Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Editorials

Fox in the hen house

Considerable consternation has erupted over the choice of the United Arab Emirates, a major oil producing country, as the host of the current round of global climate negotiations, and of Sultan Al Jaber, the head the country’s state-owned oil company, as the president of the meeting.
The concern voiced by many in the international community, not least Al Gore, is that the vested interests of the UAE and Sultan Al Jaber in producing and exporting oil are in conflict with the aims of the negotiations to reduce the use of fossil fuels to a point that will not imperil the global climate.
But if results be our measure, we’d be hard pressed to say that the past three decades of negotiations have been much of a success anyway. Hosted in cities from Bali to Buenos Aires, Cancun to Copenhagen, Marrakech to Montreal, and chaired by all manner of government official, all negotiations to date have failed to arrest the growth in emissions, the rise in global temperatures and the increase in extreme weather events. Could the current round of negotiations in the UAE possibly do any worse than that?
While an early target was set years ago to hold temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, it soon became clear that this was unlikely and that we were on our way to a 2-degree C increase. Only recently we’ve been informed that, on current trends, we will breach that as well, heading for 2.5 degrees C, and possibly beyond.
No, with the highest global average temperatures ever recorded occurring within the past few years, and when you recall the heat domes, atmospheric rivers, polar vortexes, and derechos of just the past year, and all the devastation that ensued, it is difficult to see the 30-some years of international negotiations as anything but a failure.
So, could hosting this year’s event in an oil-producing country, and having it chaired by the chief executive of its state-owned oil company really be any worse?
On the contrary, perhaps the practical, action-oriented perspective of someone in charge of a major corporation is exactly what is needed to move the climate agenda forward decisively.
It certainly won’t be wishful thinking that gets the job done. It will require a plan that is able to reconcile two quite different but perfectly valid views of reality. On one hand, the urgency of the unfolding climate crisis. On the other, the time needed for humanity to make an orderly transition away from its complete dependence on fossil fuels.
It will require a plan that fairly distributes the inevitable burdens on all players. And it will require an enforceable agreement with penalties for anyone failing to do their part, the absence of which has been the downfall of all efforts to date as the possibility that not everyone will comply serves as a convenient disincentive for anyone to try.
It may be difficult to believe that an oil magnate could preside over the hatching of a global agreement that would threaten his own livelihood and his country’s economy. At the same time, it is difficult to deny that failure to do so is already threatening the lives and livelihoods of billions of people.
If these international climate negotiations are going to make the progress that is so critically needed, we need to step up as citizens and demand it. We live in one of the largest oil economies. Our banks are among the world’s top investors in oil. Canadians have the highest per capita CO2 emissions in the world.
Business as usual can no longer be acceptable in Canada. It is not an option. Nor can it be acceptable for our leaders to pop into the occasional international meeting with some nice-sounding words and a few million dollars to throw at damage being caused by a life-threatening problem we are playing a huge role in creating.
We need to insist that before getting on the plane to head to a climate negotiation, our political leaders pack their bags full of actual policy commitments that will lead to measurable and timely emissions reductions.

Charles Dickson

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