Column -- From the Hill: Climate change urgency
Last week I became a grandfather for the first time. Politicians are fond of talking about what kind of future we will leave our grandchildren, but I can now say that having a grandchild sharpens that perspective dramatically.
On Thanksgiving Monday, two news headlines jumped out at me, both dealing with our path to a sustainable future. The first announced the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These reports provide the world with expert analysis on rising greenhouse gas levels and the climate change those gases create.
This is the first report since the Paris Agreement of 2015, an agreement in which Canada led the way in a pledge to restrict global temperature rise to 1.5°C. The IPCC report states that the world would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 49% of 2017 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to meet the 1.5°C target.
We’re just over the 1°C increase now, and under present policies we’re headed for an increase of 3°C. We’ve already seen some of the early effects of that increase—more fires, more floods, more heat waves, more extreme weather of all sorts. The IPCC report states that the hottest days of summer in mid-latitudes could increase by 4°C under a 2°C global increase, suggesting that heat waves here in southern BC could easily reach 44°C. Under the same 2°C scenario, coral reefs would disappear from the world’s oceans. That really hit home to me—I can’t imagine my granddaughter only knowing about coral reefs through history books.
What actions could get us to an increase of only 1.5°C? The IPCC report says that we’ll have to do almost everything possible to reach the goal. One obvious task is the rapid construction of renewable energy systems such as wind and solar power—these will have to provide 70 to 85 percent of the world’s energy by 2050. World transportation systems must be transformed from fossil fuels to electric to take advantage of that shift to renewables. Managing forests to maximize their ability to sequester carbon in the long term is another route that Canada could take a lead role in. All these actions would create good jobs and generate a robust economy.
On top of this, we’ll eventually have to develop technologies to scrub large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere efficiently and cheaply—present systems are very expensive and work only at relatively small scales. And as Myles Allen, one of the report’s authors from Oxford University states, “I think we need to start a debate about who is going to pay for it, and whether it’s right for the fossil-fuel industry and its customers to be enjoying the benefits today and expecting the next generation to pay for cleaning it up.”
That brings me to the second headline of the day—the announcement of the Nobel Prize for economics. This year’s winners were William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, honoured for their work on sustainable growth. Nordhaus’ work directly links to the IPCC report–he has shown how a price on carbon is the most effective tool to quickly bring down greenhouse gas emissions.
I am increasingly dismayed at the moves across Canada to fight a price on carbon. The political parties that take this position are ignoring the fact that carbon pricing is the easiest and most painless way to lower our carbon footprint. When they say they’ll take action on climate change through other means, they’re not admitting that those other actions will cost industry and taxpayers more than the carbon tax in the long run. They are harming our economy and our environment at the same time, all for short-term political gain.