The heat waves and wildfires B.C. have experienced this summer will only be the beginning if severe and immediate action isn’t taken to achieve net-zero carbon emissions globally, B.C. scientists say.
It’s a fact they have long known, but one they can state with even greater confidence after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report earlier this month that the United Nations Secretary-General called a “code red for humanity.”
Drawing on more than 14,000 scientific studies and from authors in 65 countries, the report concludes it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land and that it will continue to do so to humanity’s and the world’s detriment if rapid changes aren’t made.
“The statements we’re able to make in this report are much more strongly worded than in the past because the scientific evidence is so much stronger,” said Greg Flato, a Victoria resident, Environment and Climate Change Canada senior research scientist, and one of the report’s authors.
The frequency and intensity of extreme climate events – heat waves, fires, floods, droughts, and tropical cyclones – will continue to increase as the world continues to warm, the report stated. Already, the world has warmed nearly 1.1 C since the late 19th century, making the kind of heat wave that would have occurred once every 50 years now happen once a decade, for example. If the world warms another degree Celsius, extreme heat waves will jump to twice every seven years, the report stated.
Just how bad things get depends on how much action is taken to reduce emissions. In the best-case scenario, the world warms 1 to 1.8 C from 1850 to 1900 temperatures compared to 2081 to 2100. In the worst, it warms 3.3 to 5.7 C. A moderate reduction in emissions would result in a warming of 2.1 to 3.5 C, creating a global surface temperature researchers believe hasn’t been seen in more than three million years.
“It’s very much about convincing policy makers to act,” said Charles Curry, acting regional lead for the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria. Global temperatures will only begin to stabilize when net-zero carbon emissions are reached – meaning an equal balance of greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere as are taken out.
Part of Curry’s work at the consortium is working with provincial and municipal governments and other stakeholders to help them understand the science around climate change and develop long-term plans to counter it. The good news is he’s seen an increase in the number of requests for help.
The advantage of local change, Curry said, is that it can happen far quicker than at the federal or global level. When it’s done right, it can even embarrass or prompt higher levels into doing the same, Curry added.
Even individual actions matter, he insisted. Writing letters to MPs or local newspapers, speaking out at council meetings, or joining advocacy groups can be the push needed to get legislation past the finish line, Curry said. Consumer choices such as going electric or travel choices such as staying closer to home can also have an impact, he added.
“The power of people talking to each other can’t be understated.”
Both Flato and Curry emphasized that the report should be looked at as an opportunity to listen and change.
“Don’t despair when news like this comes out,” Curry said. “Just see it as a call to action.”
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