Political will and urgent action required to save our planet, IPCC Report warns

IPCC 2018reportThe world’s climate science experts have spoken in the landmark report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on October 8.  The full title is: Global Warming of 1.5 °C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty . That dry title doesn’t reflect the importance and impact of this report –  the first time that the UN body has modeled the difference between the impacts of the Paris agreement goals of 2°C and 1.5 °C, and an urgent, unanimous challenge by 91 scientists to the policy makers and politicians of the world to act on the solutions outlined in their models .  An IPCC official  quoted in a CBC report strikes the hopeful tone the report tries to achieve: “We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible… This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”

The official report, commonly called  Global Warming 1.5  runs over 700 pages. The official press release  states:  “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air….Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes”.  A 34-page Summary for Policymakers and a 3-page Headline Statements provide official summaries. Climate Home News offers  “37 Things you need to know about 1.5 global warming”  and  The Guardian offers summary and context in  “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more floods”  by Nicholas Stern and “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN”  (also republished in The National Observer) .

CAN CANADIANS EXPECT URGENT ACTION? :  A thorough CBC summary of the report appears in “UN Report on global warming carries life- or- death warning” , and the Globe and Mail published “UN Report on Climate Change calls for urgent action to avert catastrophic climate change”    (Oct 8) – yet no official reaction has been released by the federal government of Canada. “Trudeau’s Big Oil-friendly decisions mean climate chaos”  from Rabble.ca contrasts the IPCC report with a brief summary of Canada’s recent policy failures. “No change to Canada’s climate plans as UN report warns of losing battle” appeared in the National Observer (Oct. 8).  The National Observer also posted “We challenge every Federal and provincial leader to read the IPCC report and tell us what you plan to do” on October 9, characterizing Canada’s current divisions over a national carbon tax as representative of the world’s dilemma – the failure of political will to act on known scientific facts.  350.org Canada also addresses the issue of political will with  an online petition   calling for an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Canada’s plan to limit climate change, in light of the IPCC report.

Opinion Pieces are still being written, including:  “To avoid catastrophic climate change, we need carbon pricing” by Dale Beugin and Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission in the Globe and Mail  (Oct. 9) which argues that  “The best that economics has to offer is telling us we have a key solution right under our noses. Carbon pricing is now a Nobel Prize-winning idea. ”

On Climate, Our Choice Is Now Catastrophe or Mere Disaster ” by Crawford Kilian in The Tyee  . ….” modern governments and most of their voters are sleepwalking into catastrophe. If anyone or anything can wake them up, we might have a chance. And if we don’t work hard to turn that catastrophe into a mere disaster, we won’t be able to say nobody warned us. ”

“Canada’s carbon-tax plan is collapsing just as the planet runs out of time” in the Washington Post (Oct. 9)…. ” Today, Canadians should take a minute to write to their elected officials provincially and federally and demand that we get the carbon tax done. Every elected official should take a moment to decide how they would like to be remembered. That is, assuming there will be anyone around to remember.”

WELL-INFORMED GLOBAL SUMMARIES :IPCC: Radical Energy Transformation Needed to Avoid 1.5 Degrees Global Warming”   and “Not Just CO2: These Climate Pollutants Also Must Be Cut to Keep Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees”appeared  in Inside Climate News. The World Resources Institute published “8 Things You Need to Know About the IPCC 1.5˚C Report” , accompanied by a  blog and infographic which  explains the consequential difference between 1.5 and 2.0 global warming levels. Climate Action International monitored the discussions leading up to the release of the report: here is their summary and a compilation of global reactions . A compilation of reactions from the academics at Imperial College and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (LSE) is here.

A brief Comment was already issued by the policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which calls the report a “conservative assessment” because it omits discussion of some of the largest risks and their impacts – notably  population displacements, migration and possibly conflict, as well as  potential climate  ‘tipping points’, such as disruption to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and shifts in the monsoon in Africa and Asia.

Another key issue: the controversial role of geoengineering, such as carbon capture and storage or “carbon dioxide removal technologies”(CDR) .  “Negative Emissions technologies in the new report on limiting global warming” was posted at Legal Planet (Oct. 8) , pointing out how important geoengineering is in the report’s models. The author argues that ”  …. The text of the relevant chapter is honest about large-scale negative emissions, when it states:  “Most CDR  technologies remain largely unproven to date and raise substantial concerns about adverse side-effects on environmental and social sustainability. ” But the author argues that the message was deliberately watered down  in the executive summaries and in the Summary for Policymakers.

On October 4, just before the release of Global Warming 1.5, 110 organizations and social movements, led by Friends of the Earth International, released their Hands Off Mother Earth! Manifesto, which opposes any geoengineering solutions, including carbon capture and storage.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this report, and it will draw more and more discussion as the UNFCCC meetings in Katowice, Poland approach in December 2018.

Fossil fuel subsidies, plastics pollution, circular economy are key topics at the G7 Energy and Environment meetings

Following the G7  meetings at Charlevoix Quebec in June 2018, further meetings in Halifax from September 19 to 21 brought together the G7 ministers with responsibilities for Environment, Oceans and Energy.  The International Institute (IISD) published a comprehensive summary of the meetings  on September 25, with links to the official Chair’s Summary statements.  The National Observer was one of only a handful of media outlets which reported on these meetings.  Their report of September 25,  “Unscrambling the language of Canada’s G7 Climate Diplomacy”   is a plain language overview of what happened.  Environment and Climate Change Canada, as host of the meetings, also published press releases highlighting Canada’s commitments:  the press release of  September 19, titled “G7 environment meetings in Halifax focus on climate action, and the $26 trillion opportunity of clean growth and tackling air pollution”  announced a Canadian pledge of  $2 million for the National Adaptation Plan Global Network, to further climate change adaptation in  developing countries and $2 million for a new initiative to empower women entrepreneurs working on climate solutions in the developing world.  More broadly, Environment ministers discussed the  implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement on climate change – the Paris Rulebook –  in an attempt to move that forward before the scheduled deadline of the UNFCCC  Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.

On September 20, the Canadian government’s press release states : the Government of Canada committed to diverting at least 75 per cent of the plastic waste from government operations by 2030. It will achieve this by eliminating the use of unnecessary single-use plastics, increasing recycling rates, and leveraging its purchasing decisions to focus on sustainable plastic products. The Government of Canada also announced a $65 million investment through the World Bank for an international fund to address plastic waste in developing countries. ”

A contentious issue was fossil fuel subsidies. An earlier report by the National Observer , “G7 promise to kill fossil fuel subsidies hangs over Halifax meetings” (September 20)  , highlights the topic, which has been a perennial but never-resolved issue since the G20 first agreed to phase them out in 2009.  In 2016, the G7 first set a deadline for ending fossil fuel subsidies by 2025  ; Energy ministers at the 2018 Halifax meetings reaffirmed that commitment.

public-cash-oil-gas-en-1Despite the G7 commitment, “Canada is still the largest provider of subsidies to oil and gas production in the G7 per unit of GDP”, according to the newest report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), which has published extensively on the issue.   Fossil Fuel Subsidies in Canada: ‘Public Cash for Oil and Gas: Mapping federal fiscal support for fossil fuels , a September 2018  report was published by  the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), in collaboration with Oil Change International, Equiterre, Environmental Defence, and the Climate Action Network.  It also states that overall fossil fuel subsidies declined in Canada in 2016-2018 over 2015, but it  attributes this to the impact of oil price fluctuations on the value of deductions, and how companies use tax deductions,  rather than any substantive policy reform.  In a concluding discussion , the report states that the oil and gas sector will inevitably follow the economic path of the coal industry, and thus, “it is imperative that those in these declining energy sectors are part of the planning” for a Just Transition. Removing subsidies for the sector,  could create enough “fiscal space” to fund a just transition for workers and communities.

Green Budget cover 2019The Green Budget Coalition also weighed in recently on fossil fuel subsidies in its  Recommendations for Budget 2019 ,  which includes a discussion of the history of fossil fuel subsidies in Canada, a rationale for their phase-out, and calls for the government:  to provide a transparent accounting of what subsidies are in place to the Parliamentary Budget Office; not to introduce new subsidies; and to legislate a timeline for the phase-out of remaining deductions for fossil fuel exploration and production, and for direct subsidies.

German report proposes innovative “Just and In-time” Transition policies

German Just and intime policy coverJust and In-time  Climate Policy: Four Initiatives for a Fair Transformation  was released  on August 31 by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). The paper  makes innovative proposals for  the German climate change policy in an international perspective. The four exemplary initiatives under discussion relate to (1) “the people affected by the structural change towards climate compatibility” (specifically, Just Transition for coal-mining regions), (2) the legal rights of people harmed by climate change (including financial support for citizens bringing climate liability suits), (3) the dignified migration of people who lose their native countries due to climate change, (through the vehicle of an international climate passport),  and (4) the creation of financing instruments for just & in-time transformation processes.

Regarding the transitions required by coal phase-out, the paper discusses the concept of Just Transition, but argues that it may be too slow for the emissions reduction challenge the world faces.  Instead it uses the term “Just and In-Time” transition,  reviewing  past structural transition models  but concluding that they will not be sufficient.  “Purposive decarbonization requires forward-looking, early, proactive intervention by the state in alliance with other actors.” The report  proposes to reach that goal through “an  overarching ‘Zero Carbon Mission’ on multiple political levels”- local, regional, national, and international.

Regarding citizens’ legal rights and climate liability, the paper states: “Under certain circumstances, companies that contribute to climate change through emissions can sue for damages in the courts if they are forced by state authorities to close their plants. Yet the legal rights of people affected by massive climate damage vis-à-vis large corporations partly responsible for climate change are completely uncertain. The WBGU recommends that the German Federal Government should support a number of promising pioneer lawsuits, particularly those brought by people and communities harmed by climate change, against major corporations that have a significant responsibility for global warming, and assume the litigation cost risks for these lawsuits. It should furthermore use its influence internationally to ensure that the people affected are given opportunities to take legal action across national borders.”

Regarding climate migration, the report urges the German government to advocate at Katowice for a “climate passport” for climate-driven migrants “as a sign of intergenerational justice and responsibility”,  and that “Countries with considerable responsibility for climate change should open their doors as host countries to people with a climate passport.”

Regarding the financial instruments to support transformation, the paper proposes that transition funds be created by pricing greenhouse-gas emissions (e.g.through carbon taxes), and be supplemented by revenue from a reformed inheritance or estate tax. “The transformation funds should accelerate the implementation of the climate and sustainability goals via investments and holdings in key industries, and use the profits generated for early and participatory structural change.”  The  WBGU also recommends providing support for economically weaker countries to build up their own transformation funds and manage structural change via a facility at the World Bank or regional development banks.

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), an independent, scientific advisory body established by the German government in 1992.  The paper was released  in anticipation of  the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Katowice in December.  The German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment is also underway now, with the goal of contributing to the COP24 discussion on coal transition planning.