05/30/2016 05:10 EDT | Updated 05/31/2017 05:12 EDT

10 Years Later: Some Inconvenient (And Convenient) Truths

A general view of solar panels at Rudge Manor Solar Farm near Marlborough, Wiltshire.
Tim Ireland/PA Archive
A general view of solar panels at Rudge Manor Solar Farm near Marlborough, Wiltshire.

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore documentary that catapulted climate change onto the global agenda.

Here's a quick look at developments over the past decade, both the inconvenient and the convenient.


Unfortunately, global consumption of fossil fuels -- oil, coal and natural gas -- is significantly higher today than it was a decade ago. We now burn 250 tonnes of coal every second of the year.

Total greenhouse gas emissions have also increased. In 2006, the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere was 382 parts per million; today, it's 404 parts per million, with recent annual jumps being the largest on record.

The climate is responding: 2015 was the hottest year on record, and 2016 is on track to be even hotter. January, February, March and April of 2016 have each been, by far, the hottest on record. Sea levels have risen by 40 millimetres since 2006, the fastest increase on record.


The past decade has heralded a revolution in renewable energy, led by a spectacular drop in the cost of solar panels and the explosion of solar power installations around the world.

Just how fast are costs dropping? In 2014, large-scale solar farms in the U.S. were being built promising power for five cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2015, that dropped to four cents.

Last month, a deal was signed for a new solar farm in Mexico at 3.6 cents, and just this month bidders vying to build a massive solar farm in Dubai offered to do it for three cents per kilowatt hour, without any subsidies. That's more than competitive with the price most Canadians pay for power.

Wind isn't far behind. Thanks to improvements in turbine technology, well-sited new wind farms can generate power for five cents per kilowatt-hour. A wind farm being built this year in Morocco promises power for three cents.

Globally in 2015, renewable power attracted twice the investment that fossil fuel power generation did. Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal producer, declared bankruptcy last month.

According to Clean Energy Canada, more Canadians now work in green energy than in the oilsands. Two months ago, experts at Stanford University outlined an achievable path to 100 per cent renewable energy for Canada by 2030 -- just 14 years from now -- using existing technology.

In 2006, electric cars were rare. Today, there are over a million on the road worldwide. Tesla's recent launch of its Model 3 is revolutionizing the automotive world, and all major manufacturers are scrambling to get electric models to the market.

Politically, the winds have changed too. In 2008, Americans elected Barack Obama, who has moved aggressively on climate change and rallied other world leaders, including his Chinese counterpart, into action. In 2015, Albertans and Canadians elected new governments that have promised action on emissions reduction. And the Pope and leaders of other faiths are speaking about the moral imperative of action on climate change.

175 countries have signed the December 2015 Paris climate agreement. It's not perfect, but it's our best hope in years.

Looking forward

Unfortunately, Canada has been rather slow to embrace the opportunities of the green energy revolution. Solar energy is largely an unexploited and unsupported opportunity, and much wind blows unharnessed. In my home province of New Brunswick, we are gifted with abundant forest, yet we continue to import fossil fuel and electricity from elsewhere to keep us warm. And, somehow, the short-term construction jobs promised by the Energy East pipeline seem to have enchanted many into believing it's going to be an economic panacea for us.

But hope springs eternal and, as the last decade proves, change is exponential -- so, with bated breath, I wait for what the next decade will bring.