EditorialEDITORIAL: We don’t have another 20 years to spend ignoring climate change

ETC StaffOctober 9, 20196 min

Last Friday saw the one of the largest protests in Canadian history. 

The last day of the Global Week for Future strikes saw more than a six million protesters worldwide, many of them students and young people, calling on world leaders and politicians to take the ongoing climate crisis with the urgency it requires.

The message Swedish activist Greta Thunberg gave to the United Nations the week previous echoed across every chant and march since.

Climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg joins a climate strike march in Montreal, Quebec, on Sept. 27. (REUTERS/Andrej Ivanov)

The world however has been through this before.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, recognizing humanity as the cause of climate change and calling on nations to reduce the emissions of six greenhouse gases.

Kyoto was in many ways a failure, committing to modest reductions of six per cent in its first period, but it was still a landmark agreement on climate change. It acknowledged the human cause of climate change and was considered better than nothing.

Because of the lack of enforcement mechanisms, and a focus on the developed nations to cut their emissions, the targets of Kyoto have not been met, and in some cases have been abandoned.

The United States in particular was vocal in its opposition to Kyoto, weakening the protocol’s support. Canada announced in 2011 its intention to withdraw from Kyoto entirely, citing similar reasons as the United States.

During the 20 years between Kyoto and Paris, governments have met regularly to negotiate further reductions. A key point was to include and support the developing nations, who objected to being held to the same level of responsibility as the developed nations for emissions cuts.

The world came together again in 2015, negotiating a series of ambitious targets beyond Kyoto’s 2020 deadline, with funding and support for developing nations to ease the much harsher transition away from fossil fuels and their greater vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

The result was the Paris Agreement, and like Kyoto it was celebrated as a landmark agreement on climate change, and the first to put binding targets to reduce the global temperature increase to between 2 and 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels on all nations.

But, when nations returned home to determine their own targets, the results have been lacklustre. And again, the opposition of the United States, by far the largest polluter except for perhaps China, weakened the effectiveness of Paris, and the willingness of its parties.

Greta Thunberg’s outrage is exactly what the leaders of the world should expect, after more than 20 years of knowing the cost of inaction.

The fight against climate change has been going on far longer than Kyoto, and yet the world still seems to waver between action and inaction. Concerned about the immediate economic costs over the long-term consequences of climate change. 

But the price of doing nothing, or not enough, will be high. The crisis will grow every year drastic action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the cost will become insurmountable.