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To limit global warming, rich countries like Canada must end oil and gas production by 2034: report – Toronto Star

For the world to have a shot at limiting global warming to 1.5 C, Canada and other wealthy fossil fuel producing nations need to stop all production by 2034, according to a new report.

The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions required to secure a livable future is “far more challenging” than any global leader is prepared to acknowledge, said Kevin Anderson, one of the authors of the report and a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester. Emissions from fossil fuels are one of the main drivers of human-caused climate change.

Published on March 21, the report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development proposes different phaseout dates for oil and gas producing countries by grouping them according to their differing wealth, development and economic reliance on fossil fuels.

It found there isn’t room for any country in the world to increase fossil fuel production, and wealthy countries like Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. must be the first to end production to give smaller, poorer nations an equitable transition and provide them with financial support. The richest countries, which produce over a third of the world’s oil and gas, must cut output by 74 per cent by 2030 while the poorest, which supply just one ninth of global demand, must cut back by 14 per cent.

If wealthy countries end fossil fuel production by 2034, middle-income countries by 2043 and the poorest countries by 2050, the world will have a 50 per cent chance of keeping global warming below 1.5 C, according to the report.

“Would we be prepared to put our children on a plane with a 50/50 chance they’re going to land safely?” Anderson asked. “I think we probably wouldn’t … Why is it better to take that risk with their futures?”

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that even if countries act urgently and limit global warming to 1.5 C — the threshold scientists say is necessary to maintain a livable planet — the world will still face “unavoidable” and steadily worsening impacts from climate change over the next two decades.

Canada has had a taste of these impacts with the deadly heat wave, floods and wildfires that plagued B.C. last year. Anderson said people in poor countries are already suffering more severe effects of climate change, and warming beyond 1.5 C is “nearly a death sentence.”

“Many people are suffering and dying from climate change a long way from the places that are causing the problems like the E.U., the U.K., Canada, the U.S.,” he said.

The report found wealthy nations must phase out fossil fuel production well before poorer producing nations for there to be any semblance of an equitable transition.

The authors determined how much economic capacity all the fossil fuel producing countries have by calculating each nation’s GDP without oil and gas revenues.

Despite being small fossil fuel producers, countries like South Sudan, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon have little economic revenue apart from oil and gas production, so rapidly removing this income could threaten their political stability and collapse their economies, said Anderson.

“For some parts of the world, oil and gas is like 60-odd per cent of their economy. If you remove that … they’ve almost got nothing left,” he said.

Wealthy nations like Canada that are major producers, on the other hand, have very diverse economies and typically remain wealthy even once the oil and gas revenue is removed, said Anderson.

For example, the report says Canada’s GDP would remain the 13th highest globally, even without revenue from oil and gas.

Oil and gas revenues make up 10 per cent of Canada’s GDP, according to the report, which is “not an insignificant amount, but an amount that’s relatively easy for us to replace with other sources,” said Catherine Abreu, founder of Destination Zero and a member of Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body.

If we “keep up the pretence” that Canada’s oil and gas industry is critical for the country’s economic well-being and it will be “too hard” to transition, “how can we expect anyone else for whom it is actually much more difficult to do it?” asked Abreu.

“Canada’s plans for fossil fuel expansion (are) the second largest in the world … So Canada is really one of the worst culprits in putting forward plans for this industry that are really out of step with our commitments in the Paris Agreement.”

The Canada Energy Regulator says that under the country’s current policies, Canadian oil production is projected to keep increasing and peak in 2040 before declining slightly, while gas production will steadily increase to 40 per cent above current levels by 2050. It does not include any scenarios compatible with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 or holding to 1.5 C.

The phaseout dates in the report were calculated by taking stock of the world’s carbon budget, countries’ total fossil fuel production and their economic ability to phase out coal, oil and gas. Although this method allowed some wiggle room to give poorer countries more time to transition, it is “still not fair for poorer countries” and needs to be paired with “big financial transfers” from wealthy countries, said Anderson.

“Our pathways still (are) unfair on the poorer parts of the world if you look at the total emissions per person over the timeframe that we have,” he said. The fact that women, children and people of colour are most impacted by climate change points to a broader issue of racism embedded in climate action, or lack thereof, Anderson added, and the institutional racism that exists in the Global North also manifests itself globally.

“We’ve been highly inequitable to people who have suffered those racial injustices for centuries now and we’re just layering another racial injustice on top,” he said.

The federal government recently announced that $315 million of Canada’s five-year, $5.3-billion climate finance commitment will be available for organizations in Canada and the Global South to partner on climate adaptation projects, but rich countries — including Canada — are still falling well short of what is needed.

At the end of the month, the federal government will unveil its emissions reduction plan, which Abreu says is the first step to acknowledging Canada has to tackle oil and gas sector emissions. This report makes it clear we need to be going beyond that first step and account for the emissions from the oil and gas we export, not just production, said Abreu.

The report does not include negative-emissions technologies like carbon capture and storage and nature-based solutions because “they are highly uncertain and speculative, (and) we do not have any examples at scale,” said Anderson.

“It’s dangerous to assume that it will work when it’s that uncertain,” he said, noting the report’s authors still researched negative-emissions technologies but left them out to avoid increasing the carbon budget without a guarantee it is safe to do so.

“We always ignore the part of the science that tells us actually, the budgets might be much smaller so your policies need to be much more stringent,” he said.

World leaders are gambling if they continue to use more fossil fuels and don’t act urgently to phase them out, he added.

“We’re playing Russian roulette with our own children’s futures,” said Anderson. “That’s what we’re doing, spinning the chamber with one bullet in it and holding it up to our children’s head at breakfast and saying, ‘Shall we be lucky?’”

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