To Paris, with hope

Published Tuesday, November 10, 2015 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

These days, I’m finding myself torn between climate change hope and climate change unease.  I know the first can win out and the challenges we face can be solved, but this month is an especially critical one.  Here’s why.

Paris

On November 30, representatives of over 200 nations will gather in Paris for the UN’s 21st annual climate conference.  Most previous conferences have started with great optimism and aspirations but ended with underwhelming success at best, deep disappointment at worst.  However, there are many reasons to hope that, finally, this one will be different.

For starters, for the first time, the US, China and Europe – collectively responsible for nearly half of all manmade greenhouse gases – are firmly committed to a successful outcome.  In any global negotiation, success is a lot more likely when the three biggest players are engaged.  

Second, in 2014, leaders of the G7 – seven industrialized nations that comprise a third of the planet’s economy – affirmed their commitment to limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius.  (Two degrees will still be disruptive on a planetary scale, but it’s far better than the three to 5.5 degrees Earth would warm by 2100 without action to limit emissions.)  Leaders of the G20 – twenty nations that comprise 82 per cent of the planet’s economy – have also affirmed their support strong for effective climate change action.

Third, very few national leaders now question the threat climate change poses to global well-being.  In particular, Australia and Canada have new leaders more committed to action than their predecessors.

Fourth, faith communities around the world – notably Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists – are being awakened to the environmental responsibilities of their creeds.

Commitments

In anticipation of the Paris conference, nearly 150 nations have submitted their emission reduction targets to the UN.  Some are bold and aggressive, such as the EU’s commitment to reduce its emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.  

But here begins the unease.  When all current commitments are added up, they are simply not enough to limit warming to two degrees.  

China has pledged to reduce its emissions 60 to 65 per cent below 2005 levels per unit of GDP by 2030.  The US has pledged to reduce its emissions 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.  Canada has pledged to reduce its emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but has acknowledged that it will probably need to buy carbon credits from other countries to meet that target.

Every emissions reduction is a step in the right direction, but pledges made so far are simply not enough.  Collectively, they will only limit warming to about three degrees.

Possible

Clearly, we – all global citizens – need to aim higher.  Canadians took an important first step last month with the election of a new government more open to climate action.  Now we need to demand and support stronger targets, and then not let our commitment waver when the real work begins.

Can we do this?  Of course we can.  

Globally, the expansion of renewable energy continues to exceed even the wildest forecasts.  China’s initial goal of having 20,000 megawatts of installed solar power by 2020 has been replaced by a new goal of 70,000 megawatts by 2017.  Australia has gone from just 8,000 rooftop solar systems in 2007 to over a million today.  Japan’s installed solar capacity doubled in 2013, to 14,000 megawatts – enough to power New Brunswick ten times over on a typical June day.  

Some believe a quick break from fossil fuels is impossible.  To them, I offer the words of former world heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali: “Impossible is not a fact, it’s an opinion.  Impossible is nothing.”  

We can do this.  It’s time to reject weak targets and the defeatist thinking that goes with them.  It’s time to aim higher and to get moving on real solutions, together.  

To Paris, with hope.