A photo of U.S. President Joe Biden speaking at COP27.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaking at COP27. Credit: Office of the President of the United States

The 27th annual Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recently wrapped up, and the world continues to burn.

Despite positive commitments — including on methane emissions and a climate “loss and damage” fund — it will take more to slow and reverse climate disruption and the impacts it’s fuelling. We can’t hope it will be resolved by governments — or the industry responsible for the crisis, which was well-represented at COP27 in Egypt.

That doesn’t mean individuals should shoulder the burden. Governments must make big decisions that enable us all to reduce emissions. Personal choices and behaviours are important and add up, but one of the most powerful things we can do is join with others to demand action. Research shows that when just 3.5 per cent of a population actively supports a campaign, protest or movement, real change is likely.

We’ve been certain for decades that burning fossil fuels is causing ever-worsening impacts, but industry, governments and media have perpetuated myths and misinformation to keep the inevitable transition to renewable energy from happening in the time needed. Now it’s urgent. We must demand a rapid end to the fossil fuel era.

Let’s support real solutions to curb our voracious consumer habits and the coal, oil and gas that are fuelling them and polluting land, water and air and altering the climate. We must let governments know we expect them to live up to and strengthen their global commitments.

It means calling for transparency and ensuring no one is left behind in the global transition to clean energy and better ways of living. Global North nations must step up with financing for the most vulnerable countries, communities and people who contribute least to the climate crisis but are most affected.

One idea gaining traction in the wake of COP27 is a windfall profits tax. With fossil fuel executives and shareholders gorging on record returns squeezed from global conflict as people everywhere struggle to keep up with rising fuel costs and related prices, many, including UN secretary general António Guterres, say industry should pay up. (The Guardian reports oil and gas companies made US$100 billion in the first three months of 2022 alone.)

More than 30 media outlets from more than 20 countries recently published an opinion article arguing for such a tax, with money directed to helping the vulnerable adapt to inevitable climate consequences and forestall the worst, and to compensate for “loss and damage.”

“Rich countries account for just one in eight people in the world today but are responsible for half of greenhouse gases. These nations have a clear moral responsibility to help,” the article says.

To ensure governments get serious about climate disruption, calls are also getting louder for a “fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.” Harking back to the 1970 global nuclear non-proliferation treaty, advocates say, “Climate change, like nuclear weapons, is a major global threat.”

The fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty website states that “thousands of academics, scientists, parliamentarians, cities and civil society leaders” have joined the call to “stop the expansion of fossil fuels and manage a global just transition away from coal, oil and gas.”

To rein in industry and do our part in the global effort against climate change, Canada needs a strong, declining, vigorously enforced cap or limit on emissions from the oil and gas sector immediately. It’s Canada’s largest and fastest-growing emissions source, accounting for 26 per cent of the domestic total — increasing 89 per cent since 1990 as other sectors reduced emissions.

Industry is trying to get the federal government to halt or water down its promised regulations. We can’t let that happen. Restrictions need to be strengthened, not weakened — and they need to cover all emissions, including those from burning fuels.

Canada must also uphold its commitment to 100 per cent net-zero-emissions electricity by 2035. David Suzuki Foundation research shows how we can move even beyond that to entirely emissions-free, affordable, reliable electricity.

We can’t continue to support an industry that’s putting our health, well-being and survival at risk. We need to end all fossil fuel tax breaks and subsidies. With its slow-moving governments and industry lobbyists, COP27 shows again that we all must step up, with votes, actions, calls and letters. We’re in this together.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

David Suzuki

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is also a renowned rabble-raiser. The David Suzuki Foundation works...