As the representative urban face of Canada in a changing world, Ottawa has a responsibility to be involved in current international events. The National Capital region in particular must demonstrate flexibility in adapting infrastructures, programs and policies to answer challenges that issue from far beyond municipal, provincial and federal borders.
Endorse the call for a fossil fuel treaty
Humanity’s continued inaction on climate change, according to a 2020 World Economic Forum Risk Report, has been notably assessed as being more likely, and also more severe with its damages rendered, than the use of weapons of mass destruction or worldwide nuclear war. Humanity’s failure to act on climate change is now the single greatest threat to the continued presence of civilized life on earth. Inasmuch as our planet’s increasingly destabilized ecosystem signals a catastrophe in the wings comparable only to the annihilation of nuclear warfare, humanity’s present rate of fossil fuel use, if uninterrupted for one more decade, may well be considered akin to the act of keying in missile launch codes and pressing a big red button.
Fossil fuels account for nearly 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 80-90% of all carbon dioxide emissions, accelerating rates of both global atmospheric heat and ozone depletion. Fossil fuel projects are the prime producers of atmospheric CO2 and the prime drivers of the planetary heat-index. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement however, contains no mention of oil, coal or gas. Ostensibly addressing climate change through nations’ voluntary reporting of emissions and curbing market-demand of fossil fuels for a goal of ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, the 2015 agreement has been ineffective: even amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of carbon dioxide uptake in earth’s atmosphere has not slowed over the past six years.
Despite commitments to the Paris Agreement requiring a 6% yearly decrease in fossil fuel production to achieve the eventual goal of ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, a recent ‘production gap’ report chaired by the UN-Environmental Program with other leading research institutes shows governments are actually planning a 2% stimulus-increase for fossil fuel projects, and are on track to produce twice the amount of fossil fuels by 2030 than that required simply to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Current research also shows that atmospheric warming of even 1.5 degrees, not the 3.2 degrees the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goals would afford us if met, will readily induce changes to the planetary ecosystem which would be otherwise catastrophic for human life. Echoing the ‘climate emergency’ that both European Parliament and the city of Ottawa declared over two years ago, in 2019, as well as research over 11,000 biosphere scientists signed in 2020 which stated “clearly and unequivocally, that the planet Earth is facing a climate emergency” a recently released, August 2021 report of the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives an even more precise understanding of the time frame within which humanity might still act successfully to interrupt runaway global warming. The IPCC report shows how with atmospheric temperature increases beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, climate ‘tipping points’ such as mass rainforest desertification, the melting of the West Antarctic ice shield, the stalling of oceanic currents which circulate global atmospheric temperatures, boreal forest wildfires and melting permafrost releasing further CO2. Even should all carbon burning stop today, trapped CO2 will continue to warm our globe beyond its current temperature, which is already a full degree hotter than pre-industrial levels. A worldwide halt to fossil fuel production is now needed before 2030, simply to hold atmospheric warming to 1.5-2 degrees.
Just as this climate-emergency is (hu)man made, its antidote, the rapid transition to a more equitable, low-carbon world, can be accomplished. Renewables such as solar and wind energy are now safer, cleaner and, through the distribution push of the past decade, require infrastructural investments less costly than the upkeep of their coal, oil and gas alternatives. Any analysis of the true cost of fossil fuels, noting such ‘externalities’ as pollution, industrialized inequality and proxy-wars, should definitively illustrate the world can no longer afford oil, coal and gas. Those industries’ pollution alone has been calculated to cost individuals $8 billion per day, or, according to the international monetary fund, $53 trillion taxpayer dollars per year. In starker, humanist terms, fossil fuel pollution costs 3.6 million deaths per year, or 90% of all the world’s children’s clean lungs. At risk of stating the obvious, the largest externality to the fossil fuel industry’s growth via profits is the planetary ecosphere, and hence, the basis for life itself.
Humanity’s commitment to redirect energy production away from fossil fuels onto low-carbon renewables during the days, months and years of this decade, will determine whether climate change (i.e. sea level rise, desertification and ‘extreme’ weather events) will be a relatively gradual process over centuries, or an onslaught of disasters delivering damages insurmountable within the space of a single generation, leaving the ecosphere uninhabitable for hundreds of thousands of years, a timescale well beyond that at which present-day human civilization tends to measure growth.
If societies, governments and civilization in general is to remain viable as climate change intensifies, a globally coordinated effort to cease fossil fuel production and transition to clean and renewable energy pathways is required immediately, during this decade.
WHAT IS THE FOSSIL FUEL NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY?
The fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty (FFNPT), is a platform gathering an international network of researchers, academics, scientists, civil society groups, organizations and municipalities with the shared intent of protecting the lives of present and future generations. The treaty agreement calls on governments the world over to stand by the equitable and just phase-out of fossil fuels while making a rapid transition towards renewable and sustainable energy pathways. The treaty goals are informed by current climate and biosphere research which stresses the importance of not exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
Unlike the Paris Accord, the FFNPT begins from the premise that fossil fuels must remain in the ground. While there is no viable world in which fossil fuel use may continue to be justified, the FFNPT also recognizes that a plan of international financial cooperation and infrastructure development will now be required to counteract fossil fueled mass extinction. Understanding the network of fossil fuel dependent byproducts that have colonized our cities’ transportation systems, food supply chains and building codes require responsible and capable civil leadership with binding plans to facilitate low-carbon infrastructure and tackle the threat that the fossil-fuel industry has imposed over our planet.
The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation treaty echoes the language and structure of the World’s 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to unambiguously designate fossil fuels as substances of mass destruction. The treaty’s three pillars are:
1) Nonproliferation––preventing expansion and exploration of oil, gas and coal production projects, as per the UN Environment Programme An innovative aspect of this prevention is the treaty’s open-source, multilateral Global Registry of Fossil Fuels.
2) Disarmament––Phasing out fossil fuels by removing subsidies, limiting extraction, regulating supply, dismantling unnecessary infrastructure, defending Indigenous and impacted communities, and shifting support to sustainable, renewable alternative energy pathways.
3) A Peaceful Transition––Facilitating an equitable, just transition away from fossil fuel dependency, enabling economic diversification and the uptake of renewable, cost-effective energy alternatives, particularly by supporting vulnerable workers, communities and countries that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel’s externalized costs.
Supported thus far by over 100 nobel prize winners including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2000 scientists and academic researchers, international organizations such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, 350.org, and Climate Action Network Canada, as well as Sydney, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Vancouver and Toronto, perhaps the most promising design feature of the FFNPT is its recognition of the need for systemic collaboration to overcome the planet-wide threat fossil fuels have posed. By locating the capacity and responsibility for action across a wide variety of civil organizations, youth and Indigenous groups, sub-national government and non-governmental organizations, the FFNPT ensures a resilient, widespread, multilateral, cooperative base of support remains to take up the task of phasing out fossil fuels and fast-tracking towards safer renewable energy pathways.
By keeping the clear and present danger of fossil fuels front and centre in its documentation, the FFNPT provides a backbone and foundational principles that policy makers, organizations and individuals may build upon to dismantle networks of fossil fuel dependency. Facets of the program, such as the registering of existing fossil fuel production sites, the redirection of finance and the cross-cultural sharing of renewable technologies become matters of life and death.
WHY THE FOSSIL FUEL NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY IS RIGHT FOR CANADA AND OTTAWA.
Among organizations that will contribute to the treaty, the city of Ottawa holds a crucial diplomatic and symbolic position. Canadian municipalities hold a lion’s share of the responsibility to facilitate a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels, allowing diverse, equitable communities to flourish.
Where the Canadian federal government has thus far exhibited an inability to disrupt globally destructive fossil fuel projects, an endorsement from another Canadian city, and particularly the nation’s capital, would signal the importance of sub-national mobilization efforts. Where UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has clearly stated that subsidizing fossil fuels is simply using taxpayers’ money to “boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals: to destroy the world” the Canadian federal government, in spite of its stated commitment to address climate change, in material terms, continues to subsidize fossil fuel extraction. Over the next five years, Canada is projected to trail only the U.S. in terms of the number of fossil fuel projects it will expand and launch. Plans to pump 173 billion barrels of oil from the Alberta tar sands alone will burn through a third of the world’s remaining carbon budget. At present rates, the world will exceed that 500 gigaton budget of atmospheric carbon by 2030, thereby locking in a temperature increase of at least 1.5-2 degrees. Stakes will be markedly higher in Canada, with a northern landmass which will absorb an estimated 1.8 to 6.3 more degrees of heat this century. Though Canada contains roughly only half a percent of earth’s total human population, this population, however it organizes, will continue to have an unrepresentatively large role to play in climactic transitions to come.
Multilateral efforts in high-carbon consuming nations such as Canada are critical for opening societal pathways towards renewable energy. With its citizens consuming 3.93 times the global average, Canada presently ranks ninth among nations in fossil fuel use per capita, trailing only Trinidad and Tobago, saddled to off-shore drilling projects, and seven oil-rich nations in the middle-east. Even while Canadians’ fossil fueled lifestyles rush the world onward towards the brink of catastrophic warming, Canadian organizations are uniquely, better equipped to end reliance on fossil fuels. Cities in countries such as the UK, the USA and Canada, with diversified taxation systems, economies and a GDP not solely tied to oil revenues, enjoy a greater degree of societal adaptation, with the resources necessary to move towards renewable energy, replace outmoded infrastructure and green communities, allowing civil life to flourish within an ecologically balanced, low-carbon economy. Urban centers also remain ground-zero in the battle against climate change, with transportation, building, concrete and construction infrastructure contributing upwards of 75% of global warming.
Canada’s federal inability to tackle climate change on the global stage shows that there is a real need for a new type of globally interconnected, multilateral relationship to rapidly dismantle fossil-fuel based economies. Well-informed climate refugees the world over increasingly understand that affluent consumption of fossil fuels in nations like Canada have directly contributed to the demise of their homes, and over three quarters of Canadians surveyed also now believe that climate change is an emergency.
Ottawa’s local future climate will continue to become warmer and wetter, with greater temperature extremes. We have never been, nor will we ever be, isolated from the global climate disaster. People evacuating from submerged Micronesian atolls or flooded Bangladeshi valleys, Arctic Indigenous communities now missing foodways in place for generations, or former residents of Lytton, BC, with homes burned to ash beneath a ‘heat dome’, have already experienced global warming as an imminent, life-threatening phenomenon. As shrinking animal habitats will continue to provide ideal conditions for zoonotic diseases like the coronavirus to spread, no single person has remained immune to the effects of fossil fueled global warming.
Remaining anxiously insurmountable by any one isolated person, but equally unaddressed by sovereign national territorial jurisdictions, the unraveling ‘climate emergency’ is a problem par excellence for intermediary actors: flexible, sub-national governmental organizations and globally connected groups involved with daily routines and infrastructures. The severity of damage done by the coming transformation in climate will depend on collaborative, accountable policy responses between these organizations bridging public/private, government/industry and regional/transnational divides.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Ahead of the UN’s climate change conference (COP26) to be held in Glasgow early this November, 2021, Ottawa must add its support alongside the populous Canadian cities of Toronto and Vancouver, which have already endorsed the FFNPT. This will show that Canadian people, through municipal engagement, are willing to facilitate the actions and global communication required to sustain civilized life amidst the present climate emergency. Ottawa’s symbolic role alone, in signaling this shift, is crucial. By endorsing the FFNPT treaty, Canadian municipalities, with Ottawa among them, may yet demonstrate a united commitment to reverse our national track-record on climate change. Since it is expected that conference discussions will also explore reparations from affluent nations towards victims of human-induced climate change in vulnerable, developing countries, Ottawa’s participation should signal our willingness to take responsibility, to establish international research collaborators, to engage in knowledge transfers, and to ultimately take a proactive role in the global climate.
The FFNPT, once adopted, will also provide a baseline for updating Ottawa’s local environmental policies and programs, as these have been designed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, and have since become dated.
Through the FFNPT, the city of Ottawa may forge a new type of resilient, multilateral transnational diplomacy, becoming one of many organizations the world over gathered around the common goal of ending fossil fuel production and renewing the ecological conditions which will support life on earth.
It is important that we follow through with government representatives to make sure they make Ottawa one of the early-adopters of this globally significant treaty:
- Let your Ottawa city councillors know that the climate emergency and the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty requires their full attention and immediate support.
- Contact leaders of concerned organizations, particularly directing those leaders involved with transnational organizations to register and coordinate policy efforts with the fossil fuel treaty campaign hub.
- Ecology Ottawa has also organized a number of campaign initiatives which dovetail directly with the broader values and global goals of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Helping break new ground on any number of these initiatives contributes to the coordinated, infrastructural, ground-up shift that is foundational to the FFNPT. (These campaigns include: 15 minute-neighbourhoods, green infrastructure, and Ottawa Climate Equity.)
Written by Paul Schissel, Ph.D. for Ecology Ottawa