Celebrate Earth Day by burning latest UN climate report

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Appeared in the Edmonton Sun April 19, 2023
Celebrate Earth Day by burning latest UN climate report

Next Saturday is Earth Day and, not coincidentally, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a summary of its summaries of summaries of a massive unreadable multi-volume report that specifies how the climate is changing and what must be done. Again, not surprisingly, the new plans are more stringent than the already unachievable previous plans.

In presenting the report, which is still not available in its final form, Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, called on developed countries to move up their already impossible “net-zero” greenhouse gas emission timelines from 2050 to 2040. He also wants coal use to end entirely by 2030 in developed countries, and wants the developed world on carbon-free electricity generation by 2035, meaning no gas-fired power plants. Yes, only 12 years from now.

If we don’t follow that advice, we’re told, we’ll cruise past the politically-determined target of limiting increased global average temperature to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. And, we’re told, UN scientists believe we’ll see all kinds of negative trends—droughts, floods, storms, hot weather, cold weather, ocean acidification, glacier retreat (basically all the worst parts of the Bible). Some of this may be true, much is likely untrue, as almost all of it is based on speculative computer models infused with assumptions about how things might work in nature, rather than rigorously measured values that establish how they actually work in nature. Canadians who believe computerization can correct soothsaying will be concerned; those who believe the future is unpredictable will be less so.

But either way, the secretary-general’s net-zero acceleration is a terrible idea that Canada’s governments should ignore, mainly because the side effects of this prescription will be far worse than the ailment. In 2021, RBC estimated it would cost a cool $2 trillion to reach net-zero by 2050. Broken down by year, the estimated cost rivalled spending on our health-care system. And RBC’s estimate assumed continued use of natural gas, which the UN is taking off the table. And even though, through RBC’s rose-coloured glasses, a “nation of electric vehicles, solar-powered houses and hydrogen-fueled airplanes” will help enormously, RBC found even the best-case scenarios for these technologies might only get Canada three-quarters of the way to net-zero—the old net-zero of 2050, not the potential new net-zero of 2040.

Finally, as always, the climate benefits from all of this will be negligible. Nothing Canada can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (already a small and diminishing fraction of global emissions) would be enough to exert a measurable influence on the climate. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Trudeau’s friends in China, the world’s largest emissions emitter, are allowed to emit with abandon. Hopefully, Canadian policymakers will file the new UN report in the voluminous burn bin with other silly UN reports, and with the Trudeau government’s current woes, there’s room for hope.

In any event, spring is springing. So this Earth Day, check the gas grill, get the planks for the salmon, layer on some fossil fuel-based sunscreen (before those too are banned), and enjoy some of the Earth’s most beautiful environments, which Canada has in abundance.

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