British Columbia

Climate change in B.C.: Here's how 2050 could look

More rain, longer heat waves and rising tides likely even if emissions are cut in half

BC Wildfires 20150816

The risk of wildfires in the Okanagan will increase if average annual temperatures rise 2.5 C by 2050. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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Climate change has been blamed for raging forest fires, devastating floods and shrinking glaciers, but scientists have determined the effects will look different in various regions of B.C. 

Their severity depends on how successful humans are in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Under a middle-of-the-road scenario that assumes that in the future greenhouse gas emissions are halved, the average annual temperature in B.C. would increase by 2.5 C by 2050, according to the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium.

This is more than the 2 C of warming climate scientists say represents a crucial tipping point — a scenario that forms the basis of the Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global warming to less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels and closer to 1.5 C of warming.

In the Interior and the North, there would be even more variability, according to Trevor Murdock of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, which is run out of the University of Victoria.

Here is a summary of what this could mean for B.C. and Metro Vancouver.

Warmer
Warmer

2.5 C

Average annual temperature increase in B.C. by 2050

Rising Tides
Rising Tides

30 cm

Projected sea-level rise in the Lower Mainland by 2050

Melting
Melting

25%

A quarter of B.C.'s glaciers will have melted by 2050

Cost
Cost

$32.7 billion

The projected cost of damage from flooding in the Lower Mainland

Wetter
Wetter

10%

The wettest day of the year in 2050 will be 10 per cent wetter than the wettest day of the year now

Hotter
Hotter

2X

By 2050, the number of days above 25C will roughly double in the Lower Mainland going from 18 a year, to more than 30.

Local experts in the field say it would look something like this:

  • Rising sea levels could erode sandy beaches, such as Jericho or Cates Park, especially during storms, said John Clague, an earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University. Built structures, such as the Stanley Park seawall, would also take a beating during storms. Low-lying areas, such as Richmond and Delta, home to such critical infrastructure as the airport, the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and Deltaport, will be particularly vulnerable to flooding. It is therefore essential that the diking system is built to withstand such increases, Clague said.
  • Glacier loss of anywhere from 20 to 25 per cent would mean less cold water making its way into river systems, placing significant stress on species of fish, such as bull trout and salmon, that are sensitive to changes in temperature and aquatic ecosystems in general, said Brian Menounos, a professor of Earth Sciences and Geography at the University of Northern B.C.
  • The Fraser Basin Council predicts that by the year 2100 a Fraser River flood would cost $32.7 billion to the economy, including an estimated $7.7 billion in interrupted cargo shipments, $7.6 billion in commercial damages and $6.6 billion in residential damages.The risk of flooding increases over the next 85 years.
  • Metro Vancouver's wettest days are going to become about 10 per cent wetter, Murdock said, This raises the risk of mudslides and flash flooding.
  • The number of days above 25 C in Metro Vancouver would roughly double, from 18 now to more than 30 per year in 2050. The City of Vancouver is likely to have about 30 days above 25 C. More inland parts of the region would likely see more, Murdock said. While more hot days might seem a welcome change for some, this also means more heat waves, which can be hard on the elderly and a greater strain on cooling and air-conditioning infrastructure.

How just 2.5 degrees warming will change B.C. 3:28

Other impacts could include a growing season in the Lower Mainland expanded by more than two months and a 30-per-cent drop in frost days in the Okanagan, meaning the winters won't be cold enough to keep pests away. 

In the Interior, the fire season could increase anywhere from 30 to 50 days.

With files from Johanna Wagstaffe and Polly Leger.

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