Saturday, April 6, 2019

Canada is Warming Faster than the Rest of the World and this has Global Implications

According to the latest UN Emissions Gap Report,  Canada is one of the national governments that are not doing enough to reduce climate change causing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In fact we saw an increase in GHGs in 2018 after two consecutive years of reduction. Under the 2015 Paris accord countries agreed to limit the average temperature increase to well below two degrees, with a goal of no more than 1.5 degrees. Last year an Auditor General's report made it clear that Canada is not on track to meet its GHG reduction commitments.

This year, a report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada, called "Canada's Changing Climate," warned that Canada is being hit harder by global warming than other nations.  The report indicated that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and the far north is warming at almost three times the global average. The federal scientists and academics that created the report specifically say that human behaviour must change if we are to have a chance of keeping global average temperatures below the upper threshold limit.

According to Marjorie Shepherd, director of the climate-research division at Environment Canada. Since 1948 temperatures in Canada have increased by 1.7 degrees and Northern Canada has seen temperatures increases of 2.3 C. Shepard highlighted the dominance of the human factor in these temperature increases.

A federal carbon tax took effect in Canada recently however, this sensible strategy is being challenged by New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. As these four provinces do not have a provincial plan they will be subject to a $20-a-tonne federal tax. Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer opposes the tax and he will rescind the measure if he is elected (the federal election is scheduled for October 21, 2019).

The report predicts that extreme temperatures will become dramatically more common in Canada. Chris Derksen, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said records show the changing climate has already translated to more extreme heat, rapidly thinning glaciers, and rising sea levels in Canada’s coastal regions.

"The effects of widespread warming are evident in many parts of Canada and are projected to intensify in the future," Mr. Derksen said.

The most obvious consequence of melting Arctic ice is sea level rise, however there are other even more apocalyptic implications. The permafrost on the ground and on the ocean floor is also melting and this is unleashing vast quantities of GHGs (carbon and methane). The permafrost is part of a dangerous feedback loop that could trigger tipping points from which we may not be able to recover.

If Canada's permafrost melts it will release quantities of GHGs that will cancel out all our mitigation efforts. This is why scientists have called melting Arctic ice a "ticking time bomb" urging the declaration of a state of emergency.

There are 1,500 billion tons of carbon locked in the permafrost. According to a 2018 NASA study the permafrost is releasing carbon into the atmosphere at an accelerated rate.

As reported by the Globe and Mail, Nancy Hamzawi, the assistant deputy minister of the science and technology branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada, said "the science is clear...Global emissions of carbon dioxide from human activity will largely determine how much more warming Canada and the world will experience in the future".

Elizabeth Bush, climate science adviser at Environment and Climate Change Canada summarized the science as follows:

"We are already seeing the effects of widespread warming in Canada at current levels of warming, the additional effects are unavoidable, so it’s clear the science supports the fact that adapting to climate change is an imperative."

The warming of the Arctic is ending the traditional way of life of indigenous people in the far north. However, warming is not just a Canadian concern, it has global repercussions.  The Arctic regulates global temperatures and according to a 2018 study published in Science Advances, Arctic heat is interfering with the jet stream in ways that could triple extreme weather events.

What happens in the Arctic will adversely impact weather in many parts of the world. This has a wide range of adverse impacts including reduced agricultural yields. 

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