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To avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions need to start falling before 2025, which requires a swift move away from fossil fuels and increased investments in renewables, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said high-emitting governments and corporations are “adding fuel to the flames” in a speech Monday. The latest IPCC report examines current emissions trends and projected levels of future warming and lays out how the world can transition to a low-carbon economy.
"The truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels," Guterres said Monday. "Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness."
Though he stopped short of calling out specific countries, Green Party interim leader Amita Kuttner says Canada is a clear culprit.
“Within the IPCC deliberations, it was reported that pro-fossil fuel countries, including Canada, tried to water down the language,” Kuttner said in a press release. “So we stand accused as ‘dangerous radicals.’”
Oil and gas production in Canada is projected to increase 21 per cent by 2030, according to the federal government’s new climate plan.
In his speech, Guterres warned that increasing production will only make matters worse. Instead, he said, “we must triple the speed of the shift to renewable energy,” which means immediately moving investments and subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables.
The report found ongoing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure are undermining the massive curb in emissions needed to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 C, preferably 1.5 C. It also said emissions from "existing fossil fuel infrastructure could single-handedly exhaust the remaining carbon budget," meaning there is no place for new fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate-safe future, confirming previous findings from the International Energy Agency.
The IPCC report comes less than two weeks before Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is expected to announce whether Bay du Nord — which could become Canada’s first deepwater drilling project — will be rejected or approved. To the Sierra Club Foundation and other environmental organizations, this report makes clear that approving Bay du Nord and the 200,000 barrels per day it will extract off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is incompatible with meeting global climate targets.
“Any expansion of oil and gas production at this point is an open declaration that our climate targets do not matter,” Heather Elliott, Newfoundland and Labrador campaigner with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, said in a press release. “Any money invested into developing large-scale projects, like Bay du Nord, is money we will not see returned when these projects are abandoned. We need immediate and decisive change, or we will be beyond the point of no return.”
"The truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels," UN chief António Guterres said of the #IPCC report. "Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness." #cdnpoli
In response to the IPCC report, the NDP’s critic for environment and climate change, Laurel Collins, said the party will use its power to work towards stronger climate action, including the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.
The Liberals’ new emissions plan is heavily dependent on massive subsidies to Big Oil and implementing carbon capture technology — a strategy that has been denounced by scientists because it mostly benefits big oil companies, Collins’ statement reads. The upcoming federal budget will “be an important opportunity for the government to show that it takes the climate emergency seriously,” her statement said.
There are solutions for every sector
Despite the grim outlook, this IPCC report focuses on addressing climate change and is “the most comprehensive, most complete report on solutions,” Eddy Pérez, international climate diplomacy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, told Canada’s National Observer.
The report sets out realistic options for every sector to keep the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5 C alive, Guterres said on Monday.
Among the solutions recommended are a rapid shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy such as solar and wind, the electrification of transport, more efficient use of resources and massive financial support for poor countries unable to pay for such measures without help.
“Technology is not the limiter anymore,” Chris Bataille, an author of the IPCC report and an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, told Canada’s National Observer. “It's the political and infrastructure co-ordination to make it all happen, really.”
Over the last decade, there have been huge cost reductions in solar and wind power, the report says, and in a 1.5 C future, almost all electricity must be supplied by zero- or low-carbon sources by 2050.
Bataille said the challenge with wind and solar is often getting the electricity on the transmission grid, which is something the government can help with by upgrading our transmission system. For short-term emissions reductions, he said Canada should focus on tightening methane regulations, getting a net-zero building code in place as soon as possible and showing wind and solar the same support carbon capture utilization and storage is receiving from the government.
The federal government recently committed another $600 million to support renewable electricity and grid modernization projects in addition to $960 million over four years that was announced in 2021. The costs of ramping up solar and wind to decarbonize Canada’s electricity grid will far exceed these investments though, and the IPCC report calls for governments to invest heavily in renewables instead of fossil fuels.
Methane reductions are critical and easy to implement
To hold global warming to 1.5 C, the world will have to reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions 48 per cent and methane emissions by one-third by 2030, the report found. Tackling emissions from highly potent but short-lasting methane is key, and many solutions already exist, like plugging methane leaks from mines, wells and landfills and putting strict regulations in place.
Canada has signed a Global Methane Pledge to reduce overall methane emissions by 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030 and has set a national target of a 75 per cent reduction in methane emissions from oil and gas by 2030 relative to 2012 levels.
Methane reductions in the oil and gas sector are easier and less expensive to achieve than those for sectors like agriculture, said David Risk, a professor of earth sciences at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and head of the FluxLab at the university.
He says Canada is making some good progress with its federal methane regulations, which are now a year old, but our success will depend on whether companies comply and the accuracy of the measurements off which we are basing our actions.
A 2020 study from McGill University found annual methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells might be underestimated by as much as 150 per cent in Canada, and a 2021 study by Risk’s research group found methane emissions are at least 1.5 times higher than what's being reported in official inventory reports.
In a previous statement to Canada’s National Observer, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s press secretary, Kaitlin Power, said the federal government is working on improvements to Canada’s methane emission estimates. These improved estimations “will result in an upward revision in methane emissions reported in Canada’s 2022 national inventory” and will include updated emissions for 1990 to 2020, she said.
Canada’s climate roadmap the ‘plan of a petrostate’
Canada’s new climate plan charts a course to reduce emissions 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and is the best climate plan the country has ever seen, but politicians and environmentalists have criticized the federal government’s decision to shoot for the low end of its international commitment to a 40 to 45 per cent reduction.
When asked why the federal government opted to aim for 40 per cent instead of the higher end of its international commitment, Power said the sector-by-sector projections may shift as the country decarbonizes and costs of technologies change.
“The Government of Canada expects that complementary climate actions from the provinces and territories, municipalities, Indigenous Peoples, and businesses — as well as with the acceleration of clean technology innovation and deployment — would lead to further emission reductions in the lead-up to 2030,” Power’s statement reads.
The new climate plan has “such a long way to go before” before it will really contribute to limiting global warming to 1.5 C, said Perez.
“This is the emissions reduction plan of a petrostate,” said Pérez, pointing to the projected increase in fossil fuel production.
As a wealthy nation, Canada has the ability and capacity to undertake an energy transition and still provide services to communities, but energy policy is highly polarized, said Pérez.
“We have given ourselves a couple of very ambitious targets, such as stopping international support for oil and gas internationally and ending inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” he said. “And at the same time, we know that our political leaders, members within the government, continue to see the oil and gas industry as an ally.”
Faced with the drastic changes the IPCC report calls for, Canada has two choices, said Pérez.
We can continue to build a fossil fuel economy with “destructive” results both for the climate and for our economy, or “we could decide to embark on a transformational pathway where we cut emissions by half by 2030, we're able to shift away from the fossil fuel economy, shift away from fossil fuels, and really use the solutions that are in this report,” he says.
– With files from the Associated Press
Natasha Bulowski / local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer