In cities and on the land, Manitoba holds possible answers to climate crisis
Province is well positioned to show world how to fight climate change, say researchers and policy makers
With fields parched and cracked and rivers running dry, the recent drought has made some of the worst effects of a more extreme future climate abundantly clear in Manitoba.
But while the drought here provides a picture of how climate change will alter our lives, Manitoba also has the potential to show the world possible solutions to the global climate crisis, researchers and policy makers say.
"I think that Manitoba is incredibly well placed to become a national and international climate leader," said Ian Mauro, executive director of the Prairie Climate Centre, an organization that works to educate Canadians about the science, effects and risks of climate change.
The latest report from the UN's International Panel on Climate Change contained stark warnings about the need for rapid change to ward off the worst impacts of global warming. Global temperatures have risen to 1.2 C above pre-industrial levels and without drastic action, could reach 1.5 C in the next two decades, the report released earlier this week says.
That means, among other things, more long stretches of extremely hot days like what Manitoba has experienced this summer.
Despite that dire prediction, the UN panel's report shows "we still have it in our grasp to attain the safe upper limit of 1.5 or 2 C of mean annual warming since industrialization," Mauro said.
"But it's quickly going to escape us unless we make that commitment."
That commitment means getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, he said.
One way Mauro says the province could do this is by making maximum use of the Manitoba's abundant hydroelectric power, in a way that works to benefit Indigenous people whose traditional lands have been impacted by large hydro projects.
"When you think about the way in which our province is electrified with hydro, we have a huge opportunity to really change the inner workings of society in a very real way," Mauro said.
Manitoba is also a centre for manufacturing electric buses and could be a "powerhouse" in the development of next-generation electric transportation and sustainable farming technologies, he said.
Climate response must be standard policy: Selkirk CAO
To help visualize what future climate scenarios could look like, the Prairie Climate Centre created the Climate Atlas, a map based on data from 12 global climate models showing warming trends across regions and time periods.
That tool was used by the City of Selkirk to develop its climate change adaptation strategy.
Chief administrative officer Duane Nicol has been at the forefront of the city's push to consider the impact of its operations while preparing for a future in a more extreme climate.
"I think the recent IPCC report just sort of speaks to the fact that we are way down the runway," Nicol said, and there is no time to leave it up to individuals to make the changes necessary to curb emissions.
Avoiding catastrophic climate change requires governments at all levels to step in, he said.
Nicol's climate adaptation program touches on virtually all aspects of the city's operations — from a mandate that no new city buildings will be heated with fossil fuels to planting trees along sidewalks for shade and cooling in future heat waves.
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Ultimately, Nicol's goal is to make climate considerations standard policy that will continue regardless of who holds office.
"I think my job here at the city is to make climate change boring, make it routine — because routine gets done."
He also says the province needs to take steps to encourage others to think green.
A current regulatory system that makes it "more financially viable to burn fossil fuels than to use electricity for heat is just mind-boggling," he said.
"We need to reprice those things to make electricity … as cheap as we can and make fossil fuels expensive, so there's a financial incentive for businesses and individuals to fuel switch."
Solutions on the land
Outside cities, solutions to climate change can be found on the land itself.
Natural habitats like marshes, grasslands and forests help to sequester carbon in the atmosphere, while also mitigating against extreme events like floods and droughts.
Their preservation should be at the top of the list for policy makers looking to avert climate catastrophe, said Nicola Koper, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Manitoba's Natural Resources Institute.
"It's a win-win solution when we conserve habitat," she said.
Cattle replicate some of the natural disturbances in grasslands that bison herds did before they largely went extinct, helping the grasslands to regenerate.
Governments should support farmers and other property owners to incentivize them to preserve natural habitats on their land, Koper said.
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While the province of Manitoba has been criticized for its climate change response — including its opposition to the federal carbon tax — the head of the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation says the province has shown leadership among North American jurisdictions with its Conservation Trust.
"I think it's unprecedented, in terms of a government commitment of new money to help fight climate change on the landscape, and it's been done here in Manitoba," said Tim Sopuck, the organization's CEO.
The $200-million trust — one of the key components of the Manitoba government's climate change plan — generates an annual revenue stream of $10 million.
The Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation — a non-profit that works with landowners to maintain fish and wildlife habitats — distributes that money to conservation projects through its programs.
People in Manitoba's cities will need to work together with those living on the land in the province's rural and remote areas to preserve the habitat that serves as a bulwark against the worst effects of climate change, Sopuck said.
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