Canada endorses tougher 1.5-degree limit to global warming

Canada supports a stiffer target at the Paris climate talks as the Liberals continue to try to differentiate themselves from the last government

Canada's new environment minister Catherine McKenna poses for a photo with other cabinet members at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, November 4, 2015.    GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Canada’s new environment minister Catherine McKenna poses for a photo with other cabinet members at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, November 4, 2015. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Another day in Paris, another move by the Liberal government to distance itself from the Conservatives’ climate-change skepticism. On Sunday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna aligned Canada more closely with the world’s poorest countries when she voiced support for the world trying to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than the two-degree limit widely discussed in rich countries ahead of the summit.

But exactly what “voicing support” is unclear. McKenna told the other environment ministers that Canada supports including a “reference in the Paris Agreement to the recognition of the ‎need to [strive] to limit global warming to 1.5 [degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels].” That stops short of asserting the limit should be 1.5 degrees, but it’s a nod toward a tougher target than the two-degree goal supported by the U.S. It’s also the target the developing countries are pushing, particularly the small island states, who are at risk of the most disastrous impacts of climate change.

Related: Behind the scenes with Canada’s lead climate conference negotiator

Still, that leaves quite a bit of wiggle room: Canada is not asking that the 1.5-degree target be binding or even firm. It simply calls for language in the Paris agreement to urge countries to do their best. However, the pledges presented by each country add up to anywhere from 2.7 to 3.7 degrees of warming.

Nearly 200 countries are in Paris for two weeks of talks to try to lower greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change. But the divide between rich and poor countries—as well as those emerging economies that fall in between—is proving hard to bridge. And the most basic gap is the debate over precisely which target should go into the text.

That’s despite evidence that the two-degree limit won’t do enough to prevent the worst effects of a hotter climate. Last week, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said two degrees of warming could still lead to long-term consequences to some particularly sensitive parts of the world, including Arctic ice sheets.

Related: Expectations build for Canada at Paris’s now-or-never climate summit

“The two-degree target is a political choice and was never prescribed by scientists,” Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of one of the IPCC working groups, said Thursday. “The last [IPCC] report clearly shows that the … warming will generate, depending on its magnitude, the risk of severe or sometimes even irreversible impacts and sometimes also [those] beyond adaptation capabilities.”

At the same time, the IPCC says there’s been little study of what happens at 1.5 degrees of warming, the limit Canada has now endorsed. Still, the Liberal government’s shift to the tougher target follows its pattern of trying to distance itself from the Conservative government, which was defeated Oct. 19. Broadly, that’s meant focusing on science and repeating that pledge loudly, and more specifically by promising money for Canadian environmental initiatives and for developing countries that need to adapt to climate change.

Related: UN climate summit: Legally bound but not ‘legally binding’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to set the tone before the climate conference even started when he pledged $2.65 billion for developing countries to adapt to climate change, of which $150 million has been committed to renewable energy in Africa and $50 million to climate-risk insurance for poor nations. Both he and McKenna emphasized their ambitions for the talks, but the Canadian contingent arrived with the same targets as under the Conservatives.

So far, it’s working. McKenna has been well-received at the Paris conference, also known as COP21, and at the pre-COP21 meetings. On Sunday, she was named a negotiation facilitator by the French foreign minister. That means McKenna will lead informal discussions to try to make progress on the negotiating text. Her team was quick to point out that Canada hasn’t been invited to play that role in 10 years.

Back in Ottawa, Trudeau rose in the House on Monday to defend his government’s agenda, set out in last week’s Throne Speech. Canadians, he said, don’t expect the government to solve all the world’s problems. “All they ask is that Canada do its part.” Whether the Liberals have achieved that should be clearer by the end of the Paris talks.


Canada endorses tougher 1.5-degree limit to global warming

  1. Societies based on economies instead of love aren’t going to solve global warming or global anything else ..in fact Donald Duck could be the environment minister and we’d get the same result, however at least Donald’s funny voice would be an entertaining distraction……..

  2. The last 20 years HAVE been the hottest 20 Year Period in recorded history.
    Scientists in several other countries challenged that statement.
    Examined ICE CORES, bored in Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland, and Glaciers of various locations….the cores clearly show that the last 20 year period has been the hottest in thousands of years.
    A dozen teams leaped to challenge those results….after a detailed examination of TREE RINGS verified yet again the result that the last 20 year period was the hottest in thousands of years.
    Further Examination of the ICE CORES revealed that CO2 levels in our atmosphere are highest in a couple hundred thousand years.
    Methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, is at a level not seen in over 1 million years.

    “Fifty years ago today, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science highlighted, US president Lyndon Johnson’s science advisory committee sent him a report entitled Restoring the Quality of Our Environment. The introduction to the report noted:

    Pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air and the lead concentrations in ocean waters and human populations.

    The report included a section on atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change, written by prominent climate scientists Roger Revelle, Wallace Broecker, Charles Keeling, Harmon Craig, and J Smagorisnky. Reviewing the document today, one can’t help but be struck by how well these scientists understood the mechanisms of Earth’s climate change 50 years ago.

    The report noted that within a few years, climate models would be able to reasonably project future global surface temperature changes. In 1974, one of its authors, Wallace Broecker did just that in a paper titled Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?.

    You can read the details about this paper and Broecker’s modeling here and in my book Climatology versus Pseudoscience. His model only included the effects of carbon dioxide and his best estimates of natural climate cycles. It didn’t include the warming effects of other greenhouse gases,
    or the cooling effects of human aerosol pollution, but fortunately for
    Broecker those two effects have roughly canceled each other out over the
    past 40 years.

    Broecker’s model predicted the
    global warming anticipated by 2015 both from carbon pollution alone, and
    when including his best estimate of natural climate
    cycles. In the figure below, the carbon-caused warming is shown in
    blue, and in combination with natural cycles (which Broecker turns out
    not to have represented very accurately) in green, as compared to the
    observed global surface temperatures from NOAA in red. As you can see, the climate model predictions from over 40 years ago turned out to be remarkably accurate.
    The 1965 report also debunked a number of myths that climate contrarians continue to repeat to this day.
    For example,

    the first section of the climate chapter is titled Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuels – the Invisible Pollutant.
    Although the US supreme court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant in alandmark 2007 case, many contrarians object to this description. Nevertheless, climate scientists realized a half century ago that human carbon emissions qualify as pollution due to the dangers they pose via climate change.

    “The report noted that although carbon dioxide is an invisible “trace gas” – meaning it comprises a small percentage of the Earth’s atmosphere as a whole

    – it can nevertheless have significant impacts on the climate at these seemingly low levels.

    “As the scientists wrote:
    Only about one two-thousandth of the atmosphere and one ten-thousandth of the ocean are carbon dioxide.
    Yet to living creatures, these small fractions are of vital importance …
    Within a few short centuries, we are returning to the air a significant
    part of the carbon that was slowly extracted by plants and buried in
    the sediments during half a billion years.

    “Contrarians (denialist) today often repeat the myths that because carbon dioxide is invisible and only a trace gas, it can’t possibly cause significant climate change. This report demonstrates that scientists understood the greenhouse effect better 50 years ago than these contrarians do today.

    “The report documented the several different lines of evidence that prove the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is entirely human-caused, concluding:

    “We can conclude with fair assurance that at the present time, fossil fuels are the only source of CO2 being added to the ocean-atmosphere-biosphere system.

    “This is yet another fact understood by climate scientists 50 years ago that some contrarians, including a few favorite contrarian climate scientists like Roy Spencer and Judith Curry, continue to cast doubt upon to this day.

    “The report also projected how much the atmospheric carbon dioxide level would increase in the following decades.

    “Based on projected world energy requirements, the United Nations
    Department of Economic and Social Affairs (1956) has estimated an amount of fossil fuel combustion by the year 2000 that with our assumed
    partitions would give about a 25 percent increase in atmospheric CO2, compared to the amount present during the 19th Century.

    “A 25% increase from pre-industrial levels would result in about 350 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The United Nations underestimated the growth in fossil fuel combustion, because the actual carbon dioxide level in 2000 was 370 ppm.

    “In addition to rising temperatures, the report discussed a variety of “other possible effects of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide”, including melting of the Antarctic ice cap, rise of sea level, warming of sea water, increased acidity of fresh waters (which also applies to the danger of ocean acidification, global warming’s evil twin), and an increase in plant photosynthesis.

    “These climate
    scientists warned President Johnson in 1965 not just of the dangers
    associated with human-caused global warming, but also that we might
    eventually have to consider geoengineering the climate to offset that warming and the risks that we’re causing by inadvertently running a dangerous experiment with the Earth’s climate.]”

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