We are in trouble.
We face the collision of increasing global carbon emissions and a realization that early climate models dramatically underestimated the threats involved. Empirical evidence of climate change has indicated stronger climate sensitivity and a steadily worsening outlook. Meanwhile global carbon emissions are rising instead of falling. We need bold action now with three strategies, explained further below:
1. Get the targets right, internationally and at home
Canada needs to negotiate internationally in good faith. Canada must also do its fair share of the emissions reductions that the best available science demands.
2. Implement policies that will achieve these targets with existing technologies
We need to stop putting all our faith and money in technological miracles that we hope will arrive in time. The situation is urgent and demands immediate investment in technologies that work today. Efficiency and conservation are the most accessible and economical, but need to be rapidly supplemented with existing renewable technologies to phase out the use of coal, oil and natural gas.
3. Be prepared to adapt objectives as better information emerges
Scientists are constantly refining their estimates of what will be necessary. Over time, there has been a tendency for scientists to recommend ever stronger targets. We need to be prepared to follow the science and revise our plans.
Getting the right targets
We need to begin with the right targets. At international climate negotiations in Bali in December 2007, Canada was very reluctantly dragged into agreeing to reductions in principle of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 for industrialized countries, but Canadian negotiators immediately said that Canada itself had no intention of living up to these standards. Canada’s current hardline target is actually above, not below 1990 levels. It’s 3% above 1990 levels by 2020 (though for appearances, the Harper government routinely phrases this as 17% below 2005 levels in defiance of international standards). This hostile negotiating stance must end. Canada must take responsibility for its actions.
The Green Party of Canada has the most aggressive targets of any of Canada’s political parties. We call for emissions reductions of 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 85% by 2040 (note this is 44% below today’s levels by 2020 and 88% below today’s levels by 2040). These targets are challenging but are likely to be still too low to address the scale of the crisis. Emerging science indicates that the target of less than 2° warming overall would force many low-lying nations beneath the seas and usher in deadly heat waves and irrevocable economic losses. What’s more, even in order to meet the 2 degree target, it is now thought that more aggressive reductions may be required.
Since the international negotiations collapsed in Copenhagen in December 2009, there is no binding global treaty enforcing emissions reductions at all after the Kyoto period ends in 2012. While the 2010 Cancun talks righted the multilateral process, the agreement reached there is not binding, and recognized that existing pledges are far too weak. The current level of ambition would lead to a world 4 degrees warmer this century, if it were met at all, which is unlikely given the lack of consequences for failure to comply.
To put this in perspective, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research estimated that a world 4-5 degrees warmer would have a carrying capacity of just 1 billion humans. Some recent analyses, such as those of the UK’s Tyndall Centre have been even more dire, indicating that a world 4 degrees warmer could only support perhaps half a billion people, and might be reached as early as 2060. If we continue on this genocidal path, we will be wiping out over 90% of humanity in our children’s lifetimes.
We must eliminate fossil fuel emissions as quickly as possible. We can no longer guarantee a reasonable degree of safety against catastrophic climate change. The effects of climate change are already dangerous and are almost certain to get more so. Preserving a planet for future generations which resembles the one we were born into demands urgent action.
Canada must lead the way, targeting very aggressive emissions reductions goals on the order of 30% below 1990 levels regardless of what other countries do. In addition, Canada must show an eagerness to adopt even more stringent measures if other countries follow suit, and urge them to do so.
Implementing policies that work
Canada has historically accepted the targets imposed by international consensus, but has failed to develop the policies required to reach them. Only with the Harper government has Canada failed even to aspire to internationally accepted norms.
I joined the Green Party in 2005 when the potential impacts of climate change were beginning to terrify me and none of the other parties had a reasonable plan to address them. Eliminating most of our emissions in 4 decades requires massive investment and planning if we are to have a lifestyle resembling the one we are used to. To add to this challenge, the biggest and deepest reductions will have to be made early – within the next decade or two. Virtually every sector will be dramatically altered.
The big areas of emissions that will have to be attacked are transportation, industry, electrical generation and space heating. Every one of these areas will have to cut out virtually all of its emissions if we are to meet the overall targets. All of these areas need to maximize efficiency as the first, most economical step toward reaching our goals. It is, however, mathematically impossible for incremental efficiency reductions to reach the needed goals. Different sources of energy will have to be used, so we’ll have to invest heavily in renewable power that can be put up quickly.
In addition, we are going to have to support and expand our forests, confront the problem of methane emissions from the far north and tackle emissions from more minor sources.
We have to invest in adaptation strategies as we face the impacts of climate change in Canada.
Finally, we have to do our share of necessary technology transfers as our international obligations require, so that we can help countries suffering from climate change caused primarily by emissions from countries like ours.
We have 40 years to transform our built environment so that we can keep warm without fossil fuels
Within the building sector, efficiency options can deliver the majority of emissions reductions. The difficulty will be doing it in time. The biggest challenges will be in retrofitting the structures we already live in.
We need to stop building structures that cannot function without fossil fuels, and we need to get serious about transforming the structures we live and work in now so they can function without fossil fuels as well. The necessary technologies exist and can be economically applied. What we need is the political will to mobilize the building industry to make these changes happen in 4 decades. See more here.
We have 40 years to decarbonize our industry
Industry needs to become more efficient, less polluting and more localized. Within 4 decades we need to virtually eliminate industrial carbon emissions.
We should transform the way we move in a decade
We need to rapidly phase out internal combustion vehicles. Public transit needs to be enhanced. Personal vehicles need to be electric. We need to enhance our rail system to move more freight and passengers. A Better Place is transforming whole countries within a decade. We need to jump in.
We need a fully renewable electricity grid in a decade
The Green Party accepts the challenge laid out by people like James Hansen and Al Gore to replace all fossil fuels for electricity generation within a decade. It will be easier for Canada than for the United States because we have more renewable resources and a much lower population.
Adapting to emerging science and technology
We need to make sure our plans can adapt if science indicates the need for even more rapid changes. We need to keep abreast of new science. We also need to keep vigilant for new technologies to help us achieve the objectives that climate science demands.