We can no longer ignore the facts: Global warming is unequivocal, it is caused by us and its consequences will be profound. But that doesn't mean we can't solve it.
On Friday, the International Panel on Climate Change released its Summary for Policy Makers – a 36-page document that is considered to be the most comprehensive assessment of climate science ever published.
We have had six years of new scientific studies since the last IPCC assessment. The report has built on more than 9,200 scientific publications -- three-quarters of which have been published since 2007. The conclusions are clear.
Once again, and with more certainty than ever, the IPCC report concludes that global warming is unequivocal and it is extremely likely that we are causing it. How likely is "extremely likely"? According to the IPCC, we can be 95-100 per cent certain that humans are causing global warming. For a cautious, scientific body it doesn't get more certain than that.
The fact is that scientists have done their job. I can think of no other scientific endeavor that has engaged so many experts, from so many disciplines and from so many countries around the world on one single issue, as the IPCC has. Not just that, but every major national scientific academy in the world has come to the same conclusion.
Now it's time for politicians – our leaders – to do their job.
In 2009, governments around the world, including Canada, made a commitment to keep global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial levels. They did that because we know the consequences of unmitigated global warming will be profound from an economic, social and ecological perspective. According to the report, we are failing in that commitment.
Levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are already higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years and we are on track to take them to levels not seen since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. In essence, we are turning back the atmospheric clock by tens of millions of years in the span of just a few decades. This trend will lead to the increased occurrence of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, the floods in Calgary and the flashfloods in Boulder, Colo. This rapid rate of change will stress the infrastructure we depend on in our communities and our cities and lead to the widespread extinction of species around the world. And so, I believe, we must take action.
We can and need to do more. While the U.S., the E.U. and even China are making a profound shift to address the root causes of climate change, the Canadian government continues to focus our economy predominantly around the extraction, transportation and combustion of fossil fuels. Even British Columbia, which used to be considered a leader in the development of climate policies, is now moving in the opposite direction with its focus on the development of a Liquefied Natural Gas industry.
The IPCC report could and should inspire us to take a different approach. We could invest in the economy of tomorrow instead of the economy of yesterday.
We could position ourselves as leaders in the clean tech sector -- the sector responsible for the generation, transportation, storage and end-use of renewable energy. This is a sector that creates stable, high paying jobs in communities throughout Canada, not just in one or two locations.
We already have the industry, the expertise and the capital, and we were once considered emerging leaders in this area. But now what we lack is clear government leadership. In the U.S., for example, job growth in the clean tech sector is growing at four times the rate of all jobs. And that's a Jobs Plan you can take to the bank.
The fact is today's decisions-makers will not be around to experience the full magnitude of the consequences of their inaction. Those will be borne by the youth of today and the children of tomorrow. So, let's be inspired by the IPCC report and together let's take the steps now to create the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.
Andrew Weaver is a Lansdowne Professor in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria and a Member of the B.C. Legislative Assembly. He was a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when it shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
Editor's Note: The biographical line has been updated.