How does climate change affect people?

An Environment Canada report highlighting a finding that Canada’s temperature is rising twice as fast as the global average offers little insight into the impact on people, says a UVic professor.

Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria, said the latest report does a good job of describing physical geographical effects, but more research is needed to examine what will happen to people.

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“We talk about flooding, but what about the people who are flooded?” said Gifford. “If we talk about forest fires, what are the impacts on nearby communities?”

Environment and Climate Change Canada released a report on Monday showing Canada is warming up twice as fast as the rest of the world, and it’s worse the further north you go.

Canada’s average temperature is now 1.7 C higher than 70 years ago. Meanwhile, the average global temperature is up only 0.8 C. In the Canadian Arctic, the average temperature is up 2.3 C.

Warming is more drastic in winter, with Canada’s average temperatures up 3.3 C between December and February. More rain and precipitation is falling in southern Canada and Arctic permafrost and sea ice are melting more quickly. Warmer winters mean Canada will face more onslaughts from insects and other pests previously unable to withstand colder winter temperatures.

The report is based on the work of 43 federal and university-based scientists who reviewed scientific findings over the past two years. Its release comes one week ahead of the federal government’s release of a carbon tax to be levied on four provinces refusing to take their own action to discourage carbon emissions: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.

Canada is trying to cut its national carbon-dioxide emissions, now about 570 million tonnes, by 200 million tonnes by 2030.

The report warns that if the world fails to cut net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, Canada’s increase in temperatures will be 7 C to 9 C. Heat waves will increase tenfold and extreme rainstorms will double. If the world can meet the zero-by-2050 target, average temperature increases would be 3 C or less.

One report author, Greg Flato, senior research analyst with Environment Canada now working at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis at UVic, said all hope is not lost.

Flato pointed out that the world successfully took collective action to halt the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out ozone-destroying chemicals.

He also noted similar international action, mostly by the U.S. and Canada, was undertaken to successfully reverse the effects of acid rain. “It is feasible to do something about global warming,” Flato said. “There are pathways that would lead us to limit warming to 1.5 degrees or two degrees.

“They would require rapid and profound changes, but it is possible.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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