What is Climate Change?
The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are unequivocally heating. This phenomenon, a result of rising anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is expected to worsen over the next century unless society undergoes a swift and far-reaching transition towards low-carbon energy sources.
The extraction, refining, and burning of fossil fuels to produce petrochemicals and to generate electricity and heat emit the vast majority of total global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, 78% of the total increase in emissions between 1970 and 2010 is due to fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes. Regrettably, fossil fuels have worked their way into almost every facet of our modern lives with oil, coal, and natural gas comprising, in 2019, a combined 85% and 64% of global primary energy consumption and of electricity generation respectively.
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Impacts of Climate Change
Current average global temperatures (0.8 – 1.2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures) are leading to more intense heat waves, sea level rise, severe weather events increasing in frequency and severity, and a loss of biodiversity. Each of these climate change impacts in turn causes a series of downstream impacts which infiltrate every facet of our society.
McKinsey & Co. group climate change impacts in a five-systems framework:
- Livability and workability: Hazards like heat stress could affect the ability of human beings to work outdoors or, in extreme cases, could put human lives at risk. Increased temperatures could also shift disease vectors and thus affect human health.
- Food systems: Food production could be disrupted as drought conditions, extreme temperatures, or floods affect land and crops, though a changing climate could improve food system performance in some regions.
- Physical assets: Physical assets like buildings could be damaged or destroyed by extreme precipitation, tidal flooding, forest fires, and other hazards.
- Infrastructure services: Infrastructure assets are a particular type of physical asset that could be destroyed or disrupted in their functioning, leading to a decline in the services they provide or a rise in the cost of these services. This in turn can have knock-on effects on other sectors that rely on these infrastructure assets.
- Natural capital: Climate change is shifting ecosystems and destroying forms of natural capital such as glaciers, forests, and ocean ecosystems, which provide important services to human communities. This in turn imperils the human habitat and economic activity.
Read more from:
- The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices: Prior preparation pays off
- The Climate Action Network: Why Climate Change Matters
Solutions to Climate Change
Climate change needs to be addressed in terms of mitigation and adaptation.
Mitigation is the practice of lessening the extent of these climatic changes – reducing our impact on the environment.
Adaptation, meanwhile, is the practice of bracing our institutions and infrastructure for the impacts of climate change – reducing the environment’s impact on us.
In June 2018, the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act came into effect, mandating that each province must develop and implement an adquate carbon pricing system. In the event that a province chooses not to develop and implement their own system, they will be subject to the federal backstop price on carbon emissions of $20 per tCO2e (tonne of CO2 equivalent) intially, rising by $10 tCO2e per year.
Canadian governments subsidize fossil fuel exploration, drilling, transportation, and export by hundres of millions of dollars each year. These subsides are inconsistent with the nation's domestic and international climate change obligations
Read more from:
- OECD and the IEA: Analysis of Fossil Fuels Support
- The International Monetary Fund: Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates
- The International Institute for Sustainable Development: Unpacking Canada's Fossil Fuel Subsidies
- Environmental Defence: The Elephant in the Room: Canada's Fossil Fuel Subsidies
The best decarbonization plan will span many sectors and invoke a variety of tools and technologies. One such set of tools are nature-based solutions which employ ecosystem services to reduce emissions and store carbon. They present cost-efficient, energy-passive, low-maintenance and resilience-building solutions that also bring co-benefits such as constructing carbon sinks, developing habitats and protecting biodiversity and ecological services, but most importantly, it opens opportunities for economic development.
Examples of NbS include:
- Protecting, managing, and restoring forests
- Adopting “regenerative” approaches to agriculture
- Building artificial wetlands within cities to reduce flooding
- Managing watersheds to provide clean water
- Restoring mangroves to mitigate storm damage
These strategies provide a triple dividend of benefits:
- The first dividend is avoided losses, that is, the ability of the investment to reduce future losses
- The second is positive economic benefits through reducing risk, increasing productivity, and driving innovation through the need for adaptation
- The third is social and environmental benefits
Read more from:
- IISD: Amid Pandemic, Equator Prize Winners Provide Blueprints for Nature-based Recovery
- GreenBiz: 3 keys for scaling nature-based solutions for climate adaptation
- Scientific American: Green Infrastructure Can Be Cheaper, More Effective than Dams
- New Brunswick Environmental Network: Natural and Nature-Based Climate Change Adaptation Community of Practice
Climate Change Commitments in Canada
In 2019, the Canadian government made a commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Paris Agreement
The 2015 Paris Agreement is a landmark treaty which urges parties to limit global warming to 1.5 ˚C above pre-industrial levels, stipulates that developed countries shall financially support less developed nations in their transitions to a low carbon economy, and provides a framework achieving those changes.
To achieve these targets, the 197 signatories are obligated to put forward their targets in the form of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which are renewed periodically.