British Columbia

B.C.'s 'cascading' climate emergencies underscore new UN report's call for urgent emissions cuts

A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says rising temperatures will worsen wildfires, floods, extreme heat and extreme weather in Canada.

Rapid greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to stave off climate catastrophe: IPCC report

Thick smoke fills the air and nearly blocks out the sun as a property destroyed by the White Rock Lake wildfire is seen in Monte Lake, east of Kamloops, B.C., on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism.

This story is part of Our Changing Planet, a CBC News initiative to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

British Columbia doesn't figure prominently in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released Monday, but the signs of a perilous near-future listed in the pages read like a rundown of recent provincial emergencies.

Wildfires? Check. Heat waves? Check. Flooding and extreme weather? Check and check.

At over 3,600 pages, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability, examines the science on the state of climate change and takes a frightening look at the consequences of failing to make urgent and immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming.

One of the headline findings: "Climate change is ... driving widespread losses and damages to nature and people ... exposing human societies and the natural world to intolerable and irreversible risks ... killing people, damaging food production, destroying nature and reducing economic growth."

"It's the scariest report imaginable," said Brett Favaro, associate dean of the department of natural resources and the environment at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

"It shows that in innumerable ways, this crisis is already in the process of undermining our health, well-being and security. And it's only going to get worse unless we get fossil fuels out of our energy system."

A report synopsis notes that British Columbia spent half a billion dollars fighting wildfires last year, matching the amount spent in 2017. Additionally, November flooding was one of the world's 10 most costly climate events of 2021, affecting 18,000 B.C. residents with an estimated $7.5 billion in insured losses, while the June heat dome killed close to 600 people.

Another of the report's conclusions found that while "near-term" actions to limit global warming to around 1.5 C could substantially reduce projected impacts, current emission policies put the world on course for warming of 2.3 to 2.7 C.

Home surrounded by floodwaters in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Abbotsford, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Favaro said only those who haven't been paying attention will find the report surprising. He believes rather than making people feel upset or despondent, it should spark a commitment to rapid decarbonization in all sectors.

"What we must do is act, and that means pulling natural gas out of our homes, getting gas cars off the road and replacing private vehicles with public transportation, walking, bicycles and electric vehicles. It means reducing greenhouse gas emissions in every aspect of the economy," he said.

Eddie Lopez, international climate diplomacy manager with the Climate Action Network and IPCC observer said the cycle of climate-related disasters hitting B.C. is occurring in other parts of the world as well. 

"What British Columbia is actually going through is the cascading, multi-hazard impacts — from the fires in the summer to the floods in the winter — and in between communities are not able to recover. They're not able to come out of one crisis before being impacted by another," he said.

Lopez said governments need to work together, give up vested interests and implement meaningful, long term policies that put social and climate justice at the forefront. 

"We only plan for short term recovery of one particular extreme event but we don't do implementation in the long term to make sure these policies align with health policies or social security policies that work toward creating public safety nets that help communities not only recover from climate impacts but actually be resilient," he said.

Favaro echoes Lopez's criticism about governments settling for incremental policy changes to phase out fossil fuels rather than the needed paradigm shift. 

"If I go to a car dealership, I can walk out today with any number of trucks or cars, no problem. But if I want an electric vehicle it's going to take me a year to get it. Why is that normal?

"Why are you even allowed to build a building that depends on fossil fuels to heat it? If we were to take this as the emergency it is, that shouldn't even be on the table," he said.