Are our governments dangerous radicals or merely mad?

12 April 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

Right now, globally, we have experienced global warming of about 1.1°C, and we saw last summer here in B.C.  what that can mean. Two recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paint a grim picture. And it’s probably worse than these reports state, because the IPCC necessarily presents a conservative picture as its reports have to be approved by all 195 government members of the IPCC. So think of what follows as the best-case scenario.

In February the IPCC Working Group 2 (WG2) reported on the impacts of climate change on people and the planet. Said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC: “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.”

The WG2 report also reports on the steps being taken to adapt to the changing climate, and on the vulnerabilities that are apparent. So far, noted the IPCC press release, “there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks.” Moreover, “these gaps are largest among lower-income populations.” As a result, “The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C.”

Then this month, the IPCC Working Group 3 (WG3) released its report on mitigation – how we can reduce or stop climate change. The IPCC press release is clear: “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.” The report notes that “the continuation of policies implemented by the end of 2020” results in “global warming of 3.2°C by 2100.”

Keeping warming to “around 1.5°C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 percent by 2030”, while keeping it below 2°C also requires emissions to peak by 2025, and to be reduced by a quarter by 2030. But the IPCC notes that lifetime emissions from existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure will take us to 2 degrees. So as a May 2021 report from the International Energy Agency’s recommended, there should be no new investments in fossil fuels.

Less constrained as he is by the need to protect national fossil fuel industries, and able to speak instead in the interests of the world’s people and nature, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been blunt in his response to these reports. Responding to the WG2 report, he called it “a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” In a speech in March he commented, “The 1.5-degree goal is on life support. It is in intensive care”, adding “if we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach.”

Then in a speech following the release of the WG3 report, he referred to it as a “litany of broken promises” and a “file of shame”, putting us “firmly on track towards an unlivable world”. And in a separate Tweet he stated: ““Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

Meanwhile, back in Canada, in defiance of all logic and sense, both the federal and provincial governments continue to support fossil fuel expansion. A December 2021 report from the Canada Energy Regulator projects oil production will continue to increase until 2040, while gas production will increase by 40 percent by 2050. And just a day after the release of the WG3 report, the federal government approved the Bay du Nord deepwater oil  field. It beggars belief that Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault can say with a straight face the project  “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

Here in B.C., the Sierra Club and Ecojustice are suing the government because it is “failing to present plans to achieve several key climate targets, as required by its own climate change legislation.” And it remains wedded to LNG and fracking, of which more next week.

So are our governments dangerous fossil fuel radicals, morally and economically mad, or both?

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy


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