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'Findings Should Inspire Naked Fear': Canada Warming at Twice the Global Rate

"We don't have any other choice but to take bold action on climate change, now."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Protesters hold up anti-pipeline signs as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a public town hall in Nanaimo, B.C., on  Feb. 2, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, according to a new government report that provoked impassioned calls to urgently address human activities that produce planet-heating emissions.

Canada's Changing Climate Report (CCCR) was commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), a federal government department. It was scheduled for release on Tuesday but leaked to CBC News columnist Neil Macdonald on Monday.

Macdonald called the report's findings "beyond grim," and said they "trigger thoughts of hoarding and maybe selling the house and moving to higher ground. To a millennial, the findings should inspire naked fear."

"We are living through a climate crisis," the environmental group 350 Canada tweeted in response to CBC's Monday coverage. "We don't have any other choice but to take bold action on climate change, now."

"Climate change is here," said Greenpeace Canada campaigner Mike Hudema. "Will we do what it takes to address it?"

A recent U.N. analysis warned of "climate catastrophe" without rapid systemic changes in sectors such as transportation and energy that generate greenhouse gases. In January, a study published in the journal Nature Communications found it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—the target of the Paris agreement—but doing so requires "ambitious and immediate emission reduction across all sectors."

"The science is clear, we need to take action now," ECCC Minister Catherine McKenna said in a statement as the Canadian government put out its new report. "Practical and affordable solutions to fight climate change will help Canadians face the serious risks to our health, security and economy, and will also create the jobs of tomorrow and secure a better future for our kids and grandkids."

McKenna was appointed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been widely criticized during his four years as head of government for his mixed messages and policies on climate—particularly his government's purchase of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline, a project McKenna has defended.

"The details trigger thoughts of hoarding and maybe selling the house and moving to higher ground. To a millennial, the findings should inspire naked fear."
—Neil Macdonald, CBC News

CCCR is the first major analysis released as part of a national assessment the government launched in 2017. Its goal was to examine "how has Canada's climate changed to date, why, and what changes are projected for the future."

"Since 1948, when nation-wide records became available, Canada's annual average temperature over land has warmed by a best estimate of 1.7°C, with higher temperature increases observed in the North, the Prairies, and northern British Columbia," according to the report.

In northern Canada, temperatures are rising at nearly three times the global rate. CCCR says that "annual average temperature over northern Canada increased by 2.3°C since 1948."

The report unequivocally acknowledges that warming is predominately driven by human activity, stating that "only when human influences on climate are accounted for—changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases and aerosols, and changes to the land surface—can these observed changes in climate be explained."

"The effects of widespread warming are evident in many parts of Canada," CCCR notes, "and are projected to intensify in the future."

Its key findings about the country's current conditions and what its future could look like include:

  • Oceans surrounding Canada have warmed, become more acidic, and less oxygenated, consistent with observed global ocean changes over the past century;
  • Precipitation is projected to increase for most of Canada, on average, although summer rainfall may decrease in some areas;
  • The seasonal availability of freshwater is changing with an increased risk of water supply shortages in summer;
  • A warmer climate will intensify some weather extremes in the future;
  • Canadian areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans have experienced longer and more widespread sea-ice-free conditions; and
  • Coastal flooding is expected to increase in many areas of Canada because of local sea level rise.

"The rate and magnitude of climate change under high versus low emission scenarios project two very different futures for Canada," warns CCCR. "Scenarios with limited warming will only occur if Canada and the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century and reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases substantially."

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