The environment and climate security
First the good news.
Early in the week the BBC reported that a new analysis by the Climate Action Tracker suggests the goals of the UN Paris climate agreement are “within reach” due in large measure to new climate commitments from China, Japan and South Korea, along with the carbon plans enunciated by US President-elect Joe Biden. The report states:
The recent wave of net zero targets has put the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C within striking distance. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has calculated that global warming by 2100 could be as low as 2.1°C as a result of all the net zero pledges announced as of November 2020.
For more than a decade, researchers from Climate Action Tracker have been following what countries’ carbon-cutting pledges mean for our warming world. In the words of one of the analysts, Bill Hare:
We now have north of 50% of global emissions covered by big countries with a zero emissions by mid-century goal….
This conclusion stands in sharp contrast to their estimates following the failed Copenhagen Summit of 2009 for a 3.5°C temperature rise by the end of this century.
All is not entirely rosy, however. On the down side, they conclude that, as opposed to the longer-term commitments by key nations, “near-term” plans to cut carbon by 2030 are “just not up to the job”. In addition:
Regarding the impact of the Covid crisis on national environmental policies, climate scientist Dr. Maisa Rojas notes:
The pandemic opened a window to not only get countries to outline their long-term goal, but to actually move onto the right path so that they can actually achieve the long term goal….
While she was upbeat about nations seizing this opportunity, a new UN report discussed below suggests that is not happening yet.
For the full article, see: Climate change: Temperature analysis shows UN goals ‘within reach’ (Matt McGrath, bbc.com, 1 December 2020).
The bad news
One day after the Climate Action Tracker report was released, a new UN report was made public with very sobering climate news indeed. It reached this stark conclusion:
To date, governments have committed far more COVID-19 funds to fossil fuels than to clean energy. Policymakers must reverse this trend to meet climate goals.
One of the lead authors of the report, Ivetta Gerasimchuk of the International Institute of Sustainable Development, laments:
Alas, in 2020 we saw many governments doubling down on fossil fuels. Instead of governments letting these fossil fuel projects die, they resurrect them from death — it’s kind of zombie energy.
The report, beyond outlining these alarming trends, also details how policymakers can start a gradual decline in fossil fuel production, including ending fossil fuel subsidies and supporting affected communities as they transition into new jobs.
For more on the report see: World is ‘doubling down’ on fossil fuels despite climate crisis – UN report (Damian Carrington, guardian.com, 2 December 2020).
UN Secretary-General provides his starkest climate warning yet
The Chief UN diplomat, António Guterres, in his 2 December speech at Columbia university on the state of the planet, abandoned diplomatic niceties and spoke in his strongest language yet on the twin global crises of climate and biodiversity:
Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back — and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.
Guterres, like the Climate Action Trackers, took hope from the actions of China, the EU and the incoming US administration.
I firmly believe that 2021 can be a new kind of leap year — the year of a quantum leap towards carbon neutrality. Sound economic analysis is our ally.
For the full Guardian article on his speech see: Humanity is waging war on nature, says UN secretary general (Fiona Harvey, guardian.com, 2 December 2020).
To see a video of the full speech by the UN Secretary-General on the state of the planet, click on the arrow:
Department of National Defence biggest polluter in the federal government
Figures released at the end of November for federal government facilities and fleet operations show that the Defence Department was responsible for the lion’s share of the federal government’s own pollution in 2019.
In 2017, following the adoption of its new defence policy, which included a commitment to “greening Defence,” DND released a Defence Energy and Environment Strategy for the 2020-2030 period. In the preface of the document, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan wrote:
By 2020, DND is committed to investing $225 million in infrastructure projects that will help reduce the Department’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The fly in the ointment of this otherwise admirable policy is that DND’s actual military operations are not included, the stated reason being:
…given the unpredictable changes in operational tempo, the federal reduction target will not include emissions from military activities and operations.
The Defence Minister goes on to assure us that:
Nevertheless, Defence will support innovative approaches to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and operations.
The trouble with this approach, however, is that it means there are no declared targets for reducing the carbon footprint of Canadian military operations, nor means of tracking how well DND is actually doing. RI President Peggy Mason adds:
More importantly, there is no cost-benefit analysis in climate and human security terms of these military operations.
For a look at the oversized role that the U.S. military plays in destroying the climate through its gargantuan carbon emissions, see: Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change and the Costs of War (Watson.brown.edu, 13 November 2019).
And for a plea from the European Green movement not to leave analysis of the security implications of climate change to the Pentagon and other defence departments, see: Climate Security Cannot Ignore the Military (Ben Cramer, Green European Journal, 7 April 2020).
We call on the Government of Canada to live up to its promise of “greening Defence” by including the full scope of its military activities and operations in its federal carbon emission reduction strategy and by initiating a broader dialogue within and beyond government on the profound implications of climate security on traditional military-centric security paradigms.
For more on the ostrich-like head-in-the-tar-sand actions of the Department of National Defence when it comes to military procurement which is not green, cost-effective or smart spending in the time of COVID, see: After agreeing to $2B in deals with U.S.-based defence companies, Liberals ask DND for a list of Canadian firms to quickly buy from (David Pugliese, thechronicleherald.ca, 3 December 2020).
Is Canada undermining treaty on plastic waste?
Canadian environmental activists, including Rideau Institute board member Kathleen Ruff, are sounding the alarm over a secret “bilateral arrangement” signed on 26 October by the Canadian government and the United States regarding the export and import of plastic wastes. In a letter to the Environment minister they state in part:
we are concerned that in signing the [bilateral] Agreement Canada will be in violation of its legal obligations under the Basel Convention [which only the U.S. and Haiti have not signed] when the Convention’s plastic waste provisions come into effect on January 2, 2021.
Writing on this issue for CBC news, Evan Dyer notes that the agreement was never publicly announced and that Environment Canada “declined” CBC requests to see the text.
The plastic waste amendments to the Basel Convention effectively limit nations to shipping plastic recyclables only to other signatory countries that are bound by the same rules. But the concern is that Canada will seek to exploit a loophole allowing shipments of plastic waste to non-signatory states under existing bilateral agreements.
Myra Hird, who represented Canada at the G7 microplastics summit last year, told Dyer:
This is, in effect, a backdoor for Canada to offload its waste problems to the U.S., who will offload to the very countries potentially that the Basel Convention amendment is meant to stop.
Kathleen Ruff added:
According to the legal experts we’ve talked to who are experts on the convention, it’s a violation of the convention.
Canada is the only developed nation that has yet to ratify the Basel Convention on plastic waste.
For the full CBC article, see: Government quietly made ‘back door’ agreement with U.S. that could undermine treaty on plastic waste (Evan Dyer, cbc.ca., 3 December 2020).
We call upon the Government of Canada to ratify the Basel Convention on plastic waste, and declare its intention to act in full conformity with both the letter and the spirit of the treaty.
And for a broader assessment of Canada’s environmental track record, penned by Rideau Institute board member Bruce Campbell, see Canada’s fiscal update falls short in facing climate change and income inequality (the conversation.com, 6 Dec 2020).
Photo credit: Government of Canada (NOAA satellite data)