rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

UN climate talks offer hope for humanity

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Photo: jean-pierre chambard/flickr

rabble is expanding our Parliamentary Bureau and we need your help! Support us on Patreon today! 

Keep Karl on Parl

With world leaders now meeting in Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference, we're seeing signs of hope for an agreement to limit the escalating effects of global warming. Canadians, especially, have reason to be optimistic about our country's role.

It hasn't always been this way. Governments have been formally discussing climate change since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the first climate conference in Berlin, Germany, in 1995. Since then, we've been taking two steps forward and one step back -- not good enough when dealing with an accelerating crisis.

Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, ratified it in 2002, did little to meet its targets, then withdrew in late 2011, the first and only nation to do so. The Climate Action Network selected our country for numerous Fossil of the Day, Fossil of the Year and Lifetime Unachievement Fossil awards for inaction on climate change and for obstructing international agreements. 

But it appears leaders in Canada and globally are finally giving the issue the attention it deserves. Our government now has a minister of environment and climate change, and sent a delegation to Paris that includes a cabinet committee on environment, climate change and energy headed by Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, as well as opposition party representatives and provincial leaders.

Alberta, which has long put fossil-fuel interests ahead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, now has a comprehensive strategy to phase out coal power, promote renewable energy, put a price on carbon pollution and limit oilsands emissions. Ontario and Quebec have also moved to put a price on carbon emissions, joining California in a cap-and-trade system. Even Saskatchewan, not known for climate leadership, has committed to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. 

Phasing out coal power and putting a price on carbon are effective ways to reduce dangerous CO2 emissions. Burning coal is the most polluting way to produce energy and creates the highest greenhouse gas emissions, and a well-designed carbon tax or cap-and-trade system has proven to cut emissions and fossil-fuel consumption without negatively affecting economies. 

In its first five years, B.C.'s carbon tax, implemented in 2008, led to a 17.4 per cent drop in petroleum-fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions went down while GDP remained strong. B.C. income tax rates remain the lowest in Canada. 

Globally, things are also looking up. The Paris conference required the 196 participating countries to submit their own climate plans. Although those combined aren't enough to keep us below the 2 C increase in global average temperatures beyond pre-industrial levels that scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophe, they do limit warming to a 2.7 C rise, which is at least a serious starting point. Current practices put us on track for a 5 C increase!

The Paris conference is also aiming for national climate plan reviews every five years to ensure targets are being met and to look at ways of improving them. And cities, local governments and businesses are being encouraged to do more, which has worked well in Canada.

Another important component of the Paris talks is to find ways to help developing nations improve prosperity while keeping emissions from rising. Developed countries have committed to raising $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations though the Green Climate Fund, World Bank, government contributions and other mechanisms.

But government commitments only raise hopes so far. The other good sign is the rapid development of renewable energy technologies like wind, solar and geothermal. Coupled with energy conservation, renewables are critical to confronting the climate crisis. 

A recent report from Stanford University and the International Renewable Energy Agency found it's technically feasible and economically viable for the world to shift to sustainable energy by 2030, and lays out a plan for 139 countries to reach that goal. Many jurisdictions are already getting a lot of their energy from renewable sources.

With clean energy production and grid technology improving and costs coming down, there's no excuse to continue rapidly burning diminishing supplies of fossil fuels. As leaders meet in Paris, citizens march in the streets and innovators develop solutions, we have more reason than ever to be hopeful for the future of our place on this small, blue planet.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Photo: jean-pierre chambard/flickr

rabble is expanding our Parliamentary Bureau and we need your help! Support us on Patreon today! 

Keep Karl on Parl

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.