Toronto Star

Backwards on the climate


We may have largely forgotten about climate change in this pandemic year. But climate change hasn’t forgotten about us.

A pair of new reports this week drive home the point that while public attention and money has been lavished on fighting COVID-19, the bigger long-term threat of global warming is getting more serious all the time and government­s are failing to turn the tide. In some ways, they’re making things worse.

The World Meteorolog­ical Organizati­on finds that 2020 is on track to being one of the three hottest years on record, after 2016 and 2019. Its annual climate report details months of extreme heat waves, wildfires and floods, and says the concentrat­ion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has surged to a record high.

At the same time, the United Nations Environmen­t Program reports that government­s around the world are “doubling down” on fossil fuels despite the urgent need to cut carbon emissions if the world is to have a chance of avoiding catastroph­ic warming.

The UN and its research partners say production of coal, oil and gas must be cut by six per cent a year until 2030 to meet internatio­nally agreed climate goals. But based on data from Canada and seven other major energy producers, existing plans actually call for increasing production of fossil fuels by two per cent a year. That’s more than twice the amount consistent with keeping average warming to the 1.5 C goal in the Paris accord.

And despite all the rhetoric about going green, the researcher­s say, government­s are planning to spend more CO

VID recovery money on propping up fossil fuels than on clean energy. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres sums it all up like this: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.”

It’s not a pretty picture, and it’s clear that among all its other harms the pandemic has seriously set back progress on climate change. It has hijacked public attention and massive resources, for quite understand­able reasons.

Still, all is not lost. The imminent arrival of the Biden administra­tion in Washington is one big reason for hope. The incoming president calls global warming an “existentia­l threat” to humanity and pledges to reverse Donald Trump’s woeful decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement.

There’s a much better chance now that climate diplomacy will make some progress in 2021, without the U.S. sabotaging it at every turn. Aside from whatever actions the new administra­tion may take, it will remove cover from other countries, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, that pursue policies actively hostile to the environmen­t.

What of Canada? The Trudeau government says all the right things about making sure we build a greener economy, postCOVID, but progress is slow.

This week’s economic statement announced some more modest steps toward the government’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It earmarks $2.6 billion over seven years for energy-efficient retrofits; puts aside another $150 million for electric vehicle charging infrastruc­ture; and commits the government to planting two billion trees over10 years at a cost of $3.1 billion.

All worthwhile measures, but hardly the bold plan for a clean-economy transition that’s needed if Canada is to get serious about meeting its climate goals. It’s too much to expect that in the year of COVID, but it will have to come much sooner than later.

The government did take a step in that direction by proposing a bill that would commit Ottawa to setting targets for carbon emissions every five years. Convenient­ly, though, its plan would set targets starting only in 2030 — far enough away so the Trudeau government itself can’t be held accountabl­e.

Environmen­t Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is expected to present an updated climate plan this month setting out how the government intends to exceed its 2030 targets, and that won’t come a moment too soon.

Job One for the government must be defeating the pandemic. But it’s clear from this week’s reports that action on the climate is badly overdue.

The Trudeau government says all the right things about making sure we build a greener economy, but progress is slow

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