Fossil Fuel Companies Knew How Hard Keeping to IPCC’s ‘Unprecedented’ 1.5C Limit Would Be — And Did Nothing

Benxi steel industry
Image: Andreas Habich/Wikimedia Commons CC BYSA 3.0

The scientists are clear: “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed if the humans are going to prevent the world warming by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

This news — emanating from the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) mammoth new special report —  comes as a surprise to almost no-one. Least of all the fossil fuel industry, which has known for decades that the carbon budget that keeps that goal within reach has been rapidly depleting thanks to its products.

So how did we get here, to a place where plotting a path to keep planetary warming within this highly desirable limit requires changes on a scale for which “there is no documented historic precedent”?

Exxon Knew, Shell Knew

Fossil fuel companies have known for decades that their products would lead us to this point.

Back in 1982, Exxon published this graph, which shows a probable temperature rise of 1.5°C some time between 2030 and 2040:


Source: Graph from an internal 1982 Exxon briefing document

Today’s report confirms how scarily accurate that prediction is likely to be — it says that on current trends, the world is expected to wam by 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. It also shows that the world has already currently warmed by about 1°C since pre-industrial levels thanks to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Exxon wasn’t the only fossil fuel company to commit resources to understanding this problem in the early days. An internal document from 1988 shows Shell also knew back that fossil fuel emissions were likely to lead to 1.5°C to 3.5°C of warming. On current trends, they’d be right — under current policies, the world is expected to warm by about 3.1°C to 3.7°C.


Source: Clipping from a 1988 internal Shell document entitled, ‘The Greenhouse Effect’

‘Unprecedented Changes’

The IPCC’s special report is the result of a huge collaboration between 91 authors and 114 co-authors, with 42,000 comments on drafts of the document, Climate Home reports.

The report says that if the world is going to keep to 1.5°C of warming without ‘overshooting’ — passing the limit then using technology to bring warming back down — then “rapid and far -reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure” are needed.

“These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options”, the scientists say.

…But the IPCC says the benefits of delivering that more ambitious target are big, and worth pursuing.

But the IPCC report has confirmed an inconvenient truth for the industry: that if temperature rises are going to be held to safe level, there is little space for fossil fuels.

The report says that if warming is going to be limited to 1.5°C, with limited or no overshoot, renewables will need to provide 70 to 85 percent of electricity in 2050.  MORE

 

Naomi Klein: To fight eco-fascism, Canada needs Green New Deal champions

Naomi Klein. Image: Adolfo Lujan/Flickr
Image: Adolfo Lujan/Flickr

“This is all wrong.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City on Monday, in which she condemned world leaders for their “empty words” and “fairytales of eternal economic growth,” went viral immediately.

If the international political establishment’s failure to treat the climate crisis as an emergency that requires a total, radical transformation of our economies and societies is, as Thunberg put it, “all wrong,” then the global scale and grassroots ambition of the mass mobilization for climate justice is exactly right.

Just a couple days prior, four million people took to the streets in 185 countries around the world to demand serious climate action from world leaders. Climate actions will continue throughout this week, culminating in a massive climate strike on Friday, September 27 in Canada.

We spoke with Naomi Klein about her new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal; the Global Climate Strike; what’s at stake in the upcoming Canadian federal election; and how the movement for a Green New Deal can counter a rising tide of eco-fascism. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Sophia Reuss: On Friday last week, we saw millions of people around the world join the Global Climate Strike. This upcoming Friday, people in communities across Canada are planning to strike. In past interviews, you’ve said that Canada owes the world a climate debt. How did we accumulate that debt, and what will it take for Canada to repay it?

Naomi Klein: Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Climate Convention, which says that all countries have a common responsibility to act on climate change, but that that responsibility is differentiated. It’s known as the “common but differentiated responsibility” clause. This is something that successive Canadian governments have agreed to throughout the 30 years since governments have been meeting to talk about lowering emissions. So it isn’t news that Canada has a responsibility as a large historical emitter of greenhouse gases. This is true of all of the major industrialized economies that have been burning carbon on an industrial scale for a couple hundred years.

[Canada has] more responsibility than countries that have a very small carbon footprint or have only started emitting large amounts of carbon relatively recently. What that means is that we need to move faster to lower our emissions in line with what scientists are telling us. They’re telling us that we need to have [reduced] global emissions in the next 11 years, which the IPCC report from last year told us we needed to do if we want to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means that countries like Canada have to do it even faster to make atmospheric space for countries that have smaller carbon footprints.

But also, part of that differentiated responsibility is that we need to pay into the UN Climate Fund, which is a flawed financial mechanism, but it’s the only one we’ve got right now. We need to provide financing for poorer countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go straight to green [technology], and also to help communities keep their carbon-sequestering forests intact. We need forests to stay intact. It’s to the benefit of the whole planet, so it shouldn’t only be the responsibility of relatively poor countries to give up revenue that they could be getting if they felled those forests […] and if we don’t want them to do it, we need to help.

What are the components of a Canadian response?

I think there’s a few components to this. One is ambition. Meaning, if global emissions need to be cut in half in 11 years, Canada needs to do more. We need to cut faster. We also need to pay. We need to provide climate financing, and there are also responsibilities to provide asylum. I don’t think that we can talk about our climate responsibilities without talking about migrant rights, and really questioning the legitimacy of our borders at this stage in history where so many millions of people are being displaced and have a right to seek asylum.

There are many drivers of migration right now. Climate is one of them. Climate is also a contributor to conflict. It’s an accelerant to conflict. It’s really hard to pry it apart from any of the other drivers to migration. But we currently don’t even recognize climate refugees under international law, so we don’t have the mechanisms really to address this. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the ways in which we’re talking about a Green New Deal right now are not making the links with migration, and then not making the links enough with international financing either. MORE

Rosamond Adams: WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE NUMBERS???

IF YOU “GREEN” CANADIANS ARE GOING TO BE ASSHOLES IN THE CLIMATE CRISIS, AT LEAST TELL THE TRUTH.

Image result for rosalind adams prince edward county

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chamge Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C., to prevent climate catastrophe, global CO2 emissions must fall to about 17.6 billion tonnes annually by 2030. This implies a global per capita average of 2.1 tonnes.

Canada’s Green New Deal says a Canadian carbon footprint of 10 tonnes per person meets the demands of this science.

The Green Party of Canada says a Canadian carbon footprint of 7.1 tonnes per person exceeds the demands of this science.

Both organizations contend that these reductions from our current 22 tonne per person carbon emission level contribute to achieving the scientifically necessary global average.

These are lies.

If they were taught the truth about climate disruption, a Canadian child in grade five or six could easily spot the deception. As things stand, most Canadian adults, including most self-identified climate activists, including David Suzuki and Naomi Klein, are too deceived, too lazy, too stupid, too uncaring, too deep in denial, or too invested in their own class interests to understand the basic math.

Here it is, for anyone who gives a crap.

Canadians having a carbon footprint of 10 tonnes or 7 tonnes per person by 2030 does not contribute to achieving a global average of 2.1 tonnes per person by 2030.

Instead it contributes to a situation where many, many more people than us must have carbon footprints of less than 2.1 tonnes by 2030 to make up for our failure. This is the rule of averages.

(For example, for every one person with a carbon footprint of 7.1 tonnes annually, more than 2 people have to have a carbon footprint of zero to bring the average down to 2.1 tonnes, or 5 people have to have a carbon footprint of one tonne, and so on.)

It also contributes to a situation where it would have to go without saying that in addition to being denied access to their fair share of the world’s remaining burnable fossil fuel, these low-emitting people would also have to be denied the right to use their carbon emissions quota to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere.

So much for any semblance of global justice with the Green New Deal or the Green Party plan.

In this situation it is the people with carbon footprints lower than 2.1 tonnes who are contributing to saving a livable climate; it is certainly not us.

Q: If the world’s biggest polluters, Canada among them, are only going to cut their emissions in half by 2030, how many of the world’s lowest-emitting countries, how many of the world’s poorest and most energy-starved countries, how many of the world’s countries least able to cut their emissions without inflicting great suffering and risk on their people, must also cut their negligible emissions in half to bring global average per capita emissions down to a safe level (for the people of the global north—a 1.5 degree rise is actually life-threatening for hundreds of millions if not billions in the global south)?

A: ALL OF THEM.

Fuck the Green Party, fuck the Green New Deal. Fuck the NDP, the Liberals, and the Conservatives; they’re even worse.

If we want government that isn’t going to kill our children, destroy civilization, decimate or extinguish all other species of life on earth to protect the privilege and power of the rich, we are going to have to govern ourselves.


Teenage activists and an IPCC triumph

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a well-timed blueprint for action. Decision makers must now pay attention — a nascent youth movement is showing them how.

Image result for greta thunberg addresses French parliament
“You can’t ignore science.” Swedish teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg addressed French parliament on 23 July 2019.

 …as September draws to a close, world leaders will assemble in New York City for a climate summit convened by UN secretary-general António Guterres, where the IPCC’s latest findings will also be considered. As the IPCC report points out, the global mean surface temperature increased by about 0.87 °C (with a likely range of 0.75–0.99 °C) between 1850 and 2015. Guterres wants leaders to come to New York with concrete plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to reach net zero by 2050. But whether they are capable of this — or willing to do so — is an open question.

Young people care about climate

As each of the UN conventions faces continuing challenges, the IPCC can at least be assured of support from the next generation. It has garnered a following among the growing international youth climate movement. Members keenly absorb every new report, including participants in the school strike for climate, led by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg.

Thunberg makes a point of namechecking the IPCC and quoting paragraph and page numbers in speeches, as she did in an address to the French parliament at the end of last month.

As government delegates get ready for Delhi, Nairobi and New York, they must prepare to answer why, if children can understand the meaning of the IPCC assessments, adults cannot do the same?

The youth climate movement’s members are brave, and they are right. It has been almost three decades since the three UN conventions — on biodiversity, climate and desertification — were agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. And it has been 31 years since the IPCC was created to advise decision makers. Yet environmental promises have not been matched by meaningful action.

Younger generations know, perhaps better than the adults, that the world might not have another three decades to prevent climate impacts that will be even more serious than those we face now. Politicians must act now. SOURCE

We can’t keep eating as we are – why isn’t the IPCC shouting this from the rooftops?

It’s a tragic missed opportunity. The new report on land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shies away from the big issues and fails to properly represent the science. As a result, it gives us few clues about how we might survive the century. Has it been nobbled? Was the fear of taking on the farming industry – alongside the oil and coal companies whose paid shills have attacked it so fiercely – too much to bear? At the moment, I have no idea. But what the panel has produced is pathetic.

The problem is that it concentrates on just one of the two ways of counting the carbon costs of farming. The first way – the IPCC’s approach – could be described as farming’s current account. How much greenhouse gas does driving tractors, spreading fertiliser and raising livestock produce every year? According to the panel’s report, the answer is around 23% of the planet-heating gases we currently produce. But this fails miserably to capture the overall impact of food production.

The second accounting method is more important. This could be described as the capital account: how does farming compare to the natural ecosystems that would otherwise have occupied the land? A paper published in Nature last year, but not mentioned by the IPCC, sought to count this cost. Please read these figures carefully. They could change your life.

The official carbon footprint of people in the UK is 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year. But in addition to this, the Nature paper estimates that the total greenhouse gas cost – in terms of lost opportunities for storing carbon that the land would offer were it not being farmed – of an average northern European diet is 9 tonnes a year. In other words, if we counted the “carbon opportunity costs” of our diet, our total footprint would almost triple, to 14.4 tonnes.

Why is this figure so high? Because we eat so much meat and dairy. The Nature paper estimates that the carbon cost of chicken is six times higher than soya, while milk is 15 times higher and beef 73 times. One kilo of beef protein has a carbon opportunity cost of 1,250kg: that, incredibly, is roughly equal to driving a new car for a year, or to one passenger flying from London to New York and back.

These are global average figures, raised by beef production in places like the Amazon basin. But even in the UK, the costs are astonishing. A paper in the journal Food Policy estimates that a kilo of beef protein reared on a British hill farm whose soils are rich in carbon has a cost of 643kg, while a kilo of lamb protein costs 749kg. Research published in April by the Harvard academics Helen Harwatt and Matthew Hayek, also missed by the IPCC, shows that, alongside millions of hectares of pasture land, an astonishing 55% of UK cropping land (land that is ploughed and seeded) is used to grow feed for livestock, rather than food for humans. If our grazing land was allowed to revert to natural ecosystems, and the land currently used to grow feed for livestock was used for grains, beans, fruit, nuts and vegetables for humans, this switch would allow the UK to absorb an astonishing quantity of carbon. This would be equivalent, altogether, the paper estimates, to absorbing nine years of our total current emissions. And farming in this country could then feed everyone, without the need for imports.

A plant-based diet would make the difference between the UK’s current failure to meet its international commitments, and success.

People tend to make two massive mistakes while trying to minimise the environmental impact of the food they eat. First, they focus on food miles and forget about the other impacts. For some foods, especially those that travel by plane, the carbon costs of transport are very high. But for most bulk commodities – grain, beans, meat and dairy – the greenhouse gases produced in transporting them are a small fraction of the overall impact. A kilo of soya shipped halfway round the world inflicts much less atmospheric harm than a kilo of chicken or pork reared on the farm down the lane.

The second mistake is to imagine that extensive farming is better for the planet than intensive farming. The current model of intensive farming tends to cause massive environmental damage: pollution, soil erosion and the elimination of wildlife. But extensive farming is worse: by definition, it requires more land to produce the same amount of food. This is land that could otherwise be devoted to ecosystems and wildlife. MORE

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Canada is warming faster than we thought. What can we do about it?

While global temperatures have increased 0.8 C since 1948, Canada has seen an increase of 1.7 C — more than double the global average. And in the Arctic, the warming is happening at a much faster rate of 2.3 C, the Changing Climate report says.

A large stack from the Sault Paper Mill. Photo: Billy Wilson/Flickr
Photo: Billy Wilson/Flickr

new report leaked one day early from Environment and Climate Change Canada shows that Canada is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with Northern Canada heating up at almost three times the global average.

The changing climate report was prepared in a similar way to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, as a synthesis of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies. It included details on a familiar catalogue of the impacts we can expect, not limited to increases in precipitation (particularly in winter), “extreme fire weather” and water supply shortages in summer, threatened freshwater systems, marine ecosystem collapse and a heightened risk of coastal flooding. As the Toronto Star noted, the report concluded that “even if countries around the world stick to their commitments under the 2016 Paris Agreement, Canada is still likely to experience a range of consequences like rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and Arctic ice cover, increased risk of summertime water shortages and more frequent droughts, floods and wildfires.”

In some ways, this information is new — the degree and scope to which this land has and will be impacted has never been collated with this much certainty before. The idea that Canada will be impacted more than average by climate change may alert some people who have bought into the selfish and false talking point that we will not be terribly adversely impacted by this crisis, that it could even be a good thing for us. It may jolt others out of complacency. But for people who are already grappling with the full scale of the climate crisis, there’s been more than enough scientific evidence and Indigenous knowledge shared to indicate that this is an emergency. As the Northwest Territories Chapter of the Council of Canadians wrote, “We’ve seen the changes; now we have the data. But still there are people crying ‘fake news.’ Those of us wanting a livable planet need to step up the push for a Green New Deal for Canada and the NWT.”

We wrote about our takeaways from the special IPCC report on 1.5 C late last year for people interested it fighting for climate justice, and thought we would reiterate some of them in the wake of this Canada-specific report.

The most important thing to remember it’s still within our reach to avoid most of the future impacts the report describes. We have the solutions. We have many roadmaps for a fair transition on the necessary timeline, but to get there we will need to multiply the people power pushing for them. MORE

 

Children are fighting for their future. We must support them


Swedish student Greta Thunberg, 16, has galvanized a movement, inspiring students worldwide to tell adults their future is at stake. (Photo: Anders Hellberg via Wikimedia Commons)

“And a little child shall lead them.” – Isaiah 11:6

At 16, Greta Thunberg may not be a little child, but she’s showing tremendous leadership. The Swedish student has galvanized a world movement, pressing adults to remove the blinkers of corporate and political self-interest and recognize that their refusal to respond appropriately to climatologists’ urgent warnings is leading to the destruction of a future for all generations to come.

Children don’t have a large stake in the status quo so they aren’t bound by the constraints of business and politics. They aren’t yet part of it, except as budding consumers and victims of political machinations. Children speak from their hearts with an innocence, naiveté and idealism only they possess.

Children don’t have a large stake in the status quo so they aren’t bound by the constraints of business and politics.

For decades, environmentalists calling for government action to transform our energy sources from fossil fuels to cleaner renewables have been marginalized as unrealistic, extremists or anti-business. Even activists have imposed self-restraint in our calls for political action lest we be seen as a threat to jobs, corporate interests or the economy.

Thunberg’s laser focus is on what politicians are doing (or not doing) rather than saying. And what they’re doing is refusing to take the necessary actions outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report in October. It warns that failing to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 11 years will put humanity — and numerous other species — on the road to catastrophe.

The United Nations established the IPCC in 1988 to be the most authoritative source of scientific information on climate change, compiling research from scientists and experts worldwide to inform governments and the public of the current state of scientific knowledge. Because it’s intergovernmental, its reports are vetted by countries like Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Russia, which have their own agendas. This makes the reports invariably cautious. Every IPCC prediction (temperature, sea level rise, weather events) over five-year periods has fallen short of what actually occurred.

MORE

How This B.C. Activist Became The Oil Industry’s Number One Enemy

Tzeporah Berman has been instrumental in delaying or stopping 21 oil projects. Her next target: the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Tzeporah Berman Ms Chatelaine sits on a log by the ocean, looking out across the beach
Photo, Johann Wall.

Last December, environmental activist Tzeporah Berman joined thousands of activists, scientists, policy makers and industry reps in Katowice, Poland, for COP24, the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference. She was scheduled to present a comprehensive analysis of the increase in Canada’s oil and gas emissions. Berman has been to many such gatherings, but Katowice, located in the heart of Poland’s coal country, provided a particularly bitter lesson in the contradictory nature of climate change talks. “I would leave my hotel and walk through coal-choked streets, coughing, to get to the climate negotiations,” she says.

Once there, the irony only deepened: While Berman listened to the world’s experts on renewables talk breathlessly about price drops and leaps in technology, in the room next door, Canadian government representatives cozied up to execs from Suncor. The next day, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented its grim Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C. “I’d never seen scientists like that before,” she says, “near tears, frantic and scared, saying it’s worse than we thought.”

Since she was 23, when she first helped coordinate logging protests in B.C.’s Clayoquot Sound, Berman’s mission has been to bring together political enemies (those experts and Suncor execs). In 1993, during what was dubbed “The War in the Woods,” she famously organized blockades that got her arrested and charged with 857 counts of criminal aiding and abetting (the charges were ultimately stayed). Her determination, along with testy negotiations between environmental groups, logging companies and First Nations, ultimately protected the majority of the Sound’s remaining rainforest.

In the decades that followed, Berman became known as one of the country’s most formidable environmentalists, with a reputation as a passionate but pragmatic deal maker who could nimbly balance the needs of industry, the desires of politicians and the health of the planet. MORE

The Game-Changing Promise of a Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is not a piecemeal approach that trains a water gun on a blazing fire, but a comprehensive plan to transform society for the better.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, congresswoman-elect from New York, speaks to activists with the Sunrise Movement protesting in the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Nov. 13, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to activists with the Sunrise Movement protesting in the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in Washington D.C., on Nov. 13, 2018. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via Redux

The draft text calls for the committee, which would be fully funded and empowered to draft legislation, to spend the next year consulting with a range of experts — from scientists to local lawmakers to labor unions to business leaders — to map out a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” capable of making the U.S. economy “carbon neutral” while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” By January 2020, the plan would be released, and two months later would come draft legislation designed to turn it into a reality. MORE