetic nitrogen, which is easy to produce and distribute, but releases a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Synthetic nitrogen alone is responsible for around 5% of global warming. Next year, Temme’s startup will begin delivering a new, natural alternative to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to farmers. Pivot Bio’s product consists of natural, nitrogen-producing microbes that adhere to plants’ roots, supporting plant growth while eradicating the need for environment-damaging synthetic versions. Especially as populations grow and land constricts due to climate change, well-fertilized crops will be necessary to meet food demands. MORE

A Green New Deal of the North

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Climate chaos is upon us. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that preventing climate catastrophe will require “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. We need a clear plan to transition away from our current destructive energy and economic systems, which are based in exploitation and extraction, and into systems that are sustainable and just. And we need it now.

This document seeks to demonstrate how Canada can be a leader in creating comprehensive solutions to the climate crisis.

Canada is one of the highest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. We’re one of a handful of rich countries that set the technological, economic and social patterns for what the planet’s poor majority see as a good life. We continue to benefit from the massive extraction and burning of fossil fuels. As such, Canada has a triple responsibility to put new ways of doing things into practice. Through bold action, we can transform the Canadian economy and become a global leader in responsible and sustainable energy production.

This task presents us with a historic opportunity to tackle many of our interlocking problems together, by challenging the exploitative nature of our current economic system. This is the promise of the Green New Deal. Its key insight is that for a climate transition to really work, it has to work for everyone: this means redistributing wealth and resources away from harmful activities and those who seek to profit from them, and giving regular people a say in who wins and loses as we move away from fossil fuels.

The just transition isn’t just from fossil fuels to renewables. It means removing the economic incentives and structures that got us to this crisis point, so that we don’t fall back into the same trap in the future.

And while everyone will benefit from a Green New Deal, the transition must address the structural inequalities and improve lives in communities marginalized by the current system. A just transition must confront and undermine the xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment that are the hallmarks of reactionary forces.

We need several transitions:

  • from individual and wasteful consumerism, to the communal luxury of free time and high quality public spaces for all to enjoy;
  • from private ownership to public and cooperative ownership models;
  • from authoritarian corporate structures to workplace democracy; and,
  • from enclosing the commons to expanding the commons.

In short, from blind faith in the market to a clear vision of a good life for all. To that end, here’s are some key pieces we see a serious version of the Green New Deal in Canada including: MORE

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