Mother Nature is watching 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CLARE OGILVIE
  • Photo by Clare Ogilvie

Hands up if you gave a sigh of relief as the snow began to fall this week.

And hands up if you had this niggling subconscious worry that Mother Nature is starting to push back as humans continue to overuse our environment for profit.

Maybe our drought came as she considered the headlines from Poland last week, where world leaders were meeting to try to come up with some ideas for turning the pledges they made in 2015 into action to address emissions globally.

Mother Nature could be forgiven for letting off steam considering Poland is hosting the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) with the coal industry as a partner!

Indeed, Poland is Europe's largest consumer of coal, and home to 33 of the 50 most polluted cities in the European Union. Rather shockingly, it used the COP24 conference to announce new investment in coal capacity next year. Poland, which has the highest domestic coal production in Europe, burns coal to provide nearly 80 per cent of its energy.

The elephant in the room here, though, remains the fact that the U.S. is standing by its plan to get out of the Paris Agreement of 2015 (COP 21) as fast as it can (2020), and has no intention of meeting set emission targets. Why then should a small country like Poland (which had reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions by almost one-third compared with the base year of 1988) bother with meeting the 2015 targets if superpowers are not doing it?

It was at COP21 that world leaders committed to making sure global warming stayed "well below" two degrees Celsius in reference to pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 C.

The recently released UN Environment Emissions Gap Report for 2018 found that in 2017, total annual greenhouse-gas emissions hit a record high of 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the average global temperature for 2018 was likely to be the fourth highest on record, adding that the 20 warmest years on record have occurred in the last 22 years, with the top four taking place in the last four years.

"Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life," WMO Deputy Secretary General Elena Manaenkova told CNBC.

On Dec. 9, we learned that the U.S. and Russia allied themselves with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to water down approval of the report on the need to keep global warming below 1.5 C.

"It is troubling," Alden Meyer, the director of strategy and policy in the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Guardian newspaper. "Saudi Arabia has always had bad behaviour in climate talks, but it could be overruled when it was alone or just with Kuwait. That it has now been joined by the U.S. and Russia is much more dangerous."

No wonder Mother Nature is flexing her considerable wrath.

But, as these international headlines took hold, locally the B.C government announced its CleanBC plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 40 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2060.

This is a bold goal, given that B.C.'s emissions have fallen only about three per cent since 2007. Cars, trucks and other vehicles, along with heating homes and buildings are the largest sources of emissions for this province, and even without an LNG industry, the oil and gas sector accounts for 22 per cent of B.C.'s total emissions. The only way to meet these targets is to impose some hard changes on us in these areas.

While the plan was lauded by most, there are many details missing about how this will actually be achieved. And, though the majority of people are onboard to take action in this sphere, downloading huge conversion costs and so on to the citizen will make the target unachievable.

And, over the plan hangs the spectre of the LNG deals the province has given the green light to. How will this fit into our climate action plan puzzle?

But at least it is a step in the right direction at a time when other global leaders seem intent on taking no meaningful actions at all.

And maybe Mother Nature was paying attention to B.C. After all, just a few short days after the announcement, much-needed snow fell on our mountains.

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