Tzeporah Berman is the chair of the Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty Initiative and international program director of Stand.Earth.
The Sept. 20 election that returned the Liberal Party to government was, in many ways, a climate election. For the first time, every major party put forward a climate platform, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s performance on the file over the last six years was among the issues on the ballot.
During the election campaign, the Trudeau Liberals promised to cap emissions from the oil and gas sector, which is the largest contributor to Canada’s climate pollution. But this and other half-measures like it will fall short for as long as our political leaders continue to cling to the hope that we can meet our climate goals without winding down fossil-fuel production.
Canada has made important strides, including by putting a price on carbon pollution nationwide. But this country actually has the worst climate record in the G7 right now, and ever since we signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 our emissions have surged higher than those of any of our peers.
In the U.S., more wind-power capacity has been added in the state of Texas alone than in all of Canada combined since the Paris treaty was adopted. And even while Canadians have been assailed by wildfires, flooding and drought, the federal government has helped prop up one major source of the problem, the oil and gas industry – which contributes as much as 80 per cent of Canada’s emissions – by using taxpayer money to purchase the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and to subsidize oil and gas drilling at higher levels than in any other G20 country.
This is happening on Ottawa’s watch, despite the plentiful and recent science at hand that suggests our existing efforts are not enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. In September, research published in the journal Nature found that a majority of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if we want to avoid locking in the catastrophic impacts that would come with exceeding that number. And a June study from Sydney’s University of Technology found that we have the renewable energy potential right now to transition us fully away from fossil fuels.
The calls for action have grown louder. In the last year, the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made the same urgent demand: there should be no more investment in new fossil-fuel projects. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and 100 other Nobel Laureates recently called for the end of fossil fuel expansion, and more than 2,100 scientists and academics asked world leaders to negotiate a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty as a mechanism for a fair global energy transition.
This transition will need to be accompanied by the planting of more trees and the protection of our old-growth forests – not to justify expansion of oil, gas or coal, but to serve as carbon sinks. We will also need new technologies – but the hard reality is that carbon capture and storage, a buzzy new innovation that promises to prevent greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, is neither viable at scale nor cost competitive at the moment.
Canada claims to be a climate leader, but it’s time to get clear on what that means. We need a plan to stop the expansion of existing oil-and-gas projects and to help transition workers and communities involved in the industry into other sectors. We need to step up internationally and work with other countries as we did in the face of great challenges such as the Second World War and ozone depletion.
It is our responsibility. Wealthy, fossil-fuel-producing countries, including Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Norway, are the ones that have largely driven historic emissions, and that now have the greatest capacity to make a transition away from oil, gas and coal. This means our fair share of the problem is bigger than those of most nations.
While climate change may have been on the ballot in September’s election, a largely lacklustre campaign failed to produce an obvious mandate, and Canadians returned a parliament nearly identical to the previous one. Mr. Trudeau’s bona fides as a professed climate leader must now be judged by whether or not he tackles the fossil-fuel challenge head-on, right now. Expanding the problem is not true leadership. The bar needs to be much higher that.
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