On March 20 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final instalment of its Sixth Assessment Report. The report resulted from the work of 234 scientists on the physical science, 270 scientists on impacts, adaptation and vulnerabilities, and 278 scientists on mitigation. This is the bible on climate change.
It isn’t pleasant reading. Its 8,000 pages lay out the devastating consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions as well as the increasingly dangerous and irreversible risks of failing to change our behaviour. Impacts on people and ecosystems are more widespread and severe than expected.
Included is the probability of reaching dangerous tipping points, such as thawing permafrost or massive forest dieback, that can trigger self-amplifying feedbacks that accelerate warming.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is hope, albeit slim. In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “The 1.5 degree limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action.” The 1.5 degrees is the target set at the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Achieving that number will require immediate action, global co-operation, billions of dollars and big changes.
First and foremost, we must shift rapidly away from burning fossil fuels, the number one villain. Governments and companies must invest three to six times the $600-billion they now spend annually on clean energy. Decarbonization in itself won’t do it. Carbon removal will also be necessary.
All of this brought to mind another recent report, one by the Pembina Institute entitled Waiting to Launch. The report’s focus is described by its subtitle “The gap between Canadian oilsands companies’ climate pledges and actions.”
In 2021, the top producers in the sands formed the Pathways Alliance which committed its members to leading the way on decarbonization of their industry. Their plan was to achieve net-zero emissions from tar sands operations by 2050. It would depend heavily on carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).
The federal government has done its bit, offering a 50 percent investment tax credit for CCUS projects.
The Pembina report indicates that unfortunately the companies are not doing their bit. They have yet to make the necessary investment decisions or released sufficiently detailed plans to “provide proper reassurance about the likely pace of decarbonization in the sector.”
In fact, they want more subsidies. They have indicated that additional government funding would be needed in light of measures introduced in the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. They have also expressed opposition to the feds proposed cap on oil and gas sector emissions.
The recent profit bonanza the oil companies have enjoyed provide them a once in a generation opportunity to apply their excess dollars to projects that mitigate the harm they are causing. Profits of five members of the Pathways Alliance have increased 3.5 times since early 2021 and reached record levels in the second quarter of 2022.
But they have other ideas about what to do with their money. As the Pembina report states, “an increasing portion of oilsands companies’ free cashflow is being given to shareholders in the form of cash dividends and share re-purchases.”
The companies obviously don’t share the IPCC’s sense of urgency. Needless to say the Alberta government doesn’t either. Premier Smith recently advocated for more gas-powered power plants, expressing her distrust of solar and wind even though they are now cheaper than gas.
So it doesn’t appear that we will see Secretary-General Guterres’s “quantum leap in climate action” in Alberta. It’s pretty much business as usual. We’ll just leave it up to everyone else.