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I am old enough to remember when, in the 1970s, upon entering a city almost anywhere in the world, you would see a sign that said: “Nuclear-free city.”

At the time, the greatest and most likely threat to humanity was nuclear weapons. Today, the World Economic Forum identifies the greatest and most likely threat to humanity to be our failure to mitigate climate change.

This summer, many of us on the West Coast sat inside for weeks as smoke from wildfires made the air quality too hazardous to go outside. Tens of thousands of others who were not as lucky fled the fires, some losing their homes, others their lives. The harmful, costly and disruptive impacts of climate change unfortunately rage on, as Canadians and people around the world struggle with the pandemic and economic downturn.

Knowing the role cities played in encouraging governments to work together to create the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, I find great hope in my own city of Vancouver becoming the first city in the world to endorse a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. Vancouver could be followed by the city of New York, where council is voting on a similar motion.

We need a new plan to deliver prosperity, health and climate security. In Canada, climate commitments have been made and billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on stimulus, yet the pieces don’t add up.

To address the climate emergency, the federal government and province of B.C. have committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. At the same time, they continue approving and funding oil and gas expansion at levels that make it impossible to meet these goals. The United Nations Environment Program made it clear in its Production Gap report that national government plans for fossil fuel expansion would lock in 120 times more emissions than what is needed to stay to 1.5 C.

Last week, U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden had the courage to name the elephant in the room — the astounding, continued growth of oil and gas development in North America (85 per cent of planned global oil and gas development is in North America) despite the reality that 80 per cent of climate warming emissions come from oil, gas and coal.

Biden went on to commit to wind down the oil industry by 2050. The idea that this was a shocking statement illustrates the fallacy of current climate leadership and policy, where the majority of the world’s countries, including our own, commit to the Paris Agreement to keep warming to below 2 C and even “net-zero by 2050,” while continuing under the fallacy that fossil fuel production can increase at the same time.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Canada has sunk close to 10 times more money per capita into fossil fuels than any other G20 nation ($340 per capita in Canada versus $220 in the U.S.). In addition to ignoring climate change, and the opinion of the majority of Canadians, who want strong action on climate to continue during the pandemic and economic recovery, this approach flies in the face of market signals.

Relying on #fossilfuels has run its course. Canada and the world must carve a new path forward for the sake of our economy, health and climate, Tzeporah Berman writes. @fossiltreaty

Deutsche Bank, Norway’s sovereign fund and other major investors, as well as insurers, are pulling out of Canada’s energy sector. Recent forecasts from the International Energy Agency, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and oil major BP show demand for fossil fuels down and unlikely to return given the pandemic, growth and affordability of renewable energy and adoption of climate policies.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada and the current United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance commented just last week at an online conference hosted by Queen’s University's Institute for Sustainable Finance that a multitrillion-dollar realignment is taking place as the world of business joins the battle against climate change, with once-valuable assets such as pipelines being reconsidered.

There is no way to achieve climate goals and a strong economy without a winding down of fossil fuels, yet we are ignoring the conversation because no one country or province can — or wants to — make this energy transition happen alone.

Early in his first term, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in fact beat Biden in acknowledging the need to wind down the oil industry, but walked it back quickly as soon as the oil industry and Alberta politicians attacked. Politically, acknowledging the basic math — the need to wind down production and emissions to get to zero — is considered toxic, in large part because we don’t have a plan for workers and their families, or to plan for the economic impacts of reduced oil exports.

It’s also hard for leaders such as Trudeau because no country wants to be put in an uncompetitive position. This won’t change until we address production of fossil fuels in international agreements.

Unfortunately, no mechanism currently exists within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to develop a global agreement to phase out fossil fuels and fast-track a fair energy transition that leaves no one behind. The Paris Agreement doesn’t even mention the words oil, gas or coal.

That’s why myself and government, civil society, academic, business and youth leaders around the world are calling for Canada and other nations to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative to spur international co-operation to align fossil fuel with the 1.5 C limit and fast-track an equitable transition to clean energy and low-carbon solutions.

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative uses an approach similar to banning weapons of mass destruction, with action moving forward under three pillars:

Non-proliferation — Don’t add to the problem

End any plans for the expansion into new reserves of coal, oil and natural gas to limit warming to the 1.5 C threshold established in the Paris Agreement.

Global disarmament — Get rid of the existing threat

Phase out existing oil and gas fields and coal mines, which alone contain enough carbon to push us past 1.5 C.

Peaceful transition — Accelerate an equitable transition

Accelerate the expansion of clean, low-carbon solutions while incorporating the needs of workers, communities and countries dependent on fossil fuels.

The global call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty is growing. Vancouver’s endorsement on Oct. 15, with a unanimous city council vote, sent a strong message — we need to stop expanding fossil fuels and work together on solutions.

This idea is in its infancy, but already hundreds of organizations and individuals have endorsed the treaty as well, including Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Wilderness Committee, Communities Protecting Our Coast,, World Future Council, and Friends of the Earth, and more are joining every day.

It’s time for our provincial and federal governments to have the courage to name the need to stop expansion of fossil fuels, plan for a phase-out of fossil fuels and fast-track clean energy solutions that create jobs and economic and health benefits for Canadians.

We also have a responsibility to be part of an international response. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative provides an opportunity for Canada to join with other nations to develop a multilateral agreement to phase out fossil fuels and fast-track clean energy solutions where everyone contributes their fair share and countries, communities and workers are not left behind.

Canada has a track record of stepping up when humanity is at threat to do the right thing. Phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals, asbestos and coal are just a few examples. We know we can’t stop expanding fossil fuels on our own. We also know that we can’t build the future we want if we are focusing our political, financial and intellectual capital on expanding the products we know we need to phase out.

Yes, we will as a society use oil and gas for years to come, but the world already has enough under development to use during the phase-out and transition to clean energy. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative will provide the basis for an end to expansion everywhere — faster and fairly — in a way that simply relying on the markets will not.

The world is moving away from fossil fuels and towards efficiency, electrification of transport and renewable energy. Pretending it's not happening will mean that as a nation we will be constantly scrambling to manage lost revenue, contracts, low price and decreasing demand.

The world is moving to a low-carbon economy, and we will move with it by design or default. Allowing it to happen by default will be more painful, and oil and gas workers and their families deserve better planning than that. We now share a lived experience of listening to the science to try to bend the curve — in order to do that on climate, we need courage, international co-operation and big, new, bold ideas.

I grew up being told that the threat we faced of nuclear war was real, and if we heard the sirens we should hide under our desks. This generation is growing up being told that the climate threat is real, but they have nowhere to hide. It’s time for all of us to stop avoiding the hard stuff and work together to plan to wind down fossil fuel production and encourage our government to pursue a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.

Tzeporah Berman is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at York University, chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and the international program director at

Keep reading

Eminently sensible article by the incomparable Tzeporah Berman. Somehow we have to persuade Canada to back away from the TMX, and BC to do the same from the LNG project that supports the CGL pipeline. This offers a framework, a summary and inspiration. Grateful. Let’s lock all relevant politicians in a (large) room and not let them out until they have read this.

ReThinkX is a market disruption prediction organization with a proven track record. They release a report yesterday on how solar, onshore wind and battery storage technologies are obsoleting coal, gas and nuclear electricity generation.

Quote: By 2030 electricity systems comprised entirely of solar, wind and batteries (SWB) can provide both the cheapest power available and two to three times more total energy than the existing grid in the continental United States, and most populated regions globally, making coal, gas and nuclear financially unviable and slashing consumer costs dramatically. Most importantly, this hyperabundant energy produced at a marginal cost close to zero – which we call Clean Energy Super Power -- will enable new business models and industries, create trillions in new value, and could help repatriate energy-intensive manufacturing.

It is no longer a matter of if the SWB disruption will happen; it is only a matter of when and where. Dramatic cost reductions in clean energy generation and storage technologies make this disruption inevitable. Those who choose to lead will reap the most benefits. Those who lag will be saddled with enormous social costs.”

This is a link to whole report.

I followed the ReThinkX link. Lots of feel good rhetoric and graphs with big scales that start in 2010 to exaggerate the slopes but minimize [disguise] the differences between 2020 (now) and 2030. Very clever graphics. However, if you persist through this, down to page 29 or so, there is this disclaimer:
"Our analysis … deliberately excludes interconnection, transmission, and distribution. … It is important to note here, however, that it is an error to presume that the SWB disruption cannot occur without a clear and smooth pathway to integration with the existing electricity system."
This sets aside the crucial point that electricity grids only work when the whole system is connected and the loads balanced. Their model of replacement by disruption is invalidated if its assumptions are false. And this is arguably a false assumption.
The study also ducks the question of where all this capital will come from and the motivations of the owners of that capital. References to "California" or "Texas" investing in these systems, as if they were Communist controlled China fail to convince.

"Accelerate the expansion of clean, low-carbon solutions while incorporating the needs of workers, communities and countries dependent on fossil fuels."
Just how exactly? And specifically in Alberta and BC?
And if we can replace all the money and electricity generated with oil and gas energy with renewable sources, who is going to pay for the retooling and replacement of all the consumer devices that run on oil and gas - From home heating to factories; even restaurants and bars?
It's a hard question to answer, but we need to go beyond exhortations to do better and predictions of how great it will be after we get there, and propose practical plans for the transition. Costed out and with budgets attached.

This is an astute comment. How to pay for the transition is an important question, and it begs another: Where on Earth is the Transition Plan? Presumably there will be cost projections amongst a myriad of categorized technical briefs, all of which are non-existent at present. Cost projections applied to generalized promises, ideas and rhetoric are clearly not realistic.

However there are some successful endeavours in the real world that offer sustenance to a transition. One is the unsubsidized market-based auctions in the quickly emerging Alberta wind power field, some of the more recent ones outcompeting coal and gas at $34/MWh. Large solar arrays within or near the Calgary and Edmonton city boundaries are appearing too, using the same marketplace along with the advantages of a cooler climate that enhances the performance of photovoltaics. These large-scale operations tap into the adjacent existing grid with a few upgrades, all borne by the private sector investors who have done the math.

The intermittency issue bedevilling renewables like wind and solar is a good criticism too. In that light, batteries should not be dismissed out of hand. Lithium-ion is off-the-shelf technology today. Liquid metal batteries are about to be released after years of lab testing as a direct competitor to lithium, the former using cheap materials with very-long cycling and low degradation rates and great mass-production capability, the latter with more expensive and rare materials and known deterioration rates due to its solid state. Both of these batteries offer instantaneous stable base load grid output that level out the intermittent input. Some investors may eventually favour the liquid metal variety due to its projected lower cost.

And, of course, there are today's off-the-shelf rooftop PV panels that displace a portion of the centralized utility electricity consumers use, but which also offers private generation capacity that in turn offsets building new centralized power generation plants. Millions of solar roofs will go a long ways to support a net zero economy where private electric vehicles are charged at home and work.

Geothermal is a promising field and some companies are exploring drilling for heat deep in the Earth using closed loop systems circulated with the natural thermosiphon action created when cold fluid and hot fluid are placed in a pipe. The latest, highly accurate directional drilling techniques using today's fracking technology from the oil and gas sector are utilized in this concept. How ironic, that. But the operating price is still to high for Canada's markets, so investors are partnering with companies in Germany to take advantage of their feed-in-tarriffs to advance the technology and bring costs down, just as wind and solar did a decade ago. Once that is achieved, geothermal has outrageous potential almost anywhere in Canada. And it's an exportable commodity.

An interesting geothermal concept by a firm based in Alberta: the closed loop system is attracting a lot of attention by those with much expertise:

Lastly, there are the proven and largely standardized methods to bring emissions down, like fostering improved urban efficacy through multi-use zoning, building compact transit-based communities, building energy efficiency improvements in structures, and growing more food at the periphery of our cities to cut long range imports. All of these create jobs and improve the standard of living.

Have you considered helping the economy by starting up industries rather than shutting them down?

If green alternatives exist, the fossil fuel industries will wither away on their own. Nobody's buying Tube TVs these days, not because they were shut down or forbidden, but because the new ones were better.