Good Sunday Morning!
And heading into the last week of April 2021, our first month lived twice in COVID. Sadly, not our last. I am looking forward to getting my vaccination on Thursday. Thankfully (and genuinely thankful for prayers) my family members with COVID are on the mend. I look at poor India and wonder at the enormity of exponential growth and how we could have managed the pandemic so much better.
I succeeded this week, with indispensable help from Paul Manly, in forcing an emergency debate on COVID, the variants and the perennial problem of lack of coordination – federally and provincially. We called for a reasonable and sensible review of the lessons learned. We asked for all orders of government to ask public health experts to provide advice: can we shift from “flattening the curve” to going to zero-COVID? https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/emergency-debate-covid19-variants-1.5996788
I think our Green caucus efforts helped push for the increased restrictions on flights from areas where the new double variants have emerged. But we know that horse is out that particular barn door. Those double variants have already arrived in Quebec, Alberta and the largest number of cases here in British Columbia.
This was a big work week with the new federal budget on Monday and Earth Day on Thursday. I promised Linda Solomon Wood, during our National Observer conversations, that I would write a column analyzing the budget, which I am still doing, so watch for that soon. But for this GSM I want to focus on the progress, halting though it was, brought about by the Biden Climate Leaders’ Summit.
With zooms, webinars, and parliament in session, we had a lot of ways in which we focused on Earth Day. The Global Greens event on Tuesday, looking forward to the Biden Climate Summit on Earth Day, is worth watching. We held it to one hour, with participation from elected Greens from the global South and industrialized countries in an inspiring conversation. The panelists were the Minister of Climate from New Zealand, also co-leader of NZ Greens, James Shaw, the leader of the Rwandan Greens, Dr. Frank Hibeneza MP, leader of the Argentinian Greens, Silvia Vasquez and the only elected Green in the UK Parliament, Caroline Lucas. Listening to all of them will re-ignite your sense of hope, optimism and purpose in being Green. Our Global Green family is astonishing.
I started Earth Day earlier than I wanted for President Biden’s Climate Leaders’ Summit; up at 4:30 AM and live tweeting the event at 5 AM BC time.
Having missed the chance of a 2020 COP due to COVID, the new US administration created their own “holding feet to the fire” moment. The Earth Day Summit was an attempt to push forty national leaders to climate action. Collectively those forty nations could save us from the worst of the climate emergency. We must never lose hope that we can move away from fossil fuels fast enough, while restoring as much of the planet’s natural sequestration capacity in green and leafy life, on land and in our oceans, also fast enough, to allow human civilization to remain intact and save millions of species. Holding to 1.5 degrees C is no guarantee, but will give our children far better odds than blowing past 2 degrees C global average temperature increase.
To be successful, Biden and Kerry needed other countries to at least commit to what the US, now back in the Paris Agreement, is prepared to do. Biden’s administration, particularly climate security envoy John Kerry, really pulled out the stops, twisting arms, to push all nations to increase their targets such that we could move off our current trajectory – towards 3-4 degrees C global average temperature increase – to get to one with any hope of staying well below 2 degrees C and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees. That is what all nations promised in Paris in 2015 at COP21. And with every passing day, the chances of getting there shrink.
The best explanation of carbon budgets and the perilous nature of delay comes from Mark Carney’s new book, Value(s): Building a Better World for all (p. 273):
...”the carbon budget to limit temperature rises to below catastrophic levels is rapidly being exhausted....
“If we had started in 2000, we could have hit the 1.5 degree C objective by halving emissions every thirty years. Now we must halve emissions every ten years. If we wait another four years, the challenge will be to halve emissions every year. If we wait another eight years, our 1.5 degree C carbon budget will be exhausted.”
This closely mirrors the IPCC advice from its Special Report on 1.5 degrees (October 2018) : “In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030… reaching net zero around 2050 …” (emphasis added)
Clearly, Biden and Kerry grasp that reality. Kerry flew to Shanghai in his shuttle diplomacy to get more out of the Peoples’ Republic of China. It is rumoured that Kerry made it clear to Canada that the recently tabled figure in Monday’s budget of going to 36% below 2005 by 2030 (a small increase over the Harper target, still in place, of 30% below 2005 by 2030) would not be good enough to meet expectations. Kerry was twisting arms right up to the Summit itself.
Speaker after speaker stressed that the slashing of GHG emissions had to primarily take place this decade. President Macron of France put it succinctly, “2030 is the new 2050.”
They needed Canada to step up. At least, one can say we limped a bit closer to where we should be. Trudeau’s speech was an appalling self-congratulatory, arrogant claim of leadership. A dose of humility would have gone down better. He committed Canada to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030, but also pleaded for Canadian exceptionalism – it is so hard for us because we must keep building pipelines and mining the oil sands. “Canada is a country that produces and exports its energy, and so I understand that this will not be easy.”
Other countries, especially the Europeans, did step up, announcing more in climate financing and some promising tougher targets by June when leaders will meet again at the G-20.
The US is now committed to cutting its 2005 emissions by 50-52% by 2030. That is huge. As well, the US is doubling its funding pledges to the developing world by 2024 (around $2.8 billion per year). Taking the virtual floor at the Climate Summit, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen committed to another $1.2 billion for the green climate fund and $485 million in funding to support multilateral climate initiatives.
China did not put in place a new target (called an NDC under Paris, for “Nationally Determined Contribution”.) Chinawill strive to peak emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060. On coal phase-out, it pledged to “strictly limit” any new coal-fired power plant construction over the next five years and phase down coal consumption completely as a long-term goal. Other horrific abusers of human rights and nature were kept on board. Brazil’s Bolsonaro, who had threatened to leave the Paris Agreement, pledged to do more to protect the Amazon, stopping all illegal logging by 2030, and moving from a 2060 end year to 2050 to achieve net zero. Erdogan of Turkey was also on board for limited commitments. Modi of India, in the grip of this devastating pandemic, spoke of the need to emerge from COVID in a decarbonized, equitable approach. Interestingly, he spoke of the need for the industrialized world to learn from the traditional lifestyle of low consumption of his nation.
Strong commitments from the EU, Germany, Italy (hosting the G20 this year where climate is expected to dominate the discussions), UK, France and Japan are already far ahead of the US. And Canada, even with the increased target, remains the worst in the industrialized world.
The most powerful speeches came from other leaders. A young indigenous woman who, with her family had left Mexico driven away by extreme weather events, only to move to New York in time for Superstorm Sandy, gave a powerful speech. Xiye Bastida is now an active campaigner with Fridays for the Future. Who could have imagined an official event broadcast from the White House where a speaker would denounce “colonialism, oppression and capitalism.” She was clear, “You need to accept that the era of fossil fuels is over,” and then read out the youth demands for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines. The other stunning speech was from His Holiness Pope Francis.
Strangely enough, the line that will stick with me was from a leader I don’t much like. Boris Johnson was off-the-cuff and totally committed, as the host of the Glasgow COP26, now scheduled for November 2021. The UK commitments are impressive, driven by a climate law which since 2008, in five year increments, has driven down UK GHG. Johnson announced the target of 78% below 1990 levels by 2035, including in its emissions aviation and international shipping, as well as ending support for fossil fuels overseas and doubling international climate finance. The line I liked? “This isn’t some sort of politically correct act of.. of,,” - he searched for the words and came up with - “bunny-hugging!”
There was a lot of coverage of the summit, but this story from the National Catholic Reporter seemed to capture the sense of it.
Most Canadian coverage, naturally enough spoke of Canada’s new target and its adequacy- or inadequacy. I am so very pleased that the national media interviews our leader, Annamie Paul, who nailed it on CBC Power and Politics: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1888761923737
Well, there is much else going on, but I have written too much already! There was the BC budget this week, with nothing for protecting old growth, so we must keep supporting the Fairy Creek old-growth protectors. And incredibly, more support for LNG from the BC NDP. https://www.bcgreens.ca/b_c_greens_respond_to_2021_budget
Stay well. Be safe. Be very careful.
I will write you next week on the tenth anniversary of our big breakthrough election here in Saanich-Gulf Islands- May 2, 2011! And speaking of anniversaries, thanks so much to everyone who sent John and me Happy Second Anniversary greetings! So far, it seems to be working out!
Here are some video clips worth watching:
My Earth Day message in the House:
Bob Bossin’s wonderful musical Earth Day gift, “Pass it Along” by songwriter Scott Cook, (with John and me singing too!)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNj7LyHqwFE Pass it along
A great event with Jenica Atwin explaining what is wrong with so-called, “Small Modular Reactors:”
My conversation with Linda Solomon Wood at the National Observer