British Columbia

Environmentalists hope for action in wake of 'shocking and utterly unsurprising' climate-change report

A new report about climate change in Canada, leaked to the public on Monday, has alarming implications across the country — and British Columbia won’t escape unscathed.

Floods, severe wildfires, rising sea levels listed as potential consequences of Canada warming

The new report found that Canada is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. (NOAA/NASA/Reuters)

A new report about climate change in Canada, leaked to the public on Monday, has alarming implications across the country — and British Columbia won't escape unscathed.  

The report, commissioned by the Environment and Climate Change Department, found that Canada is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

With this comes concerns about increased risk of floods, more severe wildfires and rising sea levels.

"[The findings] are both shocking and utterly unsurprising," said renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben, who has authored numerous books about climate change.

"Canada being in the north has one of the best — or worst, depending on how you look at it — front row seats to global warming of any place in the world."

He pointed to the devastating wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016 as "what climate change looks like."

B.C. has experienced two record-breaking wildfire seasons in a row, as well as destructive flooding last year. Preparations are already underway in parts of the province to deal with fires and floods this year.

2018 was the worst year on record for wildfires in B.C. Environmentalist Bill McKibben says wildfires are one face of 'what climate change looks like.' (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Scale of change

The report says that since 1948, Canada's annual average temperature over land has warmed 1.7 C, with higher rates seen in the North, the Prairies and northern British Columbia.

"The world is now changing on an unbelievable scale," McKibben said.

"We have to get out of our comfort zone a little bit because the planet is miles outside its comfort zone."

For McKibben, there is one clear step in the right direction: a federal carbon tax and moving toward greener energy.

"You're not allowed to just go throw your trash in the street for obvious reasons — unless you're an oil company, and then you can use the atmosphere as an open sewer," he said.

"One hopes we'll see a saner policy emerge."

Bill McKibben, a world renowned environmentalist and educator, responds to the new climate change report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada. 8:10

Reducing the prosperity of Canadians?

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Jonathan Wilkinson says the report — released a day after the federal government imposed carbon taxes on Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan — is reverberating across the country.

"What this does is it reinforces that climate change is real, climate change is having impacts today," he said.

"It underlines the need for urgent climate action in Canada and in countries around the world."

Part of that action involves reducing domestic carbon emissions, phasing out coal, improving building standards, turning to electric vehicles and putting a price on pollution, he said, adding that combating climate change isn't as easy as simply introducing more taxes.

"If you don't reduce demand  … all that happens is the oil is replaced by oil from Saudi Arabia or Iran or Venezuela," Wilkinson said.

"At the end of the day, you would accomplish nothing except to essentially reduce the prosperity of Canadians."

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, responds to the new climate change report by the Environment and Climate Change Department. 8:10

For Joe Shea, an assistant professor of environmental geomatics at the University of Northern British Columbia, the findings of the report go far beyond political rhetoric about carbon taxes and greenhouse gas emissions.

"Whether or not the timing [of the report] has anything to do with a carbon tax, I don't know," he said.

"But the attention that this report has gotten is not a bad thing."

He said he hopes the findings will drive home the reality of climate change to Canadians.

"We're used to thinking on human timescales," he said.

"People won't really believe [the warnings about consequences] until they're on their back doorstep."

Floods, fires, rising sea levels - those are some of the ways climate change is hitting northern B.C. And a massive new report shows Canada is warming at twice the rate global averages, and northern B.C. warming even faster than that. Joe Shea of UNBC breaks down some of the information. 8:24

With files from The Early Edition and Daybreak North

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