As UN climate summit begins, not much good news, but room for hope

The consequences of a mere 1.1°C of warming are already becoming very apparent; the impacts of a rise above 1.5 or even 2°C will be severe

Dr. Trevor Hancock

1 November 2022

701 words

One of the five great turnarounds proposed in the recent ‘Earth For All’ report to the Club of Rome is the energy turnaround. So with COP27 – the annual UN conference on climate change – opening in Egypt, this is a good time to look at this issue.

Regrettably, there is not much in the way of good news, although there is still  room for some hope. In a September joint report with other major UN agencies and the UK Met Office, the World Meteorological Organization announced that while CO2 emissions went down a bit during Covid, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise”, with the three main greenhouse gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – all reaching new record highs in 2021.

The report also noted preliminary data for January to May 2022 show a 1.2 percent increase in CO2 emissions over pre-pandemic (2019) levels. This is particularly troubling given that the world is supposed to be working to reduce emissions.  Unsurprisingly, current commitments by the nations of the world are not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. For example, the Lancet Countdown (see below) reported “the carbon intensity of the global energy system has decreased by less than 1 percent” in the 30 years since the  UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted.

With the current policies and commitments, we will hit betweeen 2.5 and 2.8°C  warming by 2100, well beyond the 2°C target, never mind the 1.5°C  target. In fact the report found an almost 50 percent chance that during the next five years, at least one year will exceed the 1.5°C target. If all national pledges are met – which has not been happening – warming could be kept to 1.9 – 2.1°C.

The consequences of a mere 1.1°C of warming are already becoming very apparent; the impacts of a rise above 1.5 or even 2°C will be severe. Within the coming decades, in some parts of the world, temperatures could reach dangerous levels at which outdoor labour becomes impossible. The report notes a five-fold increase in the frequency of weather, climate and water-related disasters in the past 50 years, noting it is costing “on average, US$202 million in losses daily” – that’s DAILY! And as is always the case, “the world’s most vulnerable populations will suffer most, as seen in recent extreme weather events.”

Then there are the health impacts. The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, reports on the health impacts of climate change in the annual Lancet Countdown report. Released in late October, the report proclaimed health is “at the mercy of fossil fuels” and notes “heat-related deaths [among those 65 and older] increased by 68% between 2000–04 and 2017–21”. Among other things, the Countdown reported, “heat exposure led to 470 billion potential labour hours lost globally in 2021” and the potential for the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever was markedly increased, while “every dimension of food security is being affected by climate change.”   

The Countdown urges a ‘health-centred response’, which would “reduce the likelihood of the most catastrophic climate change impacts, while improving energy security, creating an opportunity for economic recovery, and offering immediate health benefits.” Those global health benefits would include preventing many of the 1 – 2 million annual deaths from fossil fuel air pollution, while a shift to a more plant based diet would prevent some 11 million deaths annually.

And what is B.C. doing about this? In short not much. In late October, a coalition of over 450 B.C. organisations, representing some 2 million people, issued its first report card on B.C.’s progress in addressing ten urgent climate actions to confront the climate emergency. Six of the ten actions received a failing grade, and for two of the four where there was some progress, most of the detailed actions were also a failing grade.

So here is a challenge for our new B.C. Premier, David Eby, as he takes office: Shuck off the legacy of failure bequeathed you by John Horgan and become a true climate champion by adopting a health-centred response to climate action and energy-policy. Next week, I will discuss what such a policy would look like.

© 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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