Severely Normal Albertans are hearing a lot about climate change these days. The debate ranges from “We are all gonna die” to “Don’t worry it’s a hoax”. And we have managed to distract ourselves from the larger problem by fussing about whether carbon taxes are an effective implementation measure or just a sneaky tax grab.
The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change proposed to reduce GHGs so that the planet would not warm by more than 2°C by 2100. Now the UN is sponsoring a conference to work on implementation of the agreement. The conference is UNFCCC COP 24 (an acronym only a climatologist could love).
Our world has heated up by about 1°C since preindustrial times. Oceans have risen 8 inches and the earth is experiencing more damaging extreme weather events. The best science says that we are now warming at a rate of about 0.2°C per decade; although the Arctic seems to be warming more quickly.
1.5 to Stay Alive
To examine the scenarios of a 1.5°C increase and a 2.0°C increase a recent UN report consulted thousands of scientists and numerous climate change models. The report sets off alarm bells because it turns out there are enormous differences between the two scenarios in that 0.5°C for the planet . That difference is bad news for crops, fish and insects. For humans, risks increase across the board to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.
So, limiting global warming to 1.5ºC is highly preferable and the report issues some dire warnings that are alarming or alarmist. The report says unprecedented transformational change will be needed to solve climate change (and eradicate world poverty). Regardless, establishing an implementation plan at this conference is critical.
The Paris agreement assigned countries GHG reduction targets. Canada’s targets were: 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 30% by 2030. But in 2016, Canada emitted 523 megatonnes of carbon dioxide and we won’t meet our 2020 target. As you can see from the graphic below there isn’t a clear path as to how we will meet the by 2030 either (523 megatonnes). Partly this is because Canada’s population and economy are growing.
In response to the Paris Agreement, Canada established a Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Since environment issues are a shared responsibility with the provinces everybody needs to get on board. So that makes the daunting task that much harder. Each province implements its own plan and the federal government too has a plan – and is quarterbacking the whole operation.
A centrepiece of the national plan is to phase out coal power plants and put a price on carbon. The provinces’ plans became a patchwork of taxes or ‘cap and trade’ schemes along with a fight with Ottawa over a minimum tax.
The Canadian public isn’t really onside either. A recent survey found only 60% knew we had a plan and over 50% said a carbon tax would not affect their behaviour.
Last year the provincial Auditor Generals got together to assess how these plans were coming along. Their report shows that Canada has made little progress towards its climate action goals! Seven of 10 provinces (including Alberta) have yet to set targets.
Alberta’s plan, dubbed the Climate Leadership Plan features phasing out coal plants, capping oilsands emissions, a carbon tax and subsidized ‘green’ wind and solar electricity. Our Auditor General didn’t give us very high marks on implementation. There are shortcomings in understanding costs and monitoring the various initiatives under the plan.
Culprit or Scapegoat?
One can get a glimpse of why the federal government is doing what it does to hinder Alberta’s energy industry by looking at the graph below. Severely Normal Albertans might imagine the current government looking at the graph and thinking; “We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels.” Justin Trudeau
Provinces’ actual and projected domestic greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990 levels
Canada – Always Aspiring to Punch Above Our Weight Class!
Canadians sometimes get to thinking we are a pretty big deal. Certainly, our Prime Minister wants to position Canada a leading jurisdiction, despite having less than half of one percent of the world’s population.
In greenhouse gases we aren’t that big a deal either. Canada represents 1.6% of global GHG emissions; so, while we need to do our part, what China and the US do will be consequential. In conclusion, one more graphic: