Canadian climate activist Tzeporah Berman imagines a future where she will sit with her grandchildren and explain there was a time not long ago when we filled cars with gasoline and chopped down forests to get at oil.
“And they will barely believe me because the world will be such a different place,” she said.
Berman’s vision for a carbon-free future was broadcast to the world from a dimly lit stage in Glasgow on Oct. 13 where she was one of seven international speakers chosen to present at the TED Countdown Summit. Her message was clear-eyed but ultimately upbeat: “We are capable of enormous change within our lifetimes.”
Berman, the Vancouver-based international program director at Stand.earth, spoke about the need to divest from oil, gas, and coal and how fossil fuel non-proliferation treaties can help us get there.
She’s part of the steering committee of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty campaign, which has garnered support from 132,737 individuals and over 800 organizations. The group calls for a worldwide treaty to phase out gas, oil, and coal, and support for workers during the transition. Berman stressed the need for action is immediate and will require “unprecedented international co-operation in three main areas — non-proliferation, global disarmament, and a peaceful, just transition.”
The conference — also known as COP, short for Conference of the Parties — has brought the world together since 1995 to hammer out agreements to reduce global warming. The talks gather policymakers, scientists, environmental activists, climate experts, and news media from the 197 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to set and work towards global climate change goals. This year, COP26 will take place at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.
For Canada — the only G7 country other than the U.S. where emissions have risen every year since the Paris Agreement — COP26 could nudge decision-makers towards making fathomable climate promises. Right now, Berman said the globe is set to produce 120 per cent more fossil fuels over the next decade than the level necessary to stay below the Paris target of 1.5 C. And she cautioned that even if we stop new fossil fuel development, existing projects would still push us past our warming target.
“A fossil fuel treaty will help us wind down the production of fossil fuels. It will provide a complement and help us achieve the goals of the Paris accord,” said Berman.
“It is a big, bold, new idea. But at this moment in history, we need some big, bold, new ideas.”
Tzeporah Berman is part of the steering committee of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty campaign, which has garnered support from 132,737 individuals and over 800 organizations. The group calls for a worldwide treaty to phase out #FossilFuels.
The theme of the TED event was “Imagining,” which Christiana Figueres said means looking beyond the effects of climate change. Figueres, who was the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during the 2015 Paris Agreement, said, although it’s important to understand the breadth of climate change impacts, more information needs to come forward on what should be happening to address it.
Without that information, it's very difficult to imagine a different world, let alone how to create it, she said.
“So here at Countdown, we would like to paint a collective image of a much better world so that each of us can then decide for ourselves how close or how far are we from that future. But above all, we really want to encourage you to focus on how (we can) accelerate the transformation that we need.”
During her speech, Berman pointed out the Paris Agreement doesn’t mention fossil fuels directly and noted since 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has continued to subsidize the oil and gas industry. That shows the federal government may be regulating emissions, but not the production of fossil fuels, she said.
“For decades, our countries have been negotiating targets. But behind our backs, the fossil fuel industry has been growing production and locking in further emissions,” said Berman, explaining that she soon found how few frameworks exist to regulate fossil fuel production.
That is why it’s so important to not let governments off the hook, said Berman. Wealthy countries like Canada, the U.S., and Norway need to lead the way by divesting from fossil fuels first. She said the United Kingdom cannot call itself a climate leader if it signs off on the looming permit for Cambo oilfield, a controversial drilling project in the North Sea.
And yet there is hope. A number of cities including Berman’s hometown of Vancouver, Barcelona, Sydney, Spain, and Los Angeles have endorsed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Berman acknowledged those who criticize the treaty as too ambitious and said campaign founders are aware it will be difficult to get oil-producing countries on board. However, she said a similar sentiment circled around the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was signed in the late 1960s by 191 UN member states, including the five nuclear-weapon states: the U.S., China, France, Russia, and the U.K.
At the end of her talk, Berman remembered a conversation she had with her grandmother when she was feeling particularly discouraged about the state of the world and climate change. Her grandmother's description of the unfathomable change she had seen throughout her life reminded her the same is possible in 2021.