PARIS — Although it’s been reported in the Canadian media that China and India are blocking progress at COP21, the biggest obstacle appears to be the unwillingness of the developed countries to talk about historical responsibility and reparations. Earlier this week, Canada was a co-winner of the Fossil of the Day award, as climate activists expressed their dismay at this stance. Canadians are some of the worst climate polluters, per capita, in the world, and our current (and projected future) pollution through plundering the tar sands, means that we’re not getting any better.
Canada industrialized early, and it has been emitting carbon pollution for well over a hundred years, giving it a significant “head start” over India, China, and other less developed nations. Yet the Canadian negotiators don’t want to acknowledge this, much less pay our debts.
Admittedly, it’s not just Canadian negotiators who are trying to hide this great injustice. The U.S., along with many of the other countries that industrialized (and polluted) early have had a multi-year agenda to remove acknowledgement (and responsibility) of this injustice from the COP negotiations. They have largely been successful in doing so.
The negotiators at COP are not on an equal footing. Many of the negotiators from the Global South are trying to avoid climate devastation in their countries and climate genocide of their peoples. On the other hand, the negotiators of developed nations are generally trying to keep a fossil-fueled power system in place, rather than consider other necessary options. Last week Canadian youth joined others from around the world to highlight this imbalance.
Since pre-industrial times, the burning of fossil fuels has raised the global temperature by 1C. Even with this “modest” increase, we are seeing a rise in climate chaos around the world, with climate destruction like the floods currently devastating Chennai, India. We’re also seeing an increase in climate-spurred wars. The current war in Syria is set in a context of severe drought worsened by climate change: in one agriculture-dependant area of the country, 75 per cent of farmers experienced total crop failure in 2007-2008. About 1.5 million people fled the starving countryside and crowded into the cities — imagine the populations of Brampton and Mississauga moving into Toronto, or everyone in Ottawa-Gatineau squeezing into Montreal. Subject to war and instability, this kind of desperation provides a breeding ground for climate-driven terrorism. The violence of climate change takes many forms.
In order to avoid a dangerous climate breakdown, countries agreed in 2009 that we must avoid a 2C global rise in global temperatures. Even this is a significant planetary risk (and will result in the deaths of many millions of people) — the Canadian youth delegation, along with many scientists and the countries most affected by climate violence, are calling for “1.5 to stay alive.”
But the political systems of the countries of the world are failing miserably at achieving this, putting emission reduction offers on the table that would result in temperature increases in the 2.7C to 3.5C range. Realistically, we can expect these political systems to fail to deliver on their promises, putting us back into the “unlivable for human life” 4C to 6C range.
With such high stakes, you might expect the Canadian negotiators to be working hard to give us a healthy climate future. Sadly, our Canadian negotiators are not working to protect the health of Canadians and people around the world. Instead, they’re trying to ensure that big polluters, such as the tar sands extractors, can continue to pollute and cause ever more societal instability and fragility. Instead of trying to create a rapid transition to a fairer, richer Canada, they’re negotiating which decade we’ll go extinct.
Although Trudeau has promised “real change,” it’s clear that we need far more change than he has delivered thus far. The real change required by science must include a freezing of the tar sands and a rapid, nationwide transition to renewables. Real change must include negotiating a path at COP21 towards a healthy future for all, with ambitious targets, binding commitments and payment of our climate debts. Real change must include actual change, yet so far Trudeau seems to be peddling words, not deeds.
Keeping climate change below 1.5C means no more pipelines, and a freeze on tar sands expansion. Trudeau needs to make a choice between the oil industry and the planet, but thus far he seems to think he can be a climate hero while also continuing to build tar sands infrastructure.
It’s time to pick a side.