We must never abandon our climate targets

January 3, 2024 by Steve Easterbrook

Eight years ago, at the Paris climate change talks, the United Nations agreed a legally binding treaty to limit global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial global average temperatures, and to pursue efforts to keep the temperature increase below 1.5°C. Canada was a vocal supporter of the more stringent 1.5C limit. But with the failure to agree on a meaningful timeline to phase out fossil fuels at this year’s COP28 meeting, and monthly global temperatures regularly shattering records, some scientists are starting to say it’s too late to save the UN’s 1.5C target. It now looks likely we’ll pass that temperature threshold within the next decade.

However, we must never give up on the 1.5C target, no matter how desperate it seems. The actions we must take to meet the 1.5C target are the same actions we need to take to stay below the 2C target (or indeed any similar target). Both targets require us to make massive investments in renewable energy alternatives and phase out fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. The only difference between the targets is how fast we must do it. Discarding a hard goal for an easier goal will merely remove some of the urgency. And if we relax our goal, we’ll stop trying so hard. We then risk missing the 2C goal as well.

Fossil fuel companies pay lip service to the 1.5C goal, but simultaneously work to undermine it because they want to sell as much oil, coal, and gas as they can before they are forced to stop. They are the most profitable industries in the world, so their intransigence is understandable. But with the price of renewable energy dropping fast, the clean energy infrastructure we must build will be just as profitable for whichever companies create it. The problem isn’t that we’ll somehow destroy the economy, or all end up poorer, or as Sultan al-Jaber, the chair of COP28 put it, end up sheltering in caves. The real question is who will reap the rewards of the energy transition: a handful of giant fossil fuel companies who want to keep doing what they have always done, or a vast array of smaller, more agile, cleantech companies who are already making the necessary investments.

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