The news is more alarming every day: Heat records breaking worldwide. Greenhouse gases soaring to unprecedented levels. Sea levels rising at distressing rates. Record heat fuelling disease outbreaks. World facing 3 C of warming. Scientists’ warnings becoming increasingly urgent.
Can we expect ambition to increase as delegates from the world’s nations gather for the 28th Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates? It’s easy to be cynical: this year’s conference is being held in an oil-producing country and is headed by an oil industry executive.
Why can’t we agree that our fossil-fuelled consumer economic system is failing and that we need new ways of seeing and acting?
But it does present opportunities, especially in light of recent pledges by the world’s biggest climate polluters, the United States and China, to work together to accelerate climate action. It’s also a great opportunity for our own oil-producing country to play a leading role in answering the urgent call for plans and solutions to address a problem mainly caused by a few industrialized countries — especially those at the top of the economic ladder. (A new study shows the wealthiest one per cent of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest two-thirds!)
People in Canada and around the world are demanding action through protests, petitions, letters, votes and lawsuits. We can’t let the fossil fuel industry drown out our voices. That COP28 is being hosted by oil profiteers highlights Big Oil’s influence, as does an outsized lobbying effort. Last year’s conference was attended by more than 600 oil and gas industry lobbyists, an increase of 25 per cent from the previous year, dwarfing representation from Indigenous Peoples, African nations and environmental organizations.
Ultimately, we need to shift to new systems, but world leaders must also focus on immediate problems and solutions.
Industry exerts enormous influence over governments in Canada and elsewhere. Despite annual promises from industrialized countries dating back to 2009 to end them, worldwide subsidies for the most profitable industry in history are rising, up to about US$7 trillion a year — or $13 million a minute!
Ultimately, we need to shift to new systems, but world leaders must also focus on immediate problems and solutions. The benefits to rapidly phasing out coal, gas and oil are indisputable, especially if attention is paid to ensuring a just and equitable transition to less wasteful ways of living and cleaner energy sources.
The most critical aim is to slow and prevent the ever-worsening impacts of a heating climate — from droughts and floods to heat domes and hurricanes — so that humans are able to survive and live well. Shifting away from fossil fuels will also reduce pollution and related health issues and costs. And it will help tackle the growing affordability crisis. Power from sources like wind and solar, even with storage technologies, now costs less than power from gas, oil and coal — and prices continue to drop.
This isn’t something we can just put off, or leave to the children and those yet to be born.
Fossil fuel markets are notoriously volatile, with industry taking advantage of global crises like war and economic desperation to reap even greater profits. And as supplies start to diminish, costs rise, especially as industry has to rely increasingly on dirtier fuels that are more difficult and expensive to extract and process, such as oilsands bitumen. Renewable energy never runs out, and improving storage technologies and updating power grids make it even more stable and viable.
Done right, ending the fossil fuel era will also create greater economic equality, as fossil-fuelled consumerism mainly rewards those who produce the most wasteful products and disproportionately harms those at the mercy of fluctuating markets and rising prices.
This isn’t something we can just put off, or leave to the children and those yet to be born. The climate crisis is here, and it’s causing numerous other crises, from affordability issues to species extinction. We need governments at all levels to join with industry to heed the call from scientists and citizens to act quickly to reduce emissions. That means leaving fossil fuels in the ground!