Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

9 Jul 2014

Risks and opportunities in a changing climate

Posted by Michael Keating

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to sustainability because it will destabilize much in our lives and economies.

Rainfall patterns are already changing, often with more severe and damaging storms. Sea levels are rising and rivers are more prone to flash floods before running drier. Warmer temperatures are forcing many species to move, and hasten the spread of diseases. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned the impacts of climate change may exceed the ability of societies to adapt.

Two reports give both the downside and suggestions for solutions.

Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation says the average temperature in Canada rose 1.5 C between 1950 and 2010. At the same time there was greater average precipitation in many areas.

This report was led by Canada’s natural resources department, and was written by 90 authors, had 115 expert reviewers and synthesized more than 1,500 recent publications. It looks at natural resources, food production, industry, biodiversity, protected areas, human health, and water and transportation.

Among key points:

  • Canada’s climate is changing, with observed changes in air temperature, precipitation, snow and ice cover and other indicators. Further changes in climate are inevitable.
  • Changes in climate are increasingly affecting Canada’s natural environment, economic sectors and the health of Canadians.
  • Extreme weather events are a key concern for Canada and there is growing confidence that some types of extreme events will increase in frequency and/or intensity as the climate continues to warm.
  • Adaptation is an essential response to climate change.

It forecasts more climate extremes (e.g. heat, cold, precipitation) and gradual changes, such as permafrost degradation, sea level rise and plant species migration.

Climate change will affect resource supply, notably forestry and hydroelectricity. Despite the growing threats, business is not paying attention. “Climate change itself is rarely identified as a priority concern, with industry focused on other immediate stressors, such as economic drivers.”

It will affect food supplies, with increased losses from invasive pests and diseases, and more extreme weather. A warmer climate may allow a modest increase in food production.

Health will be affected. For example, climate-sensitive diseases, such as Lyme disease are moving northward into Canada and will likely continue to expand their range. Research suggests climate change will worsen air pollution in some parts of Canada.

There are already increases in floods and wildfires.

Changes are becoming so profound that some tourism operators are considering promoting “last chance tourism,” offering people a chance to see landscapes, such as glaciers and species, before they decline or disappear.

The report states that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is already too late to stop some changes, due to inertia in the climate system. This means we have to adapt to a changing climate.

The report comes at a time when there are plans to greatly expand the development of oil sands in western Canada, which would increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

Another report presents a roadmap to try to avoid a climate catastrophe, prescribing specific actions for the world’s biggest economies to sharply reduce emissions.

Pathways to deep decarbonization, was published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.

Independent teams were assembled from 15 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. In total they produce 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The reports lays out ways these countries can transition to low-carbon economies as part of an effort to help the world meet the internationally-agreed target of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees C.

The analyses for the 15 countries show three pillars for the deep decarbonization of energy systems:

  • Greatly increased energy efficiency and energy conservation by all energy users, including buildings, transport and industry.
  • The decarbonization of electricity, by harnessing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, as well as nuclear power, and/or the capture and sequestration of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning.
  • Replacing the fossil fuels that drive transport, heating and industrial processes with a mix low-carbon electricity, sustainable biofuels and hydrogen.

The decarbonization paths rely on assumptions about countries’ ability to use new technologies on a commercial scale economically. For instance, carbon capture and storage is supposed to be available starting in about 10 years. Second-generation biofuels are assumed to come into play by 2020. Hydrogen fuel cells and power storage technology are expected to be deployed starting around 2030.

 

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