Elizabeth May: The elements of the big stall, carefully disguised as climate action

The parliamentary leader of the Green Party of Canada exposes the deadly shortcomings in the Trudeau climate plan

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      Thanks to Charlie Smith and Georgia Straight for some straight talk about Canada’s climate integrity. (COP26: "Spare me the sophistry of Justin Trudeau on Canada's plan to cut emissions", November 2, 2021).  Reading the piece here in Glasgow at COP26 was a tonic.

      We are so desperately in need of journalists who grasp climate science. Days before leaving Canada for COP26, the 7 a.m. CBC radio national news referred to COP26 and the challenge of meeting the “1.5 percent goal”. 

      The mind reels. We struggle to hold to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees global average temperature increase and no more. And our national public broadcaster does not know the difference between percent and degrees. (And, this is not the first time I have heard the percent to degrees swap from CBC senior journalists.)  

      One reason the Liberals are able to offer so little to public acclaim is, as Charlie Smith says, because the media corps is so ill-equipped to ask the right questions.

      Another element of the Liberal bait and switch on climate action is the really Big Stall. Ever since October 2018 and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5 degrees, we have known the window on holding to 1.5 degrees will close and close forever by 2030. Instead of focusing on the alarming and urgent advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that holding to 1.5 degrees C global average temperature increase requires “large, immediate and unprecedented global efforts”, the Trudeau Liberals have cherry-picked IPCC language to fixate on “net-zero by 2050”.

      The IPCC 2018 Report made it clear that achieving 1.5 degrees requires most of the heavy lifting this decade. Only if that 2030 target is met will net-zero be relevant:

      “In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030… reaching net zero around 2050 …”

      But the Liberals designed their so-called Climate Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act around net-zero by 2050. All Green amendments to reference the actual IPCC numbers to hold to 1.5 degrees were defeated, as was my amendment to ensure targets would be “based on the best available science”.

      The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP voted that down in favour of “taking the best available science into account”.

      The “net-zero by 2050” language was prominent from Canada at COP, as it was in the lead-up, as in this quote from Minister Jonathan Wilkinson's office.

      The majority of oil and gas companies are already committed to net-zero by 2050, and in order to get to our shared goal, emissions from the oil and gas sector need to go down,” said Environment and Climate Change Minister Wilkinson's press secretary, Joanna Sivasankaran, in a media statement. (October 24, 2021)

      We committed in our platform, and have a strong mandate, to ensure that pollution from the oil and gas sector doesn't go up from current levels and instead goes down at the pace and scale needed to get to net-zero by 2050.”

      As Smith’s column pointed out, the Liberals' plan could involve meeting net-zero by 2050, while allowing the oilsands to expand, and relying on various forms of expensive and unproven carbon-removal technology. There is now an alliance of the major oil and gas producers called “Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero”, with plans to capture CO2 and achieve net-zero emissions from oilsands operations by 2050.

      At COP26, other national leaders spoke of the urgency to slash emissions by 2030 to hang on to 1.5 degrees. U.S. president Joe Biden underscored that this was the “decisive decade” and that time is running out. U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson nailed the urgency in his reference to James Bond’s Doomsday device, saying we are at “one minute to midnight”.

      The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, said, “For those who have eyes to see, for those who have ears to listen and for those who have a heart to feel, 1.5 is what we need to survive…”

      In our prime minister’s speech at COP26, he was one of very few leaders who never mentioned 1.5 degrees. The only goal referenced was net-zero by 2050.

      I am desperately concerned that our prime minister either does not know that net-zero by 2050 is the wrong target or that he is a knowing party to this fraud. It is worse than a fraud. It is criminal to allow the door on 1.5 degrees to close without moving heaven and earth to achieve it. 

      The IPCC findings confirm the reality that we can hold to 1.5 degrees. It is not a guarantee that we can hang on to human civilization, but it is our last, best hope.

      Every fraction of a degree higher will cost us in thousands, if not millions, of lives, sea level rise, wildfires and drought. Every degree rise moves our future risks to include extinction. The IPCC repeated the increased urgency in the Sixth Assessment Report from Working Group 1, released this August.

      That report was described as “Code Red for humanity” by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

      At COP26, Guterres said: “It’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalising biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper… We are digging our own graves.”

      It will not be easy, but we must not allow the one chance we have to hold to 1.5 degrees to slip through our fingers while we focus on the wrong target. As Greta Thunberg says, “Net-zero by 2050 is surrender.”

      But, as ever, the Liberals seem to believe we can build pipelines, export bitumen no one wants in tankers loaded with dilbit in the Salish Sea, expand production from the oilsands, increase methane releases from fracking for gas, and somehow work to cap emissions, but not production.

      We need more rigour—in journalism, citizen critiques, environmental groups’ analysis, and especially in political discourse—on what the science requires. Net-zero by 2050 is dangerous without the preambular words “slash GHGs by at least 45 percent by 2030”. 

      We are running out of time. The net-zero goal—nearly three decades from now—is a dangerous mirage.