Tzeporah Berman reveals what she's planning to do with US$2-million in Climate Breakthrough Project funding
For years, Tzeporah Berman has been observing a dramatic misalignment between Canada's climate goals and the country's energy policies.
Successive Canadian governments have talked a good game about reducing greenhouse gas emissions by certain timelines—and signed international agreements to do this.
But the Vancouver environmentalist noted that despite these words and ratification votes, domestic production of oil and gas keeps rising.
Berman, the international program director of Stand.earth, told the Straight by phone that academics and advocates in other countries have noticed a similar phenomenon.
"Whether I'm talking to people in Norway or Argentina or Ecuador, they're struggling with the same issue," she said.
In the same year that Parliament declared a climate emergency, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecast an increase of 1.27 million barrels per day of crude oil being extracted in Canada by 2035. And the Liberal government approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will triple shipments of diluted bitumen to the Pacific coast.
Berman attibuted part of the problem to international climate agreements.
According to her, governments have zeroed in on "negotiating the space in the atmosphere—who gets to pollute and how much".
"So, they're all focused on how much we burn," she said. "And what I didn't realize until I started deeply looking into the supply side of things was that the terms fossil fuel or oil and gas or coal don't even appear in the thousands of pages of the Paris Agreement."
In Paris in 2015, countries around the world agreed at a United Nations climate conference to try to contain the average global temperature rise this century to 1.5 C above just before the Industrial Revolution.
Each country files a plan for its nationally determined contribution to reduce the output of greenhouse gases.
But Berman pointed out that there's no requirement on any of them to curb the amount of oil, gas, and coal extracted from the ground.
"We have no plan to cap or phase down the production of fossil fuels in the country—no plan," she declared.
Fossil-fuel treaty studied
With the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Enbridge Line 3, downstream emissions are not even included in Canada's carbon budget.
This is because the diluted bitumen that passes through them will be exported and burned in other countries.
Berman is hoping to address this disconnect.
This week, she received a Climate Breakthrough Project award of US$2 million to develop an approach to align the Paris Agreement goals for a safe climate with global oil and gas development.
Funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and the Good Energies Foundation, the Climate Breakthrough Project "finds extraordinary strategists and gives them the time, space, and resources to create and implement the boldest strategies they can conceive to mitigate climate change".
Berman revealed that Stand.earth, the Stockholm Environment Institute, and the Washington, D.C.-based Centre for International Environmental Law have already convened a strong international working group.
It's exploring the idea of a fossil-fuel nonproliferation treaty.
"This idea was developed first a year ago by a couple of academics in the U.K. at Sussex University," she said.
Berman said that six research papers have been commissioned. The working group is looking at what can be learned from other international treaties dealing with land mines, nuclear nonproliferation, and chemical weapons.
Some countries—such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Indonesia—are heavily dependent on fossil-fuel revenues as a percentage of their overall government budgets.
Berman acknowledged that any fossil-fuel nonproliferation treaty would need take into account equity issues.
Nuclear campaigns involved cities
Berman has also given a great deal of thought about how municipal and county governments could do more to address the climate crisis.
She pointed out that local authorities played a key role in addressing the nuclear crisis and they've led the way in pushing the 100 percent renewable energy agenda.
Berman discussed the possibility of them passing land ordinances against the expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure.
She suggested that this could put an end to fighting these projects on a case-by-case basis.
According to her, the ordinances could be defended as ensuring local governments meet their goal of relying 100 percent on renewable energy.
"It's in some ways consistent with the idea of doing a nuclear nonproliferation treaty and having nuclear-free zones," Berman said.
The third strategy under consideration deals with investment. This would involve aligning insurance policies with tariffs to discourage the production of oil and gas.
She sees that as an urgent priority.
"I think in order to do that quickly, we need to act at a local level, at an international level, and at a financial level."
Humanity faces worrisome future
The world's predicament was laid bare in a paper published in the journal Nature on July 1.
It revealed that proposed energy infrastructure projects around the world would make it impossible to keep global warming limited to 1.5 C above pre-industrial times.
"We have enough already above ground to take us past two degrees," Berman said. "Why are we spending intellectual and financial capital for new exploration at this moment in history when we have 11 years—so says the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]—to bend the curve?"
If the average global temperature were to rise 2 C, that could trigger new feedback loops and accelerate existing feedback loops, causing the average global temperature to shoot up higher.
Even at current rates of greenhouse gas emissions without feedback loops like methane releases from Arctic permafrost and carbon releases from ocean acidification, the world is on track to see temperatures rise by nearly 4 C this century.
That could seriously disrupt food production and lead to famines.
This temperature rise would also cause huge numbers of deaths in heat waves, lead to longer forest-fire seasons, and intensify hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons.
"I have made a decision that my work will focus for the next 10 years on trying to reduce the production of fossil fuels," Berman said. "Quite honestly, at that point if we are still on for a four-degree and unsafe climate trajectory, then I plan to refocus my work on community resiliency and adaptation."