Impact of climate change set to affect the country for ‘centuries to millennia’
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
Last week, Environment and Climate Change Canada released a report that not only stated that Canada is warming at twice the global rate, but that the effects are, at this point, “effectively irreversible.”
“We are already seeing the effects of widespread warming in Canada,” said Elizabeth Bush, a climate-science adviser at Environment Canada. “It’s clear, the science supports the fact that adapting to climate change is an imperative.”
The warming rate is even more accelerated in the northern provinces and territories, the Prairies, and northern BC, where things are heating up at nearly three times the global average. The study, Canada’s Changing Climate Report, states that “Between 1948 and 2016, best estimate of mean annual temperature increase is 1.7ºC for Canada as a whole and 2.3ºC for northern Canada.”
Contrast this with global average temperatures which, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have risen by approximately 0.8 C since 1948.
Dianne Saxe, former environment commissioner for Ontario, spoke to the CBC on the matter to explain why Canada is experiencing such a dramatic shift.
“The Earth’s climate warms faster near the poles,” said Saxe. “‘Why’ is still being studied, but the reasons include feedback cycles that are internal to the climate system, such as the positive feedbacks that occur when snow and ice melt to reveal darker, warmer surfaces below […] Also, land warms faster than oceans, and Canada has a huge land area that is away from the oceans.”
Dave Waddington, Douglas College instructor and coordinator of the Geological Resources Program, stated in an email interview with the Other Press that other countries are expected to experience similar rapid warming trends.
“Other countries with similar expectations would include Russia, Sweden, and southernmost Argentina and Chile (Patagonia),” said Waddington.
The outlook for Canada does not look good in the face of oncoming climate shifts and changes. BC is already experiencing destructive effects of climate change, such as shifting weather patterns and increasingly severe wildfire seasons.
“My understanding is that interior BC will get warmer and dryer, while the coast gets warmer with more variable weather (colder winters and warmer summers),” said Waddington. “[The] BC interior is where most BC electricity is generated, but less rain means less power. Many ‘Site C’ size dams will have to be built near the coast. Also, wind power can be used but solar not so much.”
Increased warming can have devastating impacts on our freshwater supplies because warming weather will result in more winter rain and far less winter snow to build up snow packs to sustain freshwater stores throughout the dry seasons. As well, increased warming will certainly impact our wildlife—the environment of Arctic species is dramatically shifting as ice and permafrost melt.
According to the Canadian Press, the new report states that, “In the [worst] scenario, Canada will see 10 times as many deadly heat waves and twice as many extreme rainstorms.”
The report was released just as the federal government launched their new carbon tax in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick—provinces that do not have their own carbon tax plan in place. The carbon tax is set to start at $20 per tonne of carbon dioxide released, increasing over the years to $50 per tonne by 2022. The universal tax is meant to impact both individuals and big industry polluters in Canada; however, according to Global News, just as individuals can apply for tax rebates, “there is a plan to return money to companies that face competition from countries with weaker climate policies.”
Full dedication to lowering carbon emissions will likely result in major shifts with regards to BC’s economy, according to Waddington.
“BC currently gets 20 percent of its energy from electricity, and 80 percent from fossil fuels,” said Waddington. “Moving to a low-carbon future will require an expansion of the electrical system by 400 percent. It is going to be a huge change [for] the economy.”
Waddington also pointed out that shifting to electricity and wind-based energy sources will require a huge amount of mined materials, such as copper, steel, aluminum, cobalt, and more.
“Moving to a low-carbon economy means a boom in mining with all the environmental consequences of that,” said Waddington.
Canada’s current plans and projections are set to cut carbon emissions by 200 million tonnes by 2030—however, scientists are saying that this isn’t enough to prevent the country from facing the most devastating impacts of climate change.
Canada’s future is also dependent on global action. According to the report, if we can reach zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we can limit warming in Canada to under 3 C—if there is no change, warming rates could reach anywhere from 7 C to 11 C in the Arctic territories.
“It’s important to recognize that additional warming is unavoidable and associated changes in climate will be experienced,” said Bush.
Saxe doesn’t believe that Canada is ready to adapt to our oncoming climate disaster.
“People still react with outrage and disbelief to climate-related disasters and extreme events, and expect government to look after them whatever the circumstances or the costs,” said Saxe. “Meanwhile, we continue to worsen our vulnerability, for example by destroying the wetlands and woodlands that help us moderate floods and droughts, and by building more homes in vulnerable areas.”