A new UN report on climate change tasks Canada with reducing its carbon emissions by almost half in 12 years in order to prevent environmental catastrophe.
The country is being asked to do the impossible, according to many scientists.
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“I think the [targets are] aspirational, I think it’s a real challenge. Our economy is so focused on use of carbon, and carbon extraction, and things like the oilsands. It’s really, really hard for us to reduce our use of carbon,” said Kent Moore, a professor at the University of Toronto’s chemical and physical sciences.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in the report that there will be irreversible, significant changes – including the entire loss of some ecosystems – if the world doesn’t take immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions far more quickly than is happening now.
That translates to limiting the increase in the average global ground temperature to 1.5 degrees C, rather than 2 C as specified in the 2015 Paris climate change accord.
At 2 C, everything from melting sea ice to droughts, famines and floods will be significantly worse than at 1.5 C, the report said.
However, Moore isn’t optimistic about achieving this goal, considering Canada’s record in maintaining climate change targets.
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“We’ve tried before to cut our emissions, there was the Kyoto accord back in the 1990s and we were never able to meet those targets. We haven’t made much progress towards meeting the Paris targets.,” he explained.
“So, I’m extremely pessimistic about whether we can do that or not.”
The world will hit the 1.5 C threshold between 2030 and 2052 if governments and societies don’t act immediately, the report said.
In order to prevent this, the global community needs to cut the amount of emissions released each year leading up to 2030 so that they don’t exceed 55 per cent more than what they were in 2010, it added.
In Canada, this would mean reducing emissions to 385 million tonnes per year – almost half of what they were in 2016. Canada’s current goal is to cut emissions to about 512 million tonnes per year.
“Can we do it? Yes we can, but I think it would require a huge amount of pain on essentially all Canadians to get there,” Moore added.
He went on to explain that Canadians have largely rejected the minor actions taken by provincial and federal governments to attempt to reduce the use or carbon.
Ontario’s Conservative government has already done away with the provincial carbon tax instituted by Kathleen Wynne, and the Trudeau government’s attempt to implement a federal carbon tax has drawn the ire of four provinces.
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While ideally, governments would have the option of slowly increasing prices on fossil fuels, natural gas and other pollutants, the UN report made clear that time is not a luxury that the world currently possesses.U
“I don’t think we have the time, really, to have it ramp up slowly. It will require a huge wholesale change in our whole economy,” he said.
The kind of drastic economic overhaul that Moore described involves hiking the price of gas by “up to 100 per cent,” ceasing development of the oilsands, radically reducing the number of Canadians who drive every day, along with many other actions – and all within a period of 10 years.
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“I don’t think people realize just how much our economy is built on that,” he said.
Furthermore, Kristen Zickfeld, an associate professor in the geography department at Simon Fraser University added that the the large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure currently being undertaken by the federal government makes these goals “virtually impossible” to achieve.
“These are completely at odds with what the report says is needed to meet 1.5. These projects will be built with a lifetime of 30-40 years, and for them to be economical they will need to be operational for that long. So, we’re going completely in the wrong direction,” she said.
She reiterated that everyone will need to make sacrifices in order for these targets to be met, and that those sacrifices will have to happen in every sector of the economy.
In addition to phasing out coal and dramatically reducing reliance on oil and natural gas, she noted that these changes will also involve electrifying transport, shifting our diets, heating our homes and businesses more efficiently and managing our forests better.
“I think we’re really talking about an across-the-board approach. Meeting 1.5 will require very deep transformations and changes in all factors of the economy and society,” she said.
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