It’s an uncomfortable picture.
Over the last century, humans have warmed the earth by 0.9 degrees Celsius by way of industrial expansion. Ahead of the Paris talks that begin Monday, the United Nations has projected that collectively we only have the willpower to cap further global warming at 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100 — but according to a benchmark arrived at by compromise between scientists and policymakers, we could trigger dangerous positive feedback warming if we exceed two degrees Celsius.
In Canada, that two-degree goal may be too high for communities resting on the already-melting Arctic permafrost and those near sea level and in flood-prone zones. And the warming the rest of the world will experience will be magnified by two-to-four times in Canada. We can expect more disastrous storms and extreme floods, and even Natural Resources Canada has acknowledged adaptation is a must.
Every aspect of how we live is at risk, and on the eve of the Paris climate summit, developed nations including Canada are asking: have we catastrophically screwed ourselves?
Right now, much of Canada’s wealth is tied up in the same extractive industries that are also the number one contributor to GHG emissions. According to StatsCan, our extractive industries — mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction — contributed $139 billion (CAD) to Canada’s GDP in 2014. That’s just over 8 percent of the total GDP that year. Meanwhile, those same extractive sectors were the largest source of GHG emissions in 2013, accounting for 21.5 percent of the national total.
Each year, Canada provides $2.9 billion in fossil fuel subsidies, and while we have started to phase those out, we have also introduced new tax breaks for natural gas production. While there’s a glimmer of hope now that our renewable energy sector has taken off, we still have a long way to go. After a dip in 2009, Canada’s GHG emissions are increasing again, and it’s unclear whether we will reach our 2020 Copenhagen target of 17 percent below 2005 levels, let alone any targets we set after Paris.
Are we screwed? Surprisingly, despite the doomsday scenarios, the resounding answer was no. At least not yet.