Climate deadline more like 18 months instead of 12 years, some experts say

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We may think we have 12 years to curb climate change, but some Canadian climate experts say we likely have close to 18 months instead.

Climate scientist Ian Mauro from the University of Winnipeg says 2020 is the climate change deadline we should be eyeing.

“We need to bring down our emissions and peak [in] 2020,” he said. 

The 2015 Paris agreement committed to limiting the global average temperature to two degrees Celsius, with an “aspirational goal” of 1.5 degrees, Mauro said. 

But one of the lesser known parts of the report is that we should be peaking emissions by 2020, he said.

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“Best modelling suggests we need to peak at and decline rapidly from there,” he said. “That’s where this timeline shortened quite quickly.”

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Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent by 2030.  But political science professor Angela Carter from the University of Waterloo says we’re nowhere near meeting that target.

“If we continue to reduce emissions as we have done over the last 12 or so years,” she said, “we are going to blow past 2030 target days.”

The next 18 months will include a federal election in Canada, as well as international summits and meetings on climate change. 

“I think, in some ways, this federal election will be won and lost on the issue of climate change,” said Mauro.

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But does the prospect of a climate change deadline help or hinder efforts to change human behaviour?  Mauro sees changing our behaviour and reducing emissions as a bus we can’t miss.

“Targets and deadlines can be motivational,” he said.

“Either we’re going to see global governments balk at this, miss the bus and put our fate as a species literally in jeopardy,” he added, “or we’re going to see a globally-coordinated response.” 

Citing the growing prominence of climate activism, Carter says that she is seeing a shift in how people react to the climate issue. The conversation has “really changed in the last six months or so” with the rise of what she terms the Greta effect, after teen climate activist Greta Thunberg.

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“Individuals, I think, are realizing that maybe individual actions, yes, we need to do those, but we can make a big political impact by coming together and demanding change of political leaders and corporate leaders,” she said.

Amber Bennett from Climate Outreach — a group that seeks to improve communications around climate issues — said people respond differently to the prospect of a climate change deadline depending on their existing level of concern over the issue.

“It could either increase their resolve to see action or it may have the unintended consequence of actually shutting people down, because they feel kind of hopeless,” Bennett said.

“What we know from previous research is that people feel this sense of uncertainty or disengagement when they can’t see themselves within the conversation or they can’t see themselves as a part of the solution.”

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