International Emissions Gap Report urges stronger political action to address climate change; all three levels of government push destructive policies
The United Nations Environment Programme has been publishing its Emissions Gap Report annually since 2011 to measure the difference between pledges made by governments across the globe to reduce carbon emissions and the pollution trajectory the world is actually on.
According to Anne Olhoff, the Chief Scientific Editor of the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2022, emissions reduction plans from governments across the globe—known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)—are currently nowhere near strong enough to redirect the world’s current path to climate devastation.
“Altogether, what we see is that the updated NDCs since last year’s COP26, lowered projected emissions in 2030 by less than one percent,” Olhoff said in a press conference announcing the report’s release, adding that with the all NDCs factored in there could be a 10 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. “But what we need is in the order of 30 to 45 percent to get on track to reducing global temperature increase to below two degrees and preferably 1.5 degrees.”
In many sectors across the globe, greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing since the early 1990s.
(Our World in Data)
In 2019 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that CO2 emissions need to be cut by 43 percent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. Current climate plans show the planet is on track for a 10.6 percent increase instead. And while this is a stutter-step in the right direction from last year’s report which projected a 13.7 percent increase by 2030, the lack of action among governments and the private sector all but cements the current emissions trajectory. Significant policy changes and actions from all three levels of government are needed immediately to change course.
“This report sends us a very clear message,” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said. “If we are serious about climate change, we need to kickstart a system-wide transformation, now.”
During the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow last year, all countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their climate commitments. Since then, only 24 of 193 nations submitted updated plans to the UN. At this year’s conference, COP27, which wrapped up earlier this month, there was a promise to create a “loss and damage” fund that would commit wealthier countries to provide support to developing nations which will feel the worst of climate change in the years to come. While this fund could act as a motivator for large emitters to green their economies, it remains unclear how it would impact immediate emissions levels.
According to Olhoff current policies in place across the globe would likely limit global warming to 2.8 degrees. It is only when the implementation of all NDCs plus net zero policies are considered that the planet would remain within the Paris Agreement temperature range.
“However, the credibility and feasibility of achieving the net zero emission targets remains highly uncertain,” she said.
The 2022 Adaptation Gap Report entitled “Too Little Too Slow” has similar findings. There is not enough funding to finance the type of climate action that is needed. While governments across the world have approved plans to mitigate the looming impacts of climate change, the financing to turn these plans into a reality are not being made available. According to the report, financing for critical adaptation measures are five to 10 times below where they should be. While governments are avoiding these costs presently, eventually this bill will come due, as the report estimates that annual costs of adaptation needs are going to be between $160 billion and $340 billion USD by 2030 and an unfathomable $315 billion to $565 billion USD by 2050.
“We need a rapid acceleration in scientific research, innovative planning, adequate finance and implementation, and deeper international cooperation,” Andersen said.
“I know some people think this can’t be done over the next eight years…But we can’t just throw up our hands and say we’ve failed before we have even really tried,” she continued. “Even if we don’t get everything in place by 2030, we will be setting up the foundation for a carbon-neutral future: one that will allow us to bring down temperature overshoots and deliver other benefits, like green jobs, universal energy access and clean air.”
Significant investments are needed in transit systems across Ontario’s large cities in order to reduce the general population’s reliance on the car.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Currently Canada’s target is a 40 to 45 percent reduction in its economy-wide GHG emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. Furthermore, the nation has a net zero target by 2050. To support this goal, the federal government released a $1.6 billion National Adaptation Strategy on November 24, which includes a commitment to the Green Municipal Fund to help towns and cities with “climate-focused projects”; dollars to enhance the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to support “new structural and natural infrastructures”; and “developing the tools and data services Canadians need to access the right information and support experts with climate modelling and assessments.”
“The fight against climate change has reached our doorstep. We must not only reduce the emissions that cause climate change, we must also adapt to the changes that are upon us,” Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change stated in a press release. “Adaptation is a cost-effective and positive investment in the present and future. Taking measures to adapt can save lives, avoid damage to communities.”
The effectiveness of this plan will be compromised if Ottawa's elected leaders make decisions that contradict their own climate pledges. For example, in April, Guilbeault granted approval for Bay du Nord, a $12 billion deepwater oil drilling operation off the coast of Newfoundland. The approval was granted mere days after a report from the IPCC stated the next several years will be critical in the world’s efforts to reduce emissions and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres labelled the funding of future fossil fuel projects as “moral and economic madness”.
“Some government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying,” he said. “We are on a fast-track to climate disaster.”
According to a lawsuit filed by EcoJustice challenging the decision to approve the project, the oil produced from the offshore operation would severely compromise the country’s climate change pledges. According to an EcoJustice press release, estimates suggest Bay du Nord would produce between 300 million to one billion barrels of oil over its lifetime. This is enough to generate approximately 400 million tonnes of carbon, or the equivalent emissions from 7 to 10 millions cars annually.
This same climate change double-speak is also being seen at other levels of government.
Back in March, Christine Tu, the director of the Office of Climate Change and Energy Management for the Region of Peel, made it clear to councillors that if the region is to accomplish its goal of a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2010 levels by 2030, rapid acceleration in action and financing is required. This emissions reduction target only includes corporate emissions from the Region of Peel, not those generated by the wider community.
The Region of Peel devised a Climate Change Master Plan in 2020 with a 10-year horizon. Now over two years into the plan, there remains a significant gap between the actions the Region has been able to complete since the strategy was approved and where it needs to be to accomplish its ambitious targets. None of the 20 actions listed in the plan have been completed to date. The Region has not even started 15 percent of them with the rest stated as “in progress”.
This same level of stagnant political will is seen in the City of Brampton, which has done very little to finance its own climate action plans. Previous analysis by The Pointer found that less than 13 percent of Brampton’s $328 million capital budget was for the focus of climate change in 2022.
The budget also did very little to detail how it plans to use the funds set aside. The 300-page document outlines that $600,000 would be allocated to implementing the Grow Green Master Plan; however, the plan contains 57 action items and it is not clear which items these dollars will be allocated toward or how the money will be spent.
Most of the existing reductions in GHGs that the Region of Peel has seen—33 percent below 2010 levels—have come as a result of the phasing out of coal plants by the Government of Ontario under a policy approved almost two decades ago.
To reach the Region’s target, the remaining GHG emissions that need to be cut are equivalent to approximately 17,000 tonnes of CO2. With the current trajectory and level of action, it will be a monumental achievement if Peel is able to reach its goal.
For the second year in a row, regional councillors have seemingly ignored the warnings of staff that action on climate change needs to be expedited to prevent further catastrophes as a result of the warming planet. Instead, councillors have approved environmentally destructive documents—like the updated Official Plan—that opens up 11,000 acres of farmland and greenspace for future urban sprawl.
The loss of greenspace to development would undoubtedly have a negative impact on the environment. The removal of trees which store carbon, and the paving over of vital farmland will affect the ecosystem’s ability to sustain itself. Furthermore, the type of development that appears to be popping up along the northern reaches of Brampton and southern Caledon is focused on car-centric suburban communities. This emphasis on the car could lead to an increase in emissions from transportation. It is unclear whether the addition of these lands, or this type of future urban growth in the region, has been accounted for in Peel’s climate plans. Undoubtedly it will make achieving its climate targets much more difficult.
“Sprawl is not a way to develop. We have a lot of challenges. So if we're going to develop we need to develop smartly,” Caledon Mayor Annette Groves told The Pointer in August. Groves was the only regional councillor at the time who voted in opposition to the urban boundary expansion.
Much of this urban growth, and other environmentally damaging projects that will impact the region are being mandated by the current provincial government. Premier Doug Ford and his PC majority have repeatedly approved policies that threaten Ontario’s vital greenspaces and ecosystems that are one of the few remaining allies the province has to mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change—like rising temperatures and flooding.
Bill 23 (and the complimentary Bill 39) are only the most recent example of harmful policies that mandate urban sprawl onto Ontario’s municipalities. If these two pieces of legislation are approved in their current form, environmental groups are warning it will spell environmental ruin for the province.
“The government’s proposed changes would damage our existing neighbourhoods, towns and cities as well as the farmland and natural areas that sustain them, which in turn, would harm our ability to feed ourselves, protect ourselves from flooding, and address climate change risks,” reads a letter sent to the PC government signed by hundreds of residents, environmental groups and academics, including Environmental Defence, Ontario Headwaters Institute, Water Watchers, Ontario Nature and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
But this is only the latest in a litany of decisions made by Ford and his PC government that threaten Ontario’s climate security.
Protecting Peel's remaining green spaces, like Rattray Marsh in Mississauga (above) will play a critical role in helping achieve emissions reduction targets.
(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer files)
Despite repeated warnings from intergovernmental bodies about the importance of immediate action to address climate change, the Ford government announced last month it will be expanding the use of natural gas to procure additional electricity. It’s a decision that could put the climate goals of municipal governments across Ontario at risk.
The announcement came just a week before the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned that the supply of electricity from clean sources must be doubled by 2030 to limit global temperature increase. The Ford government, which cancelled over 750 renewable energy projects in its first term, along with valuable subsidies for Ontarians to purchase electric vehicles, is taking a step in the opposite direction, setting the stage for increasing emissions.
This is on top of the PCs' vehement support for the Highway 413 project and the Bradford Bypass, two new mega-highways in Ontario that will add thousands of cars to the road annually along with a damaging amount of carbon emissions.
The 413 highway, which would pave over 400 acres of prime farmland, is projected to contribute an additional 17 million tonnes of GHG emissions to the atmosphere by 2050 should it be constructed, according to Environmental Defence.
Caledon, Brampton and Mississauga, as well as the Region, all have climate change plans that most likely do not take into account the highway as it is not a done deal. It is currently before the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada which is considering it for a full environmental assessment. Nonetheless, the Region of Peel will be responsible for bearing the brunt of the environmental damages as the route runs right through the region.
Despite this, the PCs and David Piccini, the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, still attempt to convince Ontarians they are a government that is prioritizing climate action and environmental protection.
“With the help of our conservation partners, we are stepping up conservation efforts across the province, helping to secure a greener and cleaner future now and for generations,” said Piccini in a press release earlier this year.
It’s a statement directly contradicted by the actions of the PC government which has stripped environmental protections out of the development process, has refused to strengthen or enforce laws meant to protect species at risk, has weakened climate change plans, and rammed through policies that will destroy wetlands and other vital habitats.
Unfortunately, the Region of Peel and its municipalities are not the only ones falling short on their climate pledges.
According to a December 2021 report from The Atmospheric Fund, a Toronto based climate non-profit, municipalities in the GTA are falling behind on their emissions reductions targets.
“So, I urge every nation, every government to pore over the solutions offered in this report and build them into their climate commitments. I urge the private sector to start reworking their practices accordingly. I urge every investor, public and private, to put their capital towards a net-zero world,” said Andersen with the UN Environment Programme. “This is how we can jam open the closing window for climate action and start to change our world for the better, for everyone.”
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