UN sounds alarm on climate change, says effects will likely come sooner and harder than previously understood

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      The world has all but run out of time to avoid a runaway catastrophe that will arrive sooner than previously understood, warns a new report on climate change released by United Nations yesterday (October 7).

      “One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” says Panmao Zhai, co-chair of UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, quoted in an October 9 media release.

      A "Summary for Policymakers" that accompanies the full report is conservative in language and mostly written in scientific terms that lack urgency. It nevertheless makes clear that, while the report's authors emphasize the need to keep global warming below 1.5°C, that is no longer a likely scenario.

      "Estimates of the global emissions outcome of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to global greenhouse gas emissions18 in 2030 of 52–58 GtCO2eq yr-1 (medium confidence)," the report reads. "Pathways reflecting these ambitions would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030 (high confidence).

      "Pathways reflecting current nationally stated mitigation ambition until 2030 are broadly consistent with cost-effective pathways that result in a global warming of about 3°C by 2100, with warming continuing afterwards (medium confidence)."

      Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III, is quoted in the release suggesting it is still technically possible to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions enough to avoid the worst-case and increasingly likely scenario that scientists describe in their report. But Skea notes the changes required to do so are substantial.

      “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes," he says there.

      Media outlets around the world have shared news of this latest warning from scientists with dramatic headlines.

      "UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning", reads one in today's Globe and Mail.

      From the New York Times: "Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040".

      And from BBC News: "Final call to save the world from 'climate catastrophe'".

      In B.C., the effects of climate change will manifest as wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. Local government's such as Vancouver's have already begun preparing for these changes and related weather, spending millions on improved flood protection, for example.

      Meanwhile, the 2018 wildfire season was one of the worst ever recorded in B.C. So far in the fiscal year 2018, the province has seen 2,076 wildfires burn 1.4 million hectares. A state of emergency was declared on August 15 and remained in effect until September 7.

      This year is only one of two in the last 10 where B.C. saw more than one million hectares lost to wildfires. The other was 2017. In all of 2017, there were an estimated 1,353 wildfires in B.C. and 1.21 million hectares burned. The 10-year average for hectares burned annually is 151,000.

      A July 2017 release from the provincial government notes that year's fires—which were recorded as "the worst in generations"—were due, "in large part," to climate change.

      Last August, B.C. premier John Horgan warned that wildfire seasons of unprecedented scale and intensity could occur with increasing frequency.

      "We're concerned, all of us, that this may be the new normal," he told reporters while touring areas affected by more than 50 "wildfires of note" that burned across the province that day.

      Horgan's awareness of the problem has not dampened his government's enthusiasm for massive fossil-fuel projects that will add to B.C.'s greenhouse-gas emissions for generations to come.

      On October 2, the B.C. NDP and federal Liberal government jointly announced they had approved a massive LNG Canada terminal and pipeline that will be constructed near Kitimat. According to the B.C. government's own estimates, the project "could add up to 3.45 megatonnes of carbon emissions" to the province's existing greenhouse gases.

      Clean Energy Canada executive director Merran Smith argued that B.C.'s approval of the LNG Canada project mean the province will likely struggle to meet commitments it has made to reduce carbon emissions.

      “Today’s announcement brings with it a defining challenge for B.C.: squaring the imperative to cut carbon pollution while accepting a huge new source of it," she said quoted in a release.