Is Climate Change Affecting You?
The answer is a resounding YES. Climate change is affecting each of us on a global and individual scale. In this post we’ll try to help you understand the implications of climate change from a world view down to what we’re doing in the Mississippi River watershed.
In order to better understand climate change and the significant role it plays in our lives we need a comprehensive definition of the often talked about and easily misunderstood topic. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose role is “to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation…”
The IPCC publishes the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) which provides an up to date view of the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to climate change.
Note that the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” Thus the UNFCCC makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric conditions, and climate variability attributable to natural causes.
Climate Change Worldwide
Climate change is already affecting the entire planet and will continue to do so. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, presents conclusions in a global assessment of climate change science—not the least of which is that the science now shows with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century. The report confirms warming in the climate system, with many of the observed changes unprecedented over decades to millennia.
The major worldwide indicators of climate change are surface temperature, atmospheric water vapour, precipitation, extreme weather events, glaciers, ocean and land ice, and sea level.
Overview Analysis of data collected shows that global mean surface temperature has increased by between about 0.3 and 0.6 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, with recent years being among the warmest since 1860.
Atmospheric water vapour is also increasing steadily as temperatures increase, “a warmer world is a moister one, because warmer air can hold more water vapour. Global analyses show that specific humidity, which measures the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, has increased over both the land and the oceans.”
Large scale precipitation has also changed across the world with changes in snowfall in most regions, it is likely that decreasing numbers of snowfall events are occurring where increased winter temperatures have been observed such as in North America, Europe, Southern and East Asia, whereas in tropical climates precipitation has increased over the last decade.
Extreme weather events are defined by the IPCC as “an event that is rare at a particular place and time of year. Definitions of rare vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile of a probability density function estimated from observations. When a pattern of extreme weather persists for some time, such as a season, it may be classed as an extreme climate event, especially if it yields an average or total that is itself extreme (e.g., drought or heavy rainfall over a season).”
Rigorous analyses have shown that natural variability alone cannot explain the observed long-term trends of changing extremes in temperature and precipitation. Worldwide extreme weather events include global trends in heat waves, warm days and nights, and frost days over the last four decades. Changes in extreme weather threaten human health as well as prosperity. Many societies have taken measures to cope with historical weather extremes, but new, more intense extremes have the potential to overwhelm existing human systems and structures.
Ocean and land ice are the primary contributors to contemporary sea level change, with the expansion of the ocean as it warms and the transfer of water currently stored on land to the ocean, particularly from land ice (glaciers and ice sheets). Observations indicate the largest increase in the storage of heat in the climate system over recent decades has been in the oceans and thus sea level rise from ocean warming is a central part of the Earth’s response to increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations. Glaciers are an important worldwide indicator of climate change. With most glaciers around the globe shrinking since the end of the Little Ice Age, with increasing rates of ice loss since the early 1980s. The vertical profiles of temperature measured through the entire thickness of mountain glaciers, or through ice sheets, provide clear evidence of a warming climate over recent decades. The loss of glacial ice in Alaska and the Arctic are especially important as these regions are major contributors to rising sea levels.
Climate Change and North America
The IPCCs findings on climate change in North America can be found in their Fourth Assessment Report called North America. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.
Overview Annual costs to North America in 2007 had reached tens of billions of dollars in damaged property and economic productivity, as well as lives disrupted and lost. Although North America has considerable adaptability it’s reactive framework has left little room for initiating preventative measures in terms of climate change and thus left particular groups (e.g., indigenous peoples and those who are socially or economically disadvantaged) extremely vulnerable.
Coastal communities will be at risk for floods and severe storms surges as sea levels rise. Coastal habitats are also at risk due to rising sea levels causing shoreline erosion, ecosystem failure, and pollution.
Climate change will constrain North America’s over-allocated water resources, increasing competition among agricultural, municipal, industrial and ecological uses. In the Great Lakes and major river systems, lower levels are likely to exacerbate challenges relating to water quality, navigation, recreation, hydropower generation, water transfers and bi-national relationships. Without increased investments in countermeasures, hot temperatures and extreme weather are likely to cause increased adverse health impacts from heat-related mortality, pollution, storm-related fatalities and injuries, and infectious diseases.
Water-borne diseases and degraded water quality are very likely to increase with more heavy precipitation. Disturbances such as wildfire and insect outbreaks are increasing and are likely to intensify in a warmer future with drier soils and longer growing seasons. Warmer summer temperatures are expected to extend the annual window of high fire ignition risk by 10-30%, and could result in increased area burned of 74-118% in Canada by 2100.
Over the 21st century north American ecosystems will change dramatically as species shift north and to higher elevations. An important key to success in North America will be developing the capacity to incorporate climate change information into adaptation in the context of other important technological, social, economic and ecological trends.
To read more about the most recent patterns of climate change in North America in IPCCs Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) click here. The Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability is still subject to final copyedit.
Climate Change and Canada
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sends out another warning of the dramatic changes taking place in the global environment, but there are parts of Canada that stand to gain from a warmer world. The artic for instance is warming 4 times faster than the rest of the planet, bringing about dramatic environmental change, but that same change opening up the North to commerce. By the middle of this century, the top of the world is expected to be ice-free for 125 days a year, considerably above the current 50 days. That open water provides a very convenient shortcut between Europe and Asia for shipping, access to vast resources of oil and gas, opens the door to ecotourism, and, of course, that all translates into jobs. On the negative side opening up the North to commercialization will only increase speeds of global warming along with negatively impacting the animals and people that live there. At the moment Canada is putting short term economic gains before long term environmental costs. According to the Washington-based Center for Global Development, Canada has fallen to dead last compared to 27 other OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) when it comes to climate change remediation.
Canada’s Sixth National Report on Climate Change outlines the actions the Canadian government is taking to respond to the challenge of climate change. Immediate and future actions on climate change include: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transition to a clean energy economy, addressing short lived climate pollutants, investing in an improved understanding of climate change and adaptation strategies, providing funds for arctic research, participating in climate change discussions on an international scale, and by working with developing countries to help them respond to the challenge of climate change.
Climate Change and Ontario
Climate change is a shared responsibility in Canada. Provinces and territories have been taking action to address climate change according to their unique circumstances. Ontario’s policies and measures to address climate change mitigation are outlined in the Climate Change Action Plan. Released in 2007, the plan set province wide emission reduction targets and outlined a range of initiatives to reduce GHG emissions and support a sustainable, clean, low-carbon economy. Targets in Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan include:
- Reducing Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2014
- By 2020 Ontario will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 15 per cent below 1990
- By 2050 we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 levels.
Conservation Ontario is a non-governmental organization that represents the 36 Conservation Authorities within Ontario. Conservation Authorities are local, community-based environmental agencies. They represent a grouping of municipalities on a watershed basis and work in partnership with others to manage their respective watersheds. The Conservation Authorities Act provides the means by which the province and municipalities of Ontario could join together to form a Conservation Authority within a specific area – the watershed – to undertake programs of natural resource management. Today, Conservation Authorities operate in watersheds in which 90% of the provincial population reside.
Climate change impacts Ontario’s water resources and the effects are expected to escalate as we move into the future. Some of the impacts that Conservation Authorities have already identified and are responding to include:
- threats to water quality and supply
- rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns which create more drought conditions and more frequent severe weather
- more extreme rainfall which is leads increased flood and erosion problems
- lowered river flows and warmed surface waters
- dried out wetlands
- degraded biodiversity
July 2014 Conservation Ontario media release on how Conservation Authorities are on the Frontlines Managing Impacts of Climate Change.
Ministry of Natural Resources
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNR) works to promote healthy, sustainable ecosystems and conserve biodiversity (the variety of life on Earth). In pursuing its goal of a healthy natural environment for Ontarians, the ministry is contributing to the government’s climate change strategy by planting 50 million new trees and ensuring sustainable forest practices. The ministry is also putting Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy into action. The ministry is implementing the Endangered Species Act, which provides protection for our most vulnerable species and has made us a leader in North America in species protection. For more information what MNR is doing to adapt to and plan for climate change read the 2013-2014 Ministry of Natural Resources Results-based Plan. Another important MNR publication on climate change is the 2011 natural resources management guide to prepare for and respond to climate change.
Gord Miller (Environmental Commissioner of Ontario)
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is the province’s independent environmental watchdog. Appointed by the Legislative Assembly, the ECO is tasked with monitoring and reporting on compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights, and the government’s success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in achieving greater energy conservation in Ontario. Gord Miller has been the environmental commissioner of Ontario since 2000, as such he is responsible for producing annual reports on the state of Ontario’s environment. Click here for climate change reports by the environmental commissioner of Ontario.
Climate Change and MVCA
As the government body appointed to manage the Mississippi Valley watershed, MVCA aims to balance your needs with the needs of the environment to protect the things you love like safe drinking water, local ecosystems, your property, and a healthy economic framework based on recreational tourism.
In order to protect the needs of the environment, in 2007 MVCA initiated a climate change adaptation strategy to study how weather patterns will change in Eastern Ontario’s Mississippi watershed, the affect these changes will have and how best to adapt. Climate change is a hot environmental topic and MVCA is at the forefront of Conservation Authorities looking at these issues from a water management perspective.