Doom? Or something else?
Ottawa has a plan to tackle food insecurity up North — so why are prices still so high? Stephen Harper wants a Conservative renaissance. A few dozen professors are calling for a crackdown on their local steel mill after a Canada’s National Observer story. And four past and current CNO reporters are up for awards (I’ve linked their nominated reporting down below).
If you were scrolling this week, you probably came across a few less-than-rosy headlines about the planet: the world’s top climate scientists released a report Monday that’s been described as a “final warning” and a “file of shame.” While there’s no doubt the findings are grim, all is not yet lost. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers a “how-to guide” for preventing catastrophic destruction — but we have to start following those steps now.
“We have all the knowledge and tools to do the right thing,” my colleague Natasha Bulowski tells me. Even though the report sounds bleak, she adds, “it means that extreme and immediate action can and will make a difference, we just have to do it. But political will is a huge barrier.”
For this weekend’s newsletter, I’ve got five main takeaways from this week’s IPCC report and what they mean in our own lives, now and in the future.
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected].
Have a great weekend and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
5 takeaways from the latest IPCC report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world’s leading authority on climate science — released its latest report Monday. It spells out the state of the planet, plus what we stand to lose by doing nothing — and what we stand to gain by acting now. While the report isn’t “telling us anything especially new,” my colleague John Woodside points out, the next IPCC report won’t arrive “until close to the end of the decade.”
“In other words, this is the final say on what works, what doesn't and where we should devote resources if we're going to have the biggest impact.”
Here’s what you need to know:
It’s bad... Despite all the pledges and promises, greenhouse gas emissions around the world continue to rise. This means the planet is still getting hotter because of our pollution, which is putting billions of people at risk. If we don’t take swift, aggressive steps to curb that overheating this decade, the planet is likely to pass 1.5 C of global warming — the level scientists say is critical to keeping Earth safe and livable for everyone. (We’re already at 1.1 C.)
If we cross the 1.5 C line, the problems we’re seeing today — oceans rising, people fighting over food and water, and storms, floods and wildfires tearing through communities — will get exponentially worse.
…but not hopeless. There is time to save ourselves — and billions of others — from disaster if we get our act together right now. If the world can top out its greenhouse gas emissions before 2025, we have a 50-50 chance of hitting that 1.5 C goal. Between now and the end of this decade, we need to cut our emissions roughly in half or we’ll pay for it with irreversible damage, not just for ourselves but generations to come. For example, my colleague Rochelle Baker looked at what that damage would do to oceans and the people who rely on them (that’s all of us).
“There seems to be little awareness of how imperilled we are if we don’t drastically drive down emissions to make sure the ocean, already experiencing massive biodiversity loss and shifting ecosystems, doesn’t reach an irreversible tipping point,” she tells me.
A quick note here about overshooting our 1.5 C goal: no matter what happens, the planet is worth fighting for. The IPCC report says we can still hit the 1.5 C target, as our leaders have collectively promised, and in doing so save countless lives. But if we end up at 1.6 C or 1.7 C, that world is still way safer than a planet that’s 2 C hotter. When it comes to global warming, every 10th of a degree makes a meaningful difference.
We have all the science — and solutions — we need... Climate change is not a mystery: we know burning fossil fuels is the main cause. Even the most carefully worded part of the new IPCC report says so: its summary for policymakers — a short version of the report that must be approved by every single country in the IPCC before its release — explicitly says the net-zero world we need to curb climate change requires “a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use” and “minimal use of unabated fossil fuels,” a.k.a., fossil fuels without carbon capture technology. That means even major oil producers like Canada, Venezuela, Norway, Russia and Saudi Arabia acknowledge the threat fossil fuels pose to a safe, livable future.
Lucky for all of us, we already have many of the answers. We have the tools to cut our greenhouse gas pollution, from solar panels and wind turbines to revamping our relationship with nature to more efficient ways of using energy. Better still, if we get this right, we can stop polluting the planet and build a more equitable world for everyone in the process. The road to far fewer emissions will have speed bumps, but it’s ultimately a win-win situation: fighting climate change makes for a cleaner environment, healthier communities and stronger economies.
…but we’re missing the political will to do what’s necessary. Right now, our hurdle isn’t science, knowledge or technology; it’s institutions. In many countries — including Canada — governments are still greenlighting new fossil fuel projects when the IPCC report advises the opposite. By designing policies that act swiftly in favour of protecting the planet instead, the report points out, those governments can kick things into high gear and help us meet our 1.5 C goal.
Financial institutions, too, are still putting more money into fossil fuels than renewable energy, which makes embracing the switch to emissions-free energy tough on countries hard up for cash (and often the worst hit by climate disasters). This isn’t just bad for the planet, it will be bad for our pocketbooks: we’re already set to max out our carbon budget with the fossil fuel infrastructure we have today, and any new projects are at risk of becoming money losers as the world moves toward energy that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere.
However our institutions respond to this crisis, the systems that shape our lives today will be upended by climate change. Either we can take the reins and decide how we disrupt and rebuild them to ensure a healthier planet, or we can wait for the monster we’ve created to do it for us — through hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, floods and more — whenever and wherever it decides to strike.
Canada will take a “long, hard look” at upping its climate target. So said Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault after the report’s release. Right now, the federal government aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
But getting rid of oil, coal and gas remains No. 1 on the to-do list, according to the IPCC report, and Canada is nowhere near letting go. Just last week, Ottawa approved the Cedar LNG facility on the West Coast. Offshore behemoth Bay du Nord is in the works in the East, and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — on which Canada is “very unlikely” to recoup its investment, according to the country’s financial watchdog — limps along, offering a glimpse of what might happen when fossil fuel infrastructure no longer operates at a profit.
Canadians, on the other hand, seem to understand some of what the IPCC report says. An Abacus Data poll commissioned by Clean Energy Canada late last year found a majority of Canadians believe clean energy is more affordable and reliable than fossil fuels. Politics plays into that perception a bit — Liberal, Green and NDP voters were more likely to believe in the benefits of clean energy — but it’s worth noting half of Conservative voters agreed a fossil fuel-free system was more secure and 70 per cent said Canada investing in clean energy is very or somewhat important.
Check out these three Canada’s National Observer stories nominated for journalism awards:
- Investigation: Past safety violations loom large over reopening of Canadian coal mine | By Cloe Logan, nominated in Enterprise/Longform category, Atlantic Journalism Awards
- Native American Journalists Association bars New York Times from its conference over harmful coverage | By Matteo Cimellaro, nominated for the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Emerging Indigenous Journalist Award
- Right-wing operatives masquerading as local grassroots groups on Facebook | By Marc Fawcett-Atkinson and Jessica McDiarmid, nominated in the Scoop category, Canadian Association of Journalists Awards
More CNO reads
Pierre Poilievre auditions to be PM… In front of a conservative crowd Thursday evening, the Opposition leader made a populist appeal to everyday Canadians, John Woodside reports.
…And makes it “fun” to be conservative. That’s what young people at the Canada Strong and Free Network’s conference told Natasha Bulowski this week.
There goes the Very Good Food Company. A rising star’s collapse shows the growing pains in North America’s plant-based meat industry, Marc Fawcett-Atkinson reports.
RBC should expect a shareholder showdown wherever it goes. Even in Saskatoon, where the bank plans to hold its annual general meeting in April, writes campaigner and grassroots organizer Batul Gulamhusein.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada faces a deluge of calls to improve its “suspect” science. A parliamentary committee's investigation into how the federal agency conducts, interprets and acts on its own science ended with nearly 50 recommendations for improving the DFO's presentation of scientific findings, Rochelle Baker reports.
Carbon capture won’t fix our climate problem. “Don’t be misled when fossil lobbyists once again push the message that UN scientists say it’s a technology we must rely on to limit climate change,” writes public policy scholar June Sekera.
How do you keep coyotes at bay? For one Ontario farm, human hair and urine do the trick, Abdul Matin Sarfraz reports.
Nova Scotia presses pause. The province won’t accept new fish farm applications until it’s completed a campaign promise to map which areas are best suited for aquaculture, Cloe Logan reports.
Danielle Smith takes aim at the “existential” threat of federal climate policy. The Alberta premier told fellow conservatives Thursday she is on a collision course with Ottawa, Natasha Bulowski reports.
“You’re allowed to just be you.” Every Thursday, the University of Ottawa’s Mashkawazìwogamig Indigenous Resource Centre serves free soup and bannock to students, staff and faculty looking for a place to connect, Isaac Phan Nay reports.