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Climate Change

World Headed for a High-Speed Carbon Crash

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 7 2013 (IPS) - If global carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, humanity will eventually be left with no other option than a costly, world war-like mobilisation, scientists warned this week.

“It’s blindingly obvious that our economic system is failing us,” said economist Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey in the UK.

"Prosperity isn’t just about having more stuff. Prosperity is the art of living well on a finite planet." -- economist Tim Jackson

Climate change, pollution, damaged ecosystems, record species extinctions, and unsustainable resource use are all clear symptoms of a dysfunctional economic system, Jackson, author of the report and book “Prosperity Without Growth”, told IPS.

“It is a travesty of what economy should be. It has absolutely failed to create social well being and has hurt people and communities around the world,” he said.

Emissions need to peak and decline by 2020 to have a chance at keeping global temperature rise to less than 2.0 degrees C, according to the Emissions Gap Report 2013, involving 44 scientific groups in 17 countries and coordinated by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels has raised the global average temperature only 0.85C so far, but even that has produced a wide range of impacts.

Despite years of negotiations, countries’ commitments to reducing emissions remain far short of what’s needed, said Merlyn van Voore, UNEP climate change coordinator.

Even if nations meet their current climate pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, CO2 emissions in 2020 are likely to be eight to 12 billion tonnes higher than what is needed to stay below 2C at a reasonable cost, the report concluded. Failure to close this “emissions gap” by 2020 will require an unprecedented global effort to crash carbon emissions.

“Waiting brings huge additional costs,” van Voore said in a press conference.

No country has offered to do anything beyond their 2009 Copenhagen commitments. Nor is anyone expecting new offers at next week’s UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 19) in Warsaw. Very few country leaders will attend COP 19, making this a technical negotiation on the shape of new climate treaty that will only come into force in 2020.

In the six years remaining before 2020, not only do countries need to increase their reduction commitments, some countries have to actually put policies in place to meet their Copenhagen commitments. China, India, Russia and the European Union are on track, but the U.S. and Canada are not, the report found.

In recent months, however, the U.S. has introduced some new policies and plans, including emissions caps on power plants. Canada is going in the opposite direction.

A government report recently acknowledged its emissions will be at least 20 percent higher than its Copenhagen reduction target. This was considered “good progress” given the skyrocketing emissions from its rapidly expanding tar sands oil operations, the Canadian government report said.

“Canada is a wealthy country. It could easily meet its target,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate & Energy Programme at the World Resources Institute.

“It’s very important for Canada to meet its target. That sends a very important message to the world,” Morgan, lead author of the UNEP report, told IPS.

However, economics is getting in the way of action. Canada has become very rich as the biggest supplier of foreign oil to the U.S. In less than 20 years, Canada’s GDP has tripled to 1.8 trillion dollars, with ambitious plans to grow even more. Politicians in Canada, and all over the world, reject anything they believe would hurt their countries’ economic growth.

Jackson and number of ecological economists say the current self-destructive economy must be transformed into one that delivers a shared and lasting prosperity. This kind of Green Economy is far beyond business as usual with some clean technology thrown in. It is what Jackson calls a “fit-for-purpose economy” that is stable, based on equity and provides decent, satisfying livelihoods while treading lightly on the earth.

The current growth-worshiping consumption economy is “perverse” and at odds with human nature and our real needs, he said.

“Prosperity isn’t just about having more stuff,” he said. “Prosperity is the art of living well on a finite planet.”

With powerful vested interests in the current economy, making this transformation will be difficult but it is already starting to happen at the community level. Jackson and co-author Peter Victor of Canada’s York University lay all this out in a new report “Green Economy at Community Scale“.

They see the roots of a transformational Green Economy in community banks, credit unions and cooperative investment schemes that enhance local communities. The Transition Town movement, creating local currencies, community-owned energy projects, global Ecocity movement are all part a response to an economy that does not work for most people and has created an environmental crisis, said Victor in a press release.

“Using GDP as measure of success is like riding a bike while only paying attention to how fast you are pedaling,” Jackson said.  “It is wrong in so many ways.”

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  • Tim Caffery

    Hemp is the key.

  • jfreed27

    You will be called an alarmist.

    What will they call when their homes are lost in floods, the summer cottages soaked by the seas, their gardens and crops thirsty? Probably, they will howl that government regulations caused these calamities.

  • PhilMorris

    I don’t believe the general public, even those that accept climate change is real, are aware of the scope of the problem. We’re exhorted to do thinks like bike to work, and replace incandescent light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs, yet such actions are mere tokenism. Canada should leave the tar sands in the ground (sorry Alberta, you’ll have to learn to live without that dirty money); BC should stop exporting coal to Asia; and Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba Sasktechewan and Nova Scotia should stop using coal for elctricty generations. Will it bring hardship? Perhaps (certainly to the people working the oil patch in Alberta) but it has to happen. The catastrophe we’re heading for will bring far gretaer misery to far more people unless real action is taken soon.

  • William Hughes-Games

    And yet the solution is so simple. Scrap this carbon trading that only makes the banks and traders rich and put in Hansen’s Tax and Dividend. This favours the poor at the expense of the rich which is why it will be fought tooth and nail, stimulates the economy (if you are on the bones of your backside you will immediately spend the dividend to put food on the table), increases the tax take to the government and so forth. Better still, with an ever increasing tax, year after year, investors will get out of fossil fuels long before they really have to so as not to be caught by the inevitable crash in fossil fuel prices. The government doesn’t have to do anything more. Put in Tax and Dividend and the process will take care of itself automatically.

  • William Hughes-Games

    The nice part of what you suggest is that it will replace a system that uses very few workers to produce a lot of coal and oil with a system of installing and maintaining wind turbines and solar systems which will employ lots of people. These people will spend their salaries into the local economy instead of, as with coal and oil, the profits going into the pockets of rich overseas (mainly American) investors. For the people and the economy of Canada it would be a win-win all around. It will never happen under Harper. With Trudeau there might be a chance. You have no chance with the westminister (small w) system of first past the post. The first thing you need is MMP such as we have here in New Zealand. Look at Elizabeth May a couple of elections ago. 6.8% of the vote and zero members of parliament. That is not democracy.

  • PhilMorris

    Actually Elizabeth May did get elected as the one and only green party member last election (I happen to live in her riding). You’re right re Harper, he simply doesn’t get the problems associated with climate change – else choses to ignore them. A bigger problem though is that for decades now our western societies have been exposed to the mantra of success being measured in ownership of stuff, and I doubt that people would willingly give up stuff in order to ensure that future generations will have a viable planet. Nor do I think Wind and Solar will be sufficient. Having done the math, it turns out that to eliminate CO2 from electricty generation by FF will require the installation of about 4 million MW generating capacity by 2025 – that’s the equivalent of about 6500 ‘London Arrays’ (the largest offshore wind farm in the world). And energy to sequester excess CO2 after that will require a further 2200 wind farms to be installed each and every year thereafter for the foreseeable future (and that assumes we can figure out how to sequester excess CO2). Not a pretty picture whichever way you look at it.

  • Jim Corcoran

    Below is what experts are saying about animal agriculture. Why is no one getting this???

    “A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

    “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

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