“If you thought it was hard to keep up your New Year’s resolution, try keeping an 85-year pledge, reported the CBC about the G7 promise to decarbonize by the year 2100. We all know how such resolutions turn out.
Some environmentalists have called the G7 agreement groundbreaking or a game-changer in the fight against climate change and the transition to a carbon-free world. It is a hopeful sign and I too applaud the announcement. But 85 years into an uncertain future? What we have is a climate emergency calling for a shorter-term solution. To put this in perspective, almost all of the current 7 billion people on this planet will be gone by then. My youngest grandchild will be 92 years old by the time all fossil-fuels are phased out – a truly asinine time-scale that may outlast humankind.
85-Year Carbon Pledge is Laughable
This is such a weak commitment that even Canada’s Prime Minister, undeniably the world’s worst climate villain, signed the non-binding pledge. Canada has already withdrawn from the Kyoto agreement and now will fail to meet its 2020 Copenhagen target. Now Harper has the audacity to make even more long-lived climate pledges after having failed to follow past environmental promises.
During the recent G7 meeting, Stephen Harper characteristically blocked attempts to include a stronger statement on binding greenhouse gas reduction targets. “That’s shameful,” said David Keith, an engineering professor at Harvard University. “For a government to try and avoid such a statement, is really a shame.” About the 85-year pledge, he goes on to say that “It’s not groundbreaking. It is politically cheap to pledge a non-binding commitment that falls way behind someone’s time in office.”
Time is not on our side.
In November of 2014, the IPCC released its Synthesis Report warning that a failure to transition away from fossil fuels in the near-term will increase the likelihood of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” to the environment. The key word is “near-term”. Waiting 85 years to completely phase out the use of fossil fuels ignores the need for massive adaptation to climate change. It’s simply too late. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it best at the time. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
What is clearly missing from the 85-year pledge is a concrete plan for immediate action on reducing GHGs. This has been left to the Paris2015 COP. As of now, the G7’s phaseout goals are non-binding and do not include individual emission targets. The agreement lacks teeth and remains unenforceable. This is where illusion takes the place of policy.
“The goal is a step in the right direction, but not very meaningful considering greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced dramatically within the next decade, well ahead of the G7’s timeline,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.
In my view, the science makes clear that 2050 or 2100 is way too far down the road…We will need near-term limits if we are going to avoid dangerous warming of the planet.
The Fallacy of the 2°C Threshold
At their meeting, the G7 also agreed on a global target for limiting the rise in average global temperature to a maximum of 2°C over pre-industrial levels. However, climate scientists argue that the IPCC and policymakers need to acknowledge that the planet is already on track for warming beyond 2°C.
“A policy narrative that continues to frame this target as the sole metric of success or failure to constrain climate change risk is now itself becoming dangerous,” wrote Todd Sanford and Peter Frumhoff of UCS in Nature Climate Change. “[It] ill-prepares society to confront and manage the risks of a world that is increasingly likely to experience warming well in excess of 2°C this century.
Retired NASA climate scientist James Hansen claims that the 2°C target is misguided – not stringent enough – and is “so dangerous” as to be “foolhardy.” Hansen and his colleagues suggest that a 1°C target is far less dangerous. The Earth has already warmed 0.85°C from 1880 (preindustrial times) to 2012.
The 2°C limit comes from the 2009 U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen. “There was little scientific basis for the 2°C figure that was adopted,” David Victor (UC San Diego) and co-author Charles Kennel (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) wrote in Nature, “but it offered a simple focal point and was familiar from earlier discussions … At the time, the 2°C goal sounded bold and perhaps feasible.”
Given where emissions are in 2015, there’s a need to debate the 2°C threshold. The IPCC itself (in September 2014) reported that the world’s “carbon budget,” the amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted without exceeding 2°C, could be used up entirely by 2040, says Andrew Jordan of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Norwich, England. This fact alone makes the G7 85-year carbon pledge laughable.
But simplicity must now face reality. It was never meant to be a safe limit. It has proven to be impractical scientifically as emissions are on track to break through this barrier.Politically, it has allowed world leaders to pretend that they are taking serious action to tackle global warming when in fact they have achieved very little.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies
With this recent G7 announcement, one would expect governments to abolish oil subsidies immediately. But don’t hold your breath. As far back as 2009, the G20 agreed to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
Not only are world governments spending $775 billion to subsidize the use and production of fossil fuels, they are also paying $88 billion per year to subsidize the exploration for further fossil fuel deposits. Global renewable subsidies, by comparison, amounted to $101 billion in 2013. (Source: Planet Experts)
Today, the U.S. spends $5.1 billion on fossil fuel exploration, almost twice as much as in 2009. (Source: ODI – Overseas Development Institute)
So let’s not expect fossil fuel subsidies to end anytime soon. In fact, we may see an accelerated and frenzied rate of development of oil, natural gas and coal reserves as fossil fuel companies seek to maximize their profits in the shorter term, knowing that they will become extinct like the dinosaurs in the longer term. After all, they have 85 years to go.
Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a blogger and a Climate Activist. Rolly has been published widely – Toronto Star, The Hill Times, Kingston Whig, the PEN, UnpublishedOttawa, Climate Change Guide, World Daily, Examiner, The Canadian, 350Ottawa, ClimateMama, MyEarth360, GreenDivas, The Elephant, Countercurrents, County Weekly News.