David Levy: Are we fiddling while Rome burns?

Opinion: Atmospheric CO2 continues to increase despite efforts globally to control emissions. Fee and Dividend, which applies a tariff to fossil fuels at their point of origin in the economy, could reduce emissions faster than other carbon pricing policies.

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Popular legend has it that Roman emperor Nero played his violin in the middle of a fire that destroyed the city of Rome, thus demonstrating a complete lack of concern for his people and his empire. Like Nero’s firestorm, we are increasingly subject to the adverse effects of climate change on planet Earth. These effects will have growing adverse consequences on future generations as CO2 (carbon dioxide) continues to rise and the climate continues to deteriorate.

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Canada’s emissions in 2021 represented 1.5 per cent of the global total. The other 98.5 per cent of greenhouse gases were generated by large emitters such as China, India and the U.S. To reign in climate change, it will be necessary to neutralize these large emission sources. While Canadian emissions represent a very small contribution to the global total, it is essential that we get our house in order to meet our emission reduction targets.

Reliable measurements of atmospheric CO2 began at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958, and the so-called Keeling Curve has accurately tracked atmospheric CO2. Over this period, atmospheric CO2 has steadily increased despite efforts globally to control emissions. Other aerosols such as methane are also increasing and contributing to the greenhouse effect. To mitigate climate change, the atmospheric CO2 concentration curve will need to “bend over” and decrease.

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There are several key trends in global atmospheric quality. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is increasing steadily and the rate of increase is accelerating by about two per cent per year. In 1958, CO2 concentration registered 313 parts per million (ppm). In June, 2023, CO2 ​​​​​​​surpassed 424 ppm, an increase of 34 per cent. The international organization 350.org maintains that 350 ppm represents a safe concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, we are currently losing the war; more CO2 was emitted in 2022 than in any other year on record, partially as a result of air travel rebounding from the pandemic and increased use of coal. Current climate policies could potentially reduce emissions, but will these emission reductions be implemented quickly enough to moderate climate change?

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Climate change milestones ranging from Earth Day to the Paris Agreement have had no obvious effect on atmospheric CO2. Likewise, the annual Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meetings, which has prepared 36 assessment reports since 1988, have not budged the Keeling Curve.

Climate scientist Johan Rockström and colleagues published a road map for rapid decarbonization that sets out a global emissions pathway required to achieve net-zero emissions around mid-century, a path necessary to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celcius. The roadmap is based on a “carbon law” of halving gross anthropogenic CO2 emissions every decade. These emission reductions need to be complemented by carbon removal and ramping down land-use CO2 emissions. As long as CO2 is increasing faster than carbon removal rates, global CO2 will continue to increase unabated.

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The Alliance of Concerned Scientists, a group of 14,000 individuals, concluded that climate action to date has been inadequate, and current planetary vital signs reflect the catastrophic consequences of conducting business as usual. The alliance renewed the call for transformative action and proposed a “three-pronged near-term policy approach” — including a significantly higher global price on carbon, a worldwide phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels, and development of climate reserves to protect and restore biodiversity and carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest.

It is unlikely that greenhouse gas emissions will decrease if the price of fossil fuels does not include their ultimate costs to society. There are different carbon pricing systems that can be effective, including the Fee and Dividend System that works by applying a tariff to fossil fuels at their point of origin in the economy, such as a well, a mine or a port of entry. This fee increases progressively, and a border tax adjustment is applied to imports from countries that do not have their own equivalent carbon fee. Lastly, some or all of the fee is returned to households as an energy dividend.

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One of the world’s prominent climate scientists, Dr. James Hansen, prepared a report for the U.S. House of Representatives on why Fee and Dividend will reduce emissions faster than other carbon pricing policy options. Canada is a world leader in the adoption of Fee and Dividend and recently increased its carbon price to $65/tonne. Canada’s carbon price is slated to rise in future to $95/tonne in 2025 and $170/tonne in 2030.

Profound transformative actions are required to moderate climate change, and scholars predict that the continuity of civilization will require a planned contraction of both the material economy and human population size. This includes transformation of the values, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes that undermine human civilization and our ability to mitigate climate change.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that: “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

 In other words, it is time to stop fiddling and to put out the fire.

Dr. David Levy is a fisheries scientist who has worked on climate change and salmon survival in the Fraser River.

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reference: theprovince.com

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