Cropped out. Fighting back.
A tempest on social media forced AP to replace the cropped shot and apologize. That glaring example of erasure is newly resonant as the world’s governments gather for the umpteenth annual UN climate summit this week. Dubbed the “African COP,” the 27th Conference of the Parties is being held in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheik on the Sinai Peninsula. Across the narrow straits of the Red Sea, horrendous climate impacts are regularly cropped out of the Western media’s portrayal of the climate crisis.
You will have heard about the calamitous flooding that left one-third of Pakistan under water this summer, even if we haven’t heard much about what’s happened since (deadly waves of malaria, cholera, dengue and hunger). You would have to be pretty proactive to have heard much about this summer’s flooding in Nigeria. Over 1.4 million people are “displaced” across 33 of Nigeria’s 36 states.
Across the continent, back towards the shores of the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa is suffering the opposite calamity — withering drought. Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed and the worsening drought will kill one person every 36 seconds between now and year-end, according to Oxfam’s estimates. Right now, there are 16.7 million people facing “acute food insecurity” and the next rainy season is likely to “fail” as well.
It’s our language that’s failing us here. Failing to identify agency. Confusing a disaster with a crime scene. In this case, burning fossil fuels is supercharging the butterfly wing interdependence of our planet’s climate: it’s not raining in eastern Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia because “human-induced warming has raised the temperature of the western Pacific Ocean.”
Nakate recently travelled to northern Kenya to bring attention to the drought as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. “I really got to see how the climate crisis is affecting so many lives and destroying so many livelihoods, and that it’s mostly women and children who are suffering the most.”
Her home country of Uganda has suffered two climate disasters just this year: thousands displaced after rivers burst their banks in eastern Uganda, while hundreds have already been killed and half a million face starvation from drought in the northeast.
Nakate has a knack for framing: “Africa is on the front lines of the climate crisis but it’s not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers,” she says.
While she works to highlight the cruel injustices of climate change, Nakate is equally adamant about boosting agency. She’s campaigning against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline between Uganda and Tanzania. She’s written a book, A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring A New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, founded an organization bringing solar power to schools, and organizes with youth, artists and faith communities to fight against climate colonialism. This week, she published an open message to U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (the U.K. holds the COP presidency until Egypt takes over on Nov. 6).
COP27 is shaping up as a showdown between rich and poor as developing countries demand their rightful place in the picture.
A study published last week tallied economic “losses from anthropogenic extreme heat,” estimating the costs somewhere between $5 trillion and $29.3 trillion globally. Losses for “poor tropical countries” amount to 6.7 per cent of GDP per capita per year. And those numbers are just the hit from localized heat waves, they don’t begin to include flooding, prolonged drought or other climate impacts.
A group of 58 climate-vulnerable nations has formed a negotiating bloc and released its own study showing climate change has strangled their economies by 20 per cent.
Whatever the precise numbers, as U.S. climate envoy John Kerry blurted out this September, the damage is already “trillions of dollars.” But Kerry’s point was that the bill is already so high (and climbing) that rich countries can’t afford to engage in negotiations over loss and damage, lest they have to pay up. “You tell me the government in the world that has trillions of dollars,” Kerry snapped.
Compensation for loss and damage is one strand in a tangle of financial issues. Debt is another: can Nigeria or Pakistan really be expected to find cash for debt payments somewhere underneath the floodwaters? Many developing countries are greenlighting fossil fuel projects just to keep up with debt payments.
When renewable energy projects seek financing, they face prohibitive interest rates. Looking to build a solar farm in Nigeria? You’ll pay seven times the rate as projects in wealthy countries.
And then there’s the long-running conflict over finance to support adaptation and the transition off fossil fuels. Never mind trillions in reparations, so far the rich world hasn’t been willing to cough up the $100 billion per year for climate finance it promised back in 2009. (No one pretends that number is anywhere near adequate. The UN estimates $340 billion per year, just for the adaptation side.)
Canada and Germany were tasked with conducting an investigation into this multi-year failure and released a report card at the end of October. It found just $83 billion had been raised in 2020 and there was little clarity about how much came in the form of loans requiring repayment or whether the money was actually flowing to the countries in need.
Now, I realize billions and trillions start to blur, so how about some concrete comparisons?
$100 billion is less than Americans spend on their pets each year. It’s less than a quarter of what the world spends on coffee.
It’s the amount of profit the biggest oil companies are raking in each quarter this year.
Perhaps most poignantly, it’s one-seventh the amount G20 governments shelled out to support fossil fuel companies last year.
So, you know, priorities…
Or as Mohamed Adow, the head of Power Shift Africa, frames it: "The needs of the world's vulnerable people have been sacrificed on the altar of the rich world's selfishness."
True to Adow’s framing, many rich countries have been manoeuvring to block discussion of compensation for loss and damage at COP27 (although Kerry recently softened U.S. opposition somewhat).
By contrast, Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has supported the demand from the Global South to put loss and damage squarely on the formal agenda.
Canada hasn’t made any financial commitment to a new loss and damage fund. So far, Denmark is the only country to do so, with a small commitment of about $13 million (Scotland and a Belgian province have also come forward).
But this year, the Liberal government did move on that $100-billion failure — it will double funding for international climate finance, raising Canada’s contribution to $5.3 billion over five years.
It’s not nearly enough. Not if you’re stranded in a camp after floodwaters washed away your home and livelihood. Not if you’ve lost your family to climate impacts.
Kerry may actually be correct that the bill for damage has gotten too big to pay in full, but that’s no reason to pretend it’s not part of the picture.
A couple of significant moves by the feds this week.
Chrystia Freeland delivered an economic update full of good rhetoric about green industrial strategy and keeping up with the massive investments unleashed by the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act.
The update didn’t deliver the money for either an industrial strategy or the investments (stay tuned for the spring budget, she indicated) but it did unveil a new investment tax credit to match the Americans’ on low-carbon technologies like hydrogen, clean power generation, electricity storage and small modular reactors. There’s a minor investment in training for workers ($250 million), hints about “contracts for difference” to create certainty about carbon pricing. And there was real money ($8 billion) to “build a world-class electric vehicle and battery ecosystem,” as well as $3.8 billion for critical minerals.
To the surprise of many, there was no gusher of cash for carbon capture. “Oil and gas companies that pushed the federal government for more funding for carbon capture technology will be sorely disappointed by the fall economic statement,” reports Natasha Bulowski.
In fact, they’re more than disappointed. The oil and gas industry is furious about a new levy of two per cent on companies buying back their own stock.
Matteo Cimellaro walks us through What Canada’s fall fiscal update means for Indigenous nations:
“Key changes to the First Nations Land Management Act (effectively removing barriers for First Nations to opt out of the Indian Act), payouts for settlement claims, more funding for the law that supports Indigenous sovereignty over child welfare and family services, and details on how Canada’s critical minerals strategy might affect remote Indigenous nations.”
Hands off the minerals
The federal government ordered three Chinese companies to sell their interests in Canadian companies working in “critical minerals.”
Earlier this year, Canadian company Neo Lithium Corp. was taken over by a Chinese state-controlled mining group. The takeover prompted parliamentary hearings and a national security review. The order against the Chinese companies is the first decisive move to defend the supply chain of critical minerals and metals like lithium, cobalt and nickel — key ingredients for batteries and other clean energy products.
Trudeau not going to Egypt
John Woodside reports: “Trudeau’s decision not to participate in COP27 stands in contrast to several other world leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who are all expected to attend.”
A European satellite spotted a plume of methane near Lloydminster, Alta., an area peppered with oil and gas sites. Neither the Alberta regulator nor the Canada Energy Regulator knew anything about it.
“The responses suggest holes in the country’s emissions reporting and tracking efforts,” observes Bloomberg News wryly. Methane is one area where the Canadian government has made real progress and put regulations in place. Which is a good thing…
Bulldozing the greenbelt and wetlands
While everyone’s focused on the education workers strike, Ontario is moving to open thousands of hectares of the greenbelt for development. Last week, the provincial government moved against wetland protections as part of its “More Homes Built Faster Act.” (Bill C23).
The Hamilton Spectator got hold of internal memos from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority: “Combined with other housing-related planning changes now contemplated by the Tory government, ‘it is highly likely that there will no longer be any wetlands left within the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s watershed.’”
Lula for the Amazon
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged under Jair Bolsonaro, who claimed: “Our Amazon is like a child with chickenpox; every dot you see is an Indigenous reservation.” He was narrowly defeated in last weekend’s election.
The return of Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) could mean marked improvement for Indigenous Peoples and the rainforest, although he faces tough opposition in Congress. “Let’s fight for zero deforestation. The planet needs the Amazon alive,” Lula declared in his victory speech.
Montreal’s ‘Vision Vélo’
Mayor Valérie Plante unveiled the four-year plan to continue expanding Montreal’s impressive bike network. Brent Toderian, Canada’s guru of urbanism, says the existing network is “already the best in North America.” Vision Vélo will add at least 200 kilometres of new bikeways and 10 “express routes” connecting to neighbourhoods far from downtown.
In the last year, the number of bike trips has increased by 20 per cent in Montreal," Sophie Mauzerolle told the CBC. "In the last year alone, that's 12 million bike trips."
Power for Eavor
Why aren’t we tapping into the power of the Earth? A promising Canadian geothermal company aims to do just that and broke ground on its first big commercial project last week.
Calgary-based Eavor Technologies invented a closed loop system to tap the heat deep beneath the Earth’s surface, kind of like a huge car radiator. Its pilot project in Alberta proved the system can run 24/7, harvesting heat from the deep and bringing it to the surface where it can be used for heating or to generate baseload electricity. (Cool geek note: Fluid circulates through the loop without pumps by harnessing the thermosiphon effect — the difference in temperature between the fluid going up and going down.)
Eavor’s sales pitch is “The first truly scalable form of clean baseload power” but the first major project isn’t in Canada. A utility in southern Germany brought in Eavor for a project near the town of Geretsried. Two drill sites and four loops are scheduled for completion next summer.
“People have always looked for the most suitable geology to use geothermal energy. With Eavor Loop, that will no longer be necessary: anywhere in the world where there are hot rock strata, heat can be transported to the surface without the previously required groundwater resources,” reports Süddeutsche Zeitung (translation by Google).
‘I believe in the polluter pays principle’
I’ll leave you this week with Vanessa Nakate explaining, in her own words, why loss and damage needs to be on the global agenda. Sad to say, she wrote this piece ahead of the last COP but you can imagine the squirming as she focuses on the cherished polluter pays principle and zooms out:
“While walking with a friend through central Kampala last month, we saw a police truck go by, a body in the back.
“It’s a sight that has become more common in Uganda. The life of that person, and many others, was taken by a heavy downpour in my home city. Uganda has been battered by floods in recent years, as well as droughts and plagues of locusts…
“We know who did this — but they don’t want to pay the bill.”
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write with feedback or suggestions at [email protected]
Support for this issue of Zero Carbon came from The McConnell and Trottier foundations and I-SEA.