Julie Segal is senior manager, climate finance at Environmental Defence and an associate at Youth Climate Lab.
My Twitter bio says “1.5 degrees or bust.” Twitter may die in the coming days, but the international effort to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees is alive and essential.
I have been at COP27 for the past two weeks in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, where global leaders came together to discuss how to avert the worst of the climate crisis. People are right to note that we are on a precipice, but conceptually, the global resolve to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C,” as noted in the Paris Climate Accord, remains intact. Countries reaffirmed this goal in COP27′s final policy text.
But keeping warming below 1.5 degrees requires actions, not words, to turn resolve into results. First, rich countries like Canada must remove their money from the elements of the global economy that cause climate change. Second, they must put this money into climate-change solutions, such as providing funding to developing countries to support their transition away from carbon-emitting energy sources.
Leading UN scientists are clear: with existing technology and capital, we can cut emissions in half by 2030 and get on track for 1.5 degrees. The temperature target is possible and the paths to make it a reality are neatly laid out in definitive scientific and economic analyses.
To achieve this, countries like Canada must cut our own emissions immediately, which climate scientists and economists agree will primarily require the winding down of oil, gas and coal projects while ending expansion. Out of the estimated 40 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere since 1850, 35 billion tons are from fossil fuels.
Transitioning to renewable clean energy and bolstering energy efficiency are the central solutions for a safer planet. Better yet, it is cost-effective. Bloomberg NEF has found that renewables are now the cheapest power source in countries representing two-thirds of the world’s population, including Canada. Decarbonizing our energy system would save US$12-trillion globally by 2050 according to a new study from the University of Oxford.
And what to do with the savings from clean, green energy? We can put these funds directly into achieving our 1.5-degrees goal. Rich countries like Canada owe a climate debt to the most vulnerable and least industrialized countries. Canada is the tenth largest historical emitter and is responsible for approximately 2 per cent of historical emissions – nearly the same contribution as the entire continent of Africa, where COP27 took place.
Developing countries need about US$5-trillion in financial support between now and 2030 to modernize their economies in line with climate safety. Wealthy countries promised to deliver US$600-billion between 2020 and 2025 to support this, but are so far disastrously short of accomplishing this goal. Promised dollars must turn into hard cheques. Since climate pollution disperses across borders, supporting less wealthy countries to decarbonize is a matter of accountability but also solidarity and shared success. Developing countries bear the biggest burden of a warmer world through droughts, floods and sea-level rise, yet have done the least to contribute to the problem.
Due to historical global emissions, we are already locked into 1.15 degrees of warming. Although countries agreed in 2015 to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, current plans have us on track to heat the world by about 2.5 degrees.
Letting the world warm above the scientifically chosen 1.5-degree threshold for even a short bit of time can force tipping points. At 2 degrees of warming, two to three times as many species would be at risk of extinction. Twice as many people would be exposed to life-threatening heat waves. Permafrost would melt in the summer, bringing tragic irony to its name and releasing more planet-warming gasses that were previously submerged in ice.
As a young person and a climate expert, I worry about a more volatile future world that will burden me, the generations that follow me, and, in the meantime, millions of vulnerable people. What scale of danger will our current leaders decide to subject us to?
These dangers are significant and avoidable. The solutions are clear, which makes failing to launch a cruel choice.
We were on track for 4 degrees of warming, yet we whittled this down to 2.5 degrees. Progress is possible. If Canada and other wealthy countries transition our energy systems urgently and deliver money for vulnerable countries to do the same, we can keep the 1.5-degree goal alive.
Every tenth of a degree matters. It’s 1.5 degrees or bust.