Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Copenhagen, Canada, and the End of the World

The Globe and Mail is reporting on an interview with Environment Minister Jim Prentice, saying that the chance of an agreement on climate change in Copenhagen is pretty much non-existent.
The world wants a climate change agreement in Copenhagen. The US is even onside, with President Obama actually understanding both the science and political realities of global warming. The EU wants an agreement, with Germany busy poaching Canadian alternative energy companies and the Brits launching the 10-10 campaign. China is even pursuing lower carbon emissions. So what's the problem?
The problem is the Canadian government. Canada has become the biggest roadblock to an international agreement to lower carbon emissions. According the the G&M article (23 October 2009, p A1 Ottawa dashes hope for treaty in Copenhagen) Canada is continuing to "insist that it should have a less aggressive target for emission reductions[...] because of its faster-growing population and energy-intensive industrial structure". The Harper government is also going to insist that any cap on industrial emissions will not be applied uniformly across the country, but will allow the Alberta oil sands to continue expanding. To quote the Environment Minister; "The Canadian approach has to reflect the diversity of the country and the sheer size of the country, and the very different economic characteristics and industrial structure across the country." The Harper government has also demanded that emerging economies (like China and India) agree to binding caps on carbon emissions, and has refused to release its own plan for carbon reduction until there is clarity on what the Americans are planning to do.
The New Democratic Party has a bill currently in committee that would commit Canada to an emission reduction of 25% from 1990 levels by 2020--a target that would meet our commitment under Kyoto and would be consistent with the EU's approach in the next round of negotiations. Ottawa has proposed a reduction of 20% from 2006 levels of emissions by 2020--our obligation under Kyoto was a cut of 6% from 1990 levels by 2012. The plan proposed by the Harper government would result in a 3% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020. Chief climate negotiator Michael Martin said to the committee considering the NDP bill that the Harper government's targets are "comparable" because they will be just as costly to achieve as the more aggressive NDP targets.
What becomes clear, as we follow the progress towards significant carbon emission reductions, is that the Harper government has no intention of ever reducing carbon emissions. Harper simply does not consider carbon emissions to be a problem (how can I say that? By simply looking at his record).
And our Prime Minister is dragging a lot of sceptics along with him. World-wide, temperatures maxed out in 1998, leading deniers to claim that temperatures have levelled off or are even declining. But new research to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, was carried out by Judith Lean, of the US Naval Research Laboratory, and David Rind, of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The research, "is the first to assess the combined impact on global temperature of four factors: human influences such as CO2 and aerosol emissions; heating from the sun; volcanic activity and the El Niño southern oscillation, the phenomenon by which the Pacific Ocean flips between warmer and cooler states every few years.

The analysis shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lean and Rind's research also sheds light on the extreme average temperature in 1998. The paper confirms that the temperature spike that year was caused primarily by a very strong El Niño episode. A future episode could be expected to create a spike of equivalent magnitude on top of an even higher baseline, thus shattering the 1998 record.

The study comes within days of announcements from climatologists that the world is entering a new El Niño warm spell. This suggests that temperature rises in the next year could be even more marked than Lean and Rind's paper suggests." (The Guardian Online).

The British Meteorological Office released a new map of the world (below) showing the current thinking on what the world will look like with a 4°C rise in the average global temperature. The 4°C rise mostly happens at the equator--the further you move away from the equator, the greater the changes. Here on Vancouver Island, we may only see an average 5°C rise, but up in Hudson's Bay, its looking more like 16°C. What this doesn't indicate is just how this will affect global weather patterns. If it was just going to get warmer, that wouldn't be the end of the world.But all that extra energy is going to change things in ways we can't imagine yet, much less model.

The Met Office says that climate researchers have discovered that:

  • levels of CO2 have risen 40% since the Industrial Revolution
  • Global sea levels have risen 10cm in the last 50 years [and that's a hell of a lot of water]
  • temperatures in the Arctic have risen at twice the global average [which suits our Prime Minister just fine]
  • snow cover in the northern hemisphere has dropped 5% in the last 2 decades
And researchers figure that extreme temperatures will affect eastern North America, with Toronto and Ottawa seeing the temperatures of their hottest days jumping by up to 10°C to 12°C. Anyone having suffered through a GTA summer will be white with fear about now....

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