British Columbia·Analysis

Here's what's on the radar for climate change in 2019

2019 will likely be another year for record-breaking extreme weather events around the world. But climate policy and new developments in green energy technology are offering some hope.

Could this year be a tipping point — for better or for worse?

The past year has seen heat waves, record-breaking wildfires, drought and destructive storms. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

2018 has been full of ominous climate news.

Record extreme weather across the country connected to our warming climate. An October report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change PCC said we have just 12 years to cut carbon emissions in half to avoid catastrophic climate change. A December study found carbon emissions surging in the wrong direction. New research shows the planet is in the midst of an extinction crisis

But we've also talked more about climate change than we ever have before. The science of human-caused climate change is unequivocal. We know what the science tells us will happen to our planet if we don't make drastic changes fast enough.

With the livelihoods of so many Canadians forever changed by decisions to adapt to a warming world, the debate about how fast we make those changes will most certainly rage on in 2019. 

Here are some factors that will shape climate change coverage over the next 12 months and beyond.

El Niño​ and extreme weather

2019 may be one of the warmest years on record as a building El Niño event piles on top of human-caused global warming.

Typically, the routine climate pattern occurs when sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean rise to above-normal levels for several months, causing warmer than normal global temperatures on average.

In fact, the strong El Niño of late 2015 to early 2016 helped boost global temperatures to their all-time warmest on record in 2016.

And that's not all. An El Niño​ event not only raises temperatures; it redistributes weather patterns around the world. Typically, extreme weather is more common during one of these events — ramping up everything from droughts to floods and typhoons. 

According to the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S., there is a 90 per cent chance that El Niño will form and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2018-19, and a 60 per cent chance that it will continue into the spring of 2019.

For the second summer in a row, wildfires led to a provincial state of emergency in B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Climate policy

Although climate policy in Canada differs across the country, 2019 is the year that plans will start becoming reality. 

And for those provinces and territories with no adequate emissions pricing plans of their own, the federal Liberal government will slap a carbon tax on fuels, with plans to send annual rebates to Canadian families to offset most of the added costs of this initiative.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes the added cost on fuels will tamp down carbon-intensive consumption, reduce emissions and help curb pollution.

"Starting next year, it will no longer be free to pollute anywhere in Canada. And we're also going to help Canadians adjust to this new reality ... Every nickel will be invested in Canadians in the province or territory where it was raised."

A big event to watch for is the next UN climate talks that will be hosted by Chile, in cooperation with Costa Rica. Before that, all eyes will be on the UN Secretary General's summit in September, when countries will be expected to lay out their plans to increase national commitments in 2020.

The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than anywhere else on the planet. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)


2019 is looking like an exciting year for clean technology. Around the world, countries, cities and companies are embracing the shift toward sustainable energy — and figuring out how to turn a profit while doing it. 

Look for announcements over the next year in the sectors of energy storage and microgrid systems that use artificial intelligence and blockchain. Conventional power stations are centralized and often require electric energy to be transmitted over long distances, to serve a large number of customers at once. Microgrid systems, on the other hand, are located much closer to the area they service, and can operate autonomously from the main power source.

Using smart technology, local demands can be customized, and grid disturbances like power outages can also be minimized. They can make a power grid greener, more cost efficient and more reliable.

Meanwhile, 158 companies around the world have recognized their contributions to climate change and committed to transitioning to 100 per cent renewable power sources. 

A rendering of Squamish-based Carbon Engineering’s 'air contactor design.' The company uses carbon capture technology that captures CO₂ directly from the atmosphere, and synthesizes it into clean transportation fuels. (Carbon Engineering)


Johanna Wagstaffe

Senior Meteorologist

Johanna Wagstaffe is a senior meteorologist for CBC, covering weather and science stories, with a background in seismology and earth science. Her weekly segment, Science Smart, answers viewers' science-related questions.