Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2015 (573 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The lead-up to the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) has seen an unprecedented level of media attention. The Canadian story that recently made national and international headlines was the Alberta government's decision to impose an economy-wide carbon tax and a hard cap on oilsands emissions -- policy measures widely regarded as non-starters even a few months ago.
Why the new-found fervour for progressive climate policy? In short, the scientific case that humans are responsible for climate change is now unassailable. As well, evidence continues to mount that extreme climate events now occur more frequently.
Last week, Prince Charles suggested climate change is an underlying cause of the Syrian refugee crisis because of the region's five-year drought that had already displaced millions of people prior to the civil war. In May, U.S. President Barack Obama made a similar connection between climate change and the Syrian civil war, noting the Pentagon now regards climate change as a "threat multiplier" -- an amplifier of underlying instability.
Obama has, in recent weeks, urged fellow leaders to maintain their resolve for accepting Syrian refugees and to forge a new international agreement to curb carbon emissions despite the recent attacks in Paris that might otherwise distract policy makers -- especially the COP21 host French.
As climate change realities penetrate our collective psyche, where does this leave Manitoba?
The provincial government has moved in lockstep with international consensus with a major commitment to accept Syrian refugees and will unveil a new plan to further curb carbon emissions.
The scope for reducing carbon emissions in Manitoba is limited, however, primarily because its electricity generation already comes from renewable hydropower. Further reductions will need to come from the building, transportation and agricultural sectors.
Manitoba could sustain an important and crucial leadership position on adaptation -- managing climate change risks.
Adaptation has always been a hard file as many climate policy wonks regard it as a distraction to the main work of curbing carbon emissions. Further, we do not know what the future climate will be, so to what we are adapting has long been a legitimate question.
However, the times they are a changin'.
Adaptation is now a fully mainline issue. One of the keys to an emissions deal in Paris will be ensuring adequate adaptation finance for developing countries.
Canada as a whole is warming at about 2 C per century, approximately twice the rate of the entire globe, and parts of Manitoba are warming at rates much higher than that. A host of related impacts ensue: decreased heating requirements and increased cooling needs for buildings, changes in the amount and seasonal distribution of precipitation, and changes in agricultural conditions, to name a few.
So what is the homeowner, the facilities manager, the agricultural producer, the municipal infrastructure manager and, importantly, the insurer to do?
For starters, gain access to the best available science on projected climate impacts and adaptation options -- an information resource that will soon be available in Manitoba through the Prairie Climate Centre, a collaboration between the University of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
A key feature of the centre is the Prairie climate atlas, an online digital map repository that characterizes climate variability and change through state of the art processing and visualization of climate model results. For the skeptics, it is worth stating climate models have always been good; now, they're very good.
The current crop of models operate with higher geographic resolution and more detailed representations of how land and water systems interact. Since they do an excellent job of reproducing current climate patterns, confidence in their projections for the future climate is high. The biggest uncertainty in this whole enterprise is about how much carbon we collectively put into the atmosphere.
The atlas considers two futures: a business-as-usual scenario in which emissions continue to grow dramatically throughout the 21st century, and a lower scenario with emissions peaking in 2040 and dropping thereafter. The lower-emissions scenario limits global warming to 2 C and is the focus of the Paris conference.
The atlas illustrates the story for Manitoba.
Under the business-as-usual assumption, Winnipeg's summer climate in the 2050s is similar to the current climate of Nebraska. By the 2080s, within the lifetime of today's children, Winnipeg's summer climate resembles that of current semi-arid north Texas.
One may well wonder what happens to north Texas and if north Texans are among tomorrow's climate refugees.
The crucial contribution of the atlas may, however, be how it depicts climate change impacts under the low-emissions scenario -- the much-hoped-for Paris outcome. If the Paris meeting is a success, the impacts in Manitoba will still be significant, but generally much more manageable if pro-active adaptation begins now.
For that to happen, decision-makers from the kitchen table to the cabinet table need to understand the range of future impacts and practical risk management options -- big questions the Prairie Climate Centre can help answer.
Henry Venema is director of planning for the Prairie Climate Centre. Danny Blair is the principal of the Richardson College for the Environment at the University of Winnipeg and associate dean of science.