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In mid-October, climate scientist James Hansen published a short paper about the trajectory of global warming. In four words: it’s getting worse, fast.

Mr. Hansen has been right before. In 1988, his testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington became front-page news: “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate,” read the New York Times headline. We knew then what to do. The Times’ subheadline was: “Sharp Cut in Burning of Fossil Fuels is Urged to battle Shift in Climate.”

Thirty-five years later, the burning of fossil fuels continues to increase, despite various efforts and climate treaties. Our collective goal to limit heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times, enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, is slipping away.

Mr. Hansen’s recent work makes this clear. As anyone following the news would know all too well, the heat this year is unprecedented. September hit 1.76 C. November was 1.72 C – and two days eclipsed 2 C hotter than the planet was before the bonfire of fossil fuels.

The goal to limit heating to 1.5 C is not based on a single month but to see it happen, so soon, is both jarring and a call to action. It was once thought 1.5 C was many years away. There was always still time.

It is a reality of the present, Mr. Hansen concludes, these days in his early 80s and working at Columbia University. His calculations suggest an accelerating warming trend could lead to 2 C of heating by 2040, with the 1.5 C mark officially surpassed in the next few years. “There will be no need,” he wrote, “to ruminate for 20 years about whether the 1.5 C level has been reached.”

In November, a United Nations report said heating could eventually approach 3 C. If you thought this year was bad, imagine the future.

That’s the bad news.

There’s also good news, some at least. The same UN report noted the modest progress made. Greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 were expected to be 16 per cent higher than in 2015, before the Paris deal. The increase is now projected at 3 per cent. Problem is, emissions need to be falling, by at least about 30 per cent by 2030.

The UN report also put odds on the fading hope of success to limit long-term heating to 1.5 C: one-in-seven. One expert called those odds “very, very slim” but, given the circumstances we find ourselves in, one could say they are a reasonable beacon of hope.

Because change is happening. At the end of the annual UN climate meeting in Dubai this month, countries for the first time agreed to transition away from fossil fuels.

We have the tools. Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy, argued in November that an array of technologies led by solar power, already widely deployed, could limit heating to 1.9 C. And renewables are not a charity case. Clean power can outcompete fossil fuels for investment dollars.

The UN climate meeting endorsed the goal of tripling renewable power by 2030 – stepping up from a predicted doubling in the next seven years. Some experts have suggested that solar power, by 2030, could be so cheap as to be free for several hours on sunny days. There are obviously other challenges, such as expanding transmission grids and energy storage, but the potential of a transformation is real.

Rystad and others such as the International Energy Agency see global emissions from fossil fuels peaking around 2025. There’s a new emerging view that emissions in China will also peak soon – and possibly decline starting in 2024.

It’s time for rich countries such as Canada, which have greatly benefitted from the use and sale of fossil fuels, to redouble their efforts. It’s sometimes said Canada accounts for less than 2 per cent of global emissions and, thus, our actions are meaningless.

But if the countries of world are a platoon of 50 soldiers, the cowardly abdication of one – especially one of the most able – would contribute directly to a collective failure.

Mr. Hansen continues his life’s work, the science, and the mission to stoke action. In a lengthier study in November, he again warned of the “enormity of consequences” of inaction and pointed to the main two strategies: a carbon tax on fossil fuels and the rapid building of clean energy. Mr. Hansen has not given up hope. “Current political crises,” Mr. Hansen wrote, “present an opportunity for reset, especially if young people can grasp their situation.”

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