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Trevor Hancock: Are our governments dangerous radicals or merely mad?

Shipping containers that were ­carried away and left in a jumbled pile by flooding in Isipingo, south of Durban, South Africa, this past week. The floods killed more than 300 people. After ­visiting flood-hit areas, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: This disaster is part of climate change. It is telling us that climate change is serious, it is here.” THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Right now, globally, we have experienced global warming of about 1.1 C, and we saw last summer here in B.C. what that can mean.

Two recent reports from the ­Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paint a grim picture. And it’s probably worse than these reports state, because the IPCC necessarily presents a conservative picture as its reports have to be approved by all 195 government members of the IPCC. So think of what follows as the best-case scenario.

In February, the IPCC Working Group 2 reported on the impacts of climate change on people and the planet. Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, said: “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.”

The WG2 report also addresses the steps being taken to adapt to the ­changing climate, and on the vulnerabilities that are apparent. So far, an IPCC ­statement noted, “there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks.” ­Moreover, “these gaps are largest among lower-income populations.” As a result, “the world faces unavoidable multiple ­climate hazards over the next two ­decades with global warming of 1.5 C.”

This month, the IPCC Working Group 3 released its report on mitigation — how we can reduce or stop climate change. The IPCC statement is clear: “Without immediate and deep emissions ­reductions across all sectors, limiting global ­warming to 1.5 C is beyond reach.” The report notes that “the continuation of policies implemented by the end of 2020” results in “global warming of 3.2 C by 2100.”

Keeping warming to “around 1.5 C requires global greenhouse gas ­emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030,” while keeping it below 2 C also requires ­emissions to peak by 2025, and to be reduced by a quarter by 2030.

But the IPCC notes that lifetime ­emissions from existing and planned ­fossil fuel infrastructure will take us to 2 C. So, as a May 2021 report from the International Energy Agency’s ­recommended, there should be no new investments in fossil fuels.

Less constrained as he is by the need to protect national fossil-fuel industries, and able to speak instead in the interests of the world’s people and nature, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been blunt in his response to the reports. Responding to the WG2 report, he called it “a damning indictment of failed ­climate leadership.” In a speech in March, he said: “The 1.5-degree goal is on life ­support. It is in intensive care.

“If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even two degrees may be out of reach.”

Then, in a speech following the release of the WG3 report, Guterres referred to it as a “litany of broken promises” and a “file of shame,” putting us “firmly on track towards an unlivable world.”

In a separate tweet, he stated: ­“Climate ­activists are sometimes depicted as ­dangerous radicals. But the truly ­dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels ­infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

In Canada, in defiance of all logic and sense, both the federal and ­provincial governments continue to support ­fossil-fuel expansion. A December 2021 report from the Canada Energy ­Regulator projects oil production will continue to increase until 2040, while gas ­production will increase by 40 per cent by 2050. Just one day after the release of the WG3 report, the federal government approved the Bay du Nord deepwater oil field. It beggars belief that Environment and ­Climate Change ­Minister Steven ­Guilbeault can say with a straight face the project “is not likely to cause ­significant adverse environmental effects.”

Here in B.C., the Sierra Club and ­Ecojustice are suing the government because it is “failing to present plans to achieve several key climate targets, as required by its own climate change ­legislation.” And it remains wedded to LNG and fracking, of which more next week.

So are our governments dangerous fossil fuel radicals, morally and ­economically mad, or both?

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Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired ­professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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