The world’s climate is changing and Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Just a few hundred kilometers north the situation becomes increasingly dire as Northern Canada is heating up almost three times as rapidly as the global average, according to a new study commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), which states that the damage will be “effectively irreversible.”
The Canada’s Changing Climate Report states that since 1948 annual average temperatures in Canada have increased by 1.7°C and 2.3°C in Northern Canada, whereas the average global temperature on Earth has increased by approximately 0.8°C since 1880 according to NASA. Findings suggest that the environmental crisis is just beginning, as widespread warming is projected to intensify.
As shown in the figure below, the North, the Prairies, and northern British Columbia have warmed significantly faster. This unusually rapid warming in the North is referred to as Arctic amplification, which means that temperatures in the Arctic have warmed twice as fast as regions in the mid-latitudes, and is in part caused by sea ice melt and global atmospheric mechanisms that transport heat from the equator to the Arctic.
From Chapter 4 Figure 4.8. Credit: Environment and Climate Change Canada
Climate models indicate that a national increase in annual average temperature from 2081 to 2100 range from 1.8°C for a low emission scenario (RCP2.6) to 6.3°C for a high emission scenario (RCP 8.5), or in other words, if we continue on business-as-usual. In the high emission scenario, the sea ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere will see a 50 per cent chance of ice-free conditions in September by 2050 and a global rise in mean sea level could range between 28 to 98 cm.
A warming of just a fraction of a degree can have catastrophic impacts on certain ecosystems, and the unprecedented rate of warming in Canada could collapse major agricultural industries, flood coastlines, and significantly increase the frequency of damaging extreme weather events.
Notable highlights from the report include:
Canada’s annual precipitation has increased in all regions since 1948, with the largest increases occurring in northern Canada, parts of Manitoba, Ontario, northern Quebec, and Atlantic Canada
Annual and winter precipitation is projected to increase in all regions
Summer precipitation is projected to decrease in southern regions of Canada by 2100
Extreme hot temperatures and heat waves will become more frequent and more intense and will contribute to increased drought and wildlife risks
More intense rainfalls will increase urban flood risks
The annual highest daily temperature that currently occurs once every 20 years, on average, will become a once in every 2 years event by 2050 under a high emission scenario, which is a ten-fold increase
Glaciers across the mountains of western Canada will lose between 74 to 96 per cent of their volume by late century, and most small ice caps and ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic will disappear by the end of the century
Oceans surrounding Canada will be warmer, more acidic, and contain less oxygen which will have negative consequences for fisheries and wildlife
The cause of the changing climate is clear — widespread use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution has added trillions of metric tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere, and this heat-trapping greenhouse gas has caused the planet’s average temperature to skyrocket.
While long term changes in the Earth's climate are natural and have and will occur without human activity, the overwhelming majority of scientific research confirms the significant relationship between human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and warming temperatures.
This graph shows that carbon dioxide emissions from anthropogenic activities have raised atmospheric CO2 concentrations by unprecedented levels. Credit: NASA
The extreme changes in our climate have many scientists defining this period of time a new geologic era, the “Anthropocene,” because the damage to the climate could cause irreversible damage to the planet if global policies do not establish limits to carbon dioxide emissions.
The report concludes that the limits to precisely predicting the magnitude of future climate change is rooted in the uncertainty of future human behaviors. It is up to us to decide which emissions pathway we will follow, and further scientific research and policy developments are needed to increase the control we have on future climate change.
Check back next week as we prepare a three-part series that will break down how each region of Canada is impacted by the findings of this report.