Hamilton 350 Committee

What does COP28 have to do with me?

As published in the Hamilton Spectator, 28 November 2023

The latest UN Climate Change Conference in the United Arab Emirates (COP28) may seem a long way from our priority issues at home: the cost-of-living crisis, health care, unemployment, homelessness and global conflicts. But while Pierre Poilievre glibly lays all these at the feet of Justin Trudeau, the fact is the climate crisis has a multiplying effect on all of them and this will not change simply by switching one short-sighted government for another.

The 2015 Paris Accord pledged to keep global temperatures to a maximum of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. But the abject failure of the signatories to the accord to live up to their promises leaves us looking at an increase of 3 C by the end of the century. The implications are enormous and the outlook bleak as the people who have the most power to act are not just not doing so, they’re consciously moving in the wrong direction.

Rising temperatures cause crop and fish yields to plummet and water sources such as lakes and rivers to evaporate faster than they can be replenished, leading to increasingly unaffordable prices in the grocery stores. You think we have a cost-of-living crisis now?

Today, one per cent of the planet is considered a barely livable hot zone. By 2070, that could rise to almost 20 per cent, affecting a billion people worldwide. In addition, competition for resources sparks conflict and wars, as we’re seeing in many parts of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. You think we have a refugee problem now?

Climate instability is disrupting and intensifying weather patterns, from hurricanes to heat domes. The melting of polar and glacier ice is reaching the point of no return. The resulting rise in sea level will flood coastal and estuary cities all over the world. In many places, homes are becoming uninsurable. The melting permafrost will release vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas up to 80 times more destructive than CO2, compounding the crisis exponentially. You think we have a flooding problem now?

Climate warming changes the habitat of species in ways we can’t even imagine. But we’re already starting to see exposure in temperate zones to insects carrying tropical diseases and Lyme-carrying ticks that previously couldn’t withstand a cold winter. You think we have a health-care problem now?

While we in Canada are not yet experiencing the worst consequences of the climate crisis, we’re not immune to it. Just as less wealthy countries are suffering disproportionately while contributing less to the problem, so are less wealthy people, both in the developing world and here in Canada. The rich may be able to stave off the worst effects for a while; it’s the poor who will suffer the most. People without the means to pay for increasingly expensive food, to afford air conditioning, to pay ballooning energy bills, to protect themselves against flooding, and to afford increasingly privatized health care. You think we have a homeless problem now?

This is not a dystopian vision; it’s the future we’re bequeathing to our children and grandchildren if we don’t act now. We need to cut 22 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030 to stay on track. Yet the worst offenders — China, the U.S., Russia, India and Japan — as well as Canada, are planning huge expansions of fossil fuel extraction, consciously and deliberately threatening the very future of humanity.

There is no time left for an evolutionary approach and voluntary action by corporations. We need a radical government-led effort on a par with the allied response to the Axis powers in the Second World War. We have the technology; we just need the political will.