DAVID SUZUKI: Philippines tragedy shows urgency of Warsaw climate summit

Reducing world's reliance on fossil fuels must be part of global climate change strategy

As people in the Philippines struggle with the devastation and death from the worst storm to hit land in recorded history, world leaders are meeting in Warsaw, Poland to discuss the climate crisis.

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” Yeb Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines, told the opening session of the UN climate summit, which runs until Nov. 22.

Given the slow progress at the 18 meetings held since 1992 – when countries from around the world joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – it’s hard not to be pessimistic. Canada, in particular, has been repeatedly singled out among nearly 200 member countries for obstructing progress and not doing enough to address climate change at home.

But as scientific evidence continues to build, and impacts – from extreme weather to melting Arctic ice – continue to worsen, the impetus to resolve the problem is growing.

We’re exhausting Earth’s finite resources and pushing global ecosystems to tipping points, beyond which addressing pollution and climate issues will become increasingly difficult and costly. The only hindrance to developing a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate plan for the world is lack of political will.

Part of the problem is that much of the world is tied to the fossil fuel economy, and the rush is on to get as much oil, coal and gas out of the ground and to market while people are still willing to pay for it and burn it up. We’re wasting precious resources in the name of quick profits, instead of putting them to better use than propelling often solo occupants in large metal vehicles, and instead of making them last while we shift to cleaner energy sources.

But there’s cause for hope. Solutions are available. A recent report by energy consulting firm ECOFYS, titled “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century,” shows it’s technically and economically feasible to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to zero from 90 per cent of current sources with readily available technology. It shows we could phase out almost all net emissions by 2050 by innovating further.

In doing so, we could likely meet the agreed-upon goal of limiting global average temperature increases to below 2 C, and we’d stand a 50-per-cent chance of staying below 1.5 C by the end of the century.

A recent Leger Marketing survey sponsored by Canada 2020 and the University of Montreal found the majority of Canadians understand that human activity is contributing to climate change and believe the feds should make addressing the issue a high priority. Of those polled, 76 per cent said Canada should sign an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions, with most supporting this even if China does not sign.

The poll also found majority support for a carbon tax to help combat climate change, especially if that money is used to support renewable energy development. Although B.C. has stepped back from previous leadership on climate change, its carbon tax is one of many examples of local  governments doing more than the feds to address climate change.

We and our leaders at all political levels – local, national and international – must do everything we can to confront the crisis. As Mr. Sano told delegates in Warsaw, “We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway.”