With 2013 drawing to a close, we thought now would be a great time to look back on the year that was in the world of climate action. The last year was marked by some very big climate stories, ranging from international talks to super storms to celebrity statements. It was hard to choose, but we whittled the list down to 14 selections to mark the dawning of 2014. The stories are divided into two categories, and are presented in chronological order where possible. We found nine big stories, many of which will have profound impacts in the years ahead. We also found five good news moments from the climate front, to help you bring in the New Year with a smile.
Here’s the list in brief. Check below for stories and links.
The Big Stories:
- 400 Parts Per Million
- Pipeline Frenzy
- Wild, Wild Weather
- Neil Young Blasts the Tar Sands
- The IPCC Report
- Emissions Fail
- The Warsaw Climate Conference
- Canada Wins All the Wrong Climate Awards
- The Case of the Missing Oil and Gas Regulations
And Now for Some Good News:
- Keystone XL on Pause
- Divestment Picks up Steam
- Canadians Demand Leadership on Climate Change
- The End of Coal in Ontario
- The Arctic 30 Granted Amnesty
What do you think? Is there anything we missed? We look forward to your feedback on our list. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit: www.flickrcc.bluemountains.net
The Big Stories
400 Parts Per Million
The news came from a research facility atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano on Thursday, May 9: the level of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere had officially passed 400 parts per million (ppm). This was a long-feared milestone that shows just how dangerously out of whack the earth’s carbon concentrations have become. A safe carbon pathway is way down around 350 ppm, which is the upper limit of what many scientists, climate experts and governments deem safe. The 400 PPM benchmark is a concentration not seen on earth for millions of years, and portends a whole new world of climate chaos. If there is a silver lining here, it’s that the 400 ppm benchmark underscores the urgency of substantive and effective climate action in a way few other stats can.
The energy map of North America is beginning to look like a very gnarly game of Snakes and Ladders. Big Oil has been pushing rapid tar sands expansion for quite a while, but has apparently only recently realized it needs infrastructure to carry bitumen to market. Now, communities all over Canada are finding themselves victims of a mad rush for pipelines, sometimes literally in people’s own back yards. This year, TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline joined an already-crowded slate of proposed projects including Northern Gateway, TransMountain, Keystone XL and Line 9. Our member organizations and allies have been working overtime to point out the implications of this pipeline frenzy for the climate, First Nations’ rights, health and the Canadian economy.
Wild, Wild Weather
With climate change accelerating, wild weather is the new normal. While no single weather event can be directly attributed to climate change, the impact of unprecedented atmospheric CO2 levels means more extreme weather, more often. Super Typhoon Haiyan – which slammed into the Philippines in November, causing massive death and destruction – is part of a new normal which poses a daunting challenge to developing countries in particular. But developed countries like Canada are not exempt from the impacts of climate change. This summer saw unprecedented flooding in Alberta and Toronto, leading to deaths, social disruption and massive costs. These are expected to occur more often in the future due to the changing climate, something the insurance and reinsurance industries can’t help but take note of.
Neil Young Blasts the Tar Sands
Neil Young once sang, “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi / Ain’t singin’ for Coke / I don’t sing for nobody / Makes me look like a joke.” Well, he certainly won’t be singing for the companies digging up the tar sands. Neil Young made headlines everywhere in September when he slammed the Keystone XL pipeline and likened Fort McMurray, Alberta to Hiroshima. Following this, Neil Young signed on to stage concerts across Canada to support First Nations in their fight against tar sands developments. The ‘Honor the Treaties’ concert series will send all sales and proceeds to the Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation, who are preparing for a court case against a federal decision to approve Shell Canada’s expansion of its Jackpine tar sands mine.
The IPCC Report
In September, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its update on the physical science basis for climate change. The report, which compiled the latest findings on climate science, confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that climate change is happening, that it is getting worse, and that humans have caused the majority of it. For the first time, the report also showed estimates of how much greenhouse gas pollution the world can still release at the most to have a chance to stay under the danger threshold of 2 degrees warming. The implications of these measurements are huge. In short, Canada has entered the era of unburnable carbon, where many existing oil, gas and coal assets become liabilities since they can’t be extracted without triggering dangerous climate change.
Just when you thought the Canadian government couldn’t dig itself a deeper hole on climate change, Environment Canada’s 2013 Emission Trends report showed Canada was way off the trajectory needed to meet its already-weak Copenhagen targets. In 2009, Canada agreed to cut emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. While a drastic step down from Canada’s Kyoto targets, the 2009 targets were touted as being in line with US policy. Now, Canada is even falling behind its major trading partner to the south. The Emissions Trends report confirmed the government will miss targets it consistently claims it will meet. At least this year the Environment Minister didn’t try to spin the findings with bad math and bizarre logic. Perhaps acknowledging how indefensible her government’s position was, she didn’t say much at all.
The Warsaw Climate Conference
The annual UN climate conference got underway in Warsaw, Poland in November. For the most part, the climate conference marked another missed opportunity to put the world on track for a fair, ambitious and binding climate action plan in 2015. Even in the face of the devastation of Super Typhoon Haiyan and the loud calls from many governments and members of civil society, the Warsaw talks were characterized by backsliding from major emitters such as Japan and Australia, mixed progress on climate financing, and piecemeal progress towards a new climate deal in Paris in 2015. See CAN-Rac’s detailed assessment of the outcomes of the Warsaw talks here.
Canada Wins All the Wrong Climate Awards
For the last six years, Canada has cleaned up at the ‘Fossil of the Day’ awards ceremonies at the annual UN climate conferences. Canada often wins the awards for its outsized role in impeding climate progress at the international talks. This year, however, marked a bit of a change. Japan and Australia seemed to be the biggest climate villains in sight, and the Canadian delegation was very quiet, seemingly accepting that an abysmal track record on climate policy translates into lack of influence at international climate policy negotiations abroad. But Canada couldn’t stay out of the spotlight entirely. As the conference kicked off, Canada was granted a special ‘Fossil of Disbelief’ award for loudly cheerleading Australia’s damaging climate policies. As the talks wrapped up, Canada was handed a ‘Lifetime Unachievement’ Fossil award for the Harper government’s longstanding failure to make meaningful contributions on climate change.
The Case of the Missing Oil and Gas Regulations
Once upon a time, in response to a growing chorus of criticism on Canada’s climate inaction, the Environment Minister promised a series of oil and gas regulations. That was years ago. Every year it seemed, the minister would reiterate this promise as the timeline for implementation was pushed back further. Now, even the government of Alberta – a terrible climate performer if there ever was one – is pressing for the oil and gas regulations to finally take effect. For this story to have a happy ending, the federal government should give Canadians a holiday treat and announce these regulations immediately.
And Now for Some Good News…
Image credit: www.flickrcc.bluemountains.net
Keystone XL on Pause
When it comes to a project that could trigger massive amounts of tar sands development, with ruinous implications for the planet’s climate, each day of delayed approval on Keystone XL is great news. It means dirty oil is being kept in the ground, and tar sands companies’ development plans are stuck in slow motion. Now, if only President Obama would give the final order to scrap the pipeline deal. After all, it should be a ‘no brainer‘ to understand that you can’t ramp up tar sands infrastructure without damaging the climate. In other words, Keystone XL fails the President’s climate test, and should therefore be tossed aside in favour of investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Divestment Picks up Steam
The recent passing of Nelson Mandela reminds us all of his incredible character – his patience, kindness and determination in the face of hostility and seemingly impossible odds. But it also provides us with a lesson in history: the South African apartheid regime was successfully pressured by a targeted divestment campaign. Now, a similar campaign directed at climate change is rapidly picking up steam. Municipalities, colleges, universities and churches across North America are pulling their money from Big Oil, undercutting the moral license the fossil fuel industry purports to have. As we move into 2014, let’s keep Mandela’s powerful words front of mind in our fight against climate change: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Canadians Demand Leadership on Climate Change
While the federal government’s head may be firmly stuck in the tar sands, Canadians understand the importance of climate action and are calling out for leadership on this file. What’s more, Canadians know that the solutions for the climate crisis are readily available – we just need the will to implement them. These were the findings of a national survey released by Environics and the David Suzuki Foundation, which were echoed by another poll from Canada 2020 and the University of Montreal. All of this begs the question: if the federal government isn’t in step with the need for climate action, whose interests are they really serving?
The End of Coal in Ontario
There will be no teary goodbyes when Ontario shutters its last coal plant. In November, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne announced the impending shutdown of the Nanticoke coal plant, making Canada’s most populous province the first jurisdiction in the world to complete a coal phase-out. This news was met with applause from Al Gore, while Climate Action Network Canada welcomed the breath of fresh air for climate policy around the world. Congratulations, Ontario!
The Arctic 30 Granted Amnesty
Since their arrest in September, the release of the Arctic 30 – 28 Greenpeace activists and two independent journalists imprisoned for peacefully protesting Arctic drilling by Gazprom – has been the focus of a major international campaign. While the Canadian government remained dismissive and silent in the face of heartfelt appeals from the prisoners’ families, international pressure eventually led the Russian parliament to grant amnesty to the Arctic 30. Of course, there remains no amnesty for the Arctic itself. The fight against the reckless exploitation of oil and gas reserves in this pristine and deeply inaccessible region remains an ongoing challenge for activists worldwide. But we’ll take our good news where we can get it.