Reports documenting the state of global climate change released in advance of the Climate Ambition Summit

The online Climate Ambition Summit on December 12 marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, to be co-hosted by the U.N. and the United Kingdom and France, in partnership with Chile and Italy. It calls itself “a monumental step on the road to the UK-hosted COP26 next November in Glasgow….. countries will set out new and ambitious commitments under the three pillars of the Paris Agreement: mitigation, adaptation and finance commitments. There will be no space for general statements.”

In the weeks before the meeting, intergovernmental agencies have released a number of reports documenting the urgency of the issue:

State of the Global Climate 2020 from the World Meteorological Organization  – a detailed discussion of global climate change impacts related to temperature, ocean temperature, precipitation, storms, GHG emissions and Covid-19.  The highlight:  “The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level. There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5 °C by 2024”.

The Production Gap Report measures the gap between the aspirations of the Paris Agreement and countries’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas. This year’s report concluded that countries plan to increase their fossil fuel production over the next decade – and singled out Canada, Australia and the U.S. in this regard. The takeaway message: “the world needs to decrease production by 6% per year to limit global warming to 1.5°C”.  The report also outlines six areas of policy action needed in COVID-19 recovery plans, including reduced government support for fossil fuels, restrictions on fossil fuel production, and commitment to direct stimulus funds to green investments. The Production Gap Report is produced jointly by the Stockholm Environment Institute , International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Overseas Development Institute, and E3G, as well as the United Nations Environment Programme.

The Emissions Gap Report  published on December 9 by the United Nations Environment Programme documents  global greenhouse gas emissions: GHG’s have grown 1.4 per cent per year since 2010 on average, with a more rapid increase of 2.6 per cent in 2019 due to a large increase in forest fires. Even with a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century. Hope lies in a low-carbon pandemic recovery which could cut 25 per cent off the greenhouse emissions expected in 2030. The report analyses low-carbon recovery measures so far, summarizes the scale of new net-zero emissions pledges by nations and looks at the potential of the lifestyle, aviation and shipping sectors to bridge the gap.   It concludes with a chapter titled The Six Sector Solution to Climate Change, which argues that reducing emissions in the sectors of  Energy, Industry, Agriculture and Food, Forest and Land Use, Transportation, and Buildings and Cities has the potential to limit emissions enough to hold the world temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.

The 2020 Arctic Report Card was published on December 8 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), written by 133 scientists from 15 countries. It finds that the Arctic as a whole is warming at nearly three times the rate of the rest of the world, owing to feedback loops between snow, ice and land cover.  The report summarizes trends that are growing more extreme and have far-reaching implications for people living far outside the region.   A Canadian view of this report appears in “Scientists Plead for Action as Soaring Temperatures Show Arctic in Crisis” in The Energy Mix   (Dec. 11).

Ocean Solutions that Benefit People, Nature and the Economy  is  a report released by the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy in December as part of the launch of a new campaign, Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.   Canada is among the 14 nations who are members of the Panel; the Secretariat is at the World Resources Institute.  The report “ builds on the latest scientific research, analyses and debates from around the world—including the insights from 16 Blue Papers and 3 special reports commissioned by the Ocean Panel: ‘The Ocean as a Solution to Climate Change: Five Opportunities for Action’, ‘A Sustainable and Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis’ and ‘A Sustainable Ocean Economy for 2050: Approximating Its Benefits and Costs’. “  A compilation of the many reports of the Panel is here .

Costs of climate change in Canada go beyond wildfires and floods: a call for urgent action to build resiliency

 The Tip of the Iceberg: Navigating the Known and Unknown Costs of Climate Change in Canada was released on December 3 by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, providing eye-popping evidence of the damage of climate change. Using data from the Canadian Disaster Database (CDD) and the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) – (provided graphically here ) –  the report states that insured losses for catastrophic weather events in Canada totalled over $18 billlion between 2010 and 2019, with the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 the largest single weather-related insurance loss event in Canadian history, with nearly $4 billion in insured losses and broader costs of almost $11 billion when property, infrastructure, business interruption, and other indirect economic losses are included.  The report also notes the growing trends: the number of catastrophic events has more than tripled since the 1980s, and the average cost per weather-related disaster has soared by 1,250 per cent since the 1970s.

The main message of this report is directed at policy-makers, and goes beyond costing out the catastrophic losses. It warns that other types of climate change damages are more gradual and less dramatic in extreme events, and that Canada lags the U.S. and other OECD countries in assessing the overall and complex impacts of climate change. The report hearkens back to 2011 as the  last examination of the broad range of national costs to Canada, in Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada, a report by the now-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, archived in the ACW Digital Library .

The main message of the report appears in this 6-page Executive summary , in the three over-aching recommendations, and in these selected quotes:

 “The imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions tends to dominate the debate over Canada’s progress in addressing climate change. Yet, as a climate solution, adaptation—ensuring human and natural systems can adjust to the spectrum of effects of climate change— will have a critical impact on the well-being and prosperity of all who live in Canada in the decades ahead. Current adaptation policies and investments in Canada fall far short of what is needed to address the known risks of climate change, let alone those that are still unclear and unknown. This has to change…..

……It’s essential to transition from a state of ad hoc responses to a changing climate and weather-related disasters to one of building resilience. This includes continual learning about what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan for uncertainty. Instead of waiting for more information, the uncertainty inherent in climate change requires acting decisively on what we already know while also developing improved foresight.”

 

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices intends to follow up from The Tip of the Iceberg with other reports over the next two years, focused on health, infrastructure, macroeconomics and the North.

 

A study of Canadian manufacturing plants demonstrates the economic damage of extreme hot or cold weather

Researchers at the Sustainable Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa released a Working Paper on November 24,  forecasting how manufacturing productivity will be affected by weather extremes. Based on longitudinal data from 53,000 manufacturing plants across Canada, the authors find that the productivity of the plants is reduced in extreme weather – both hot or cold. They highlight the importance of labour input as a main contributor to the productivity loss.

The authors’ summary appears in a blog, Estimating the impact of climate change on the Canadian economy,  which explains that the typical manufacturing plant in Canada currently experiences 4 extreme cold days and 14 extreme hot days per year, but under a scenario of high GHG emissions by the end of the century, that typical plant would experience one extreme cold day, but over 80 extreme hot days each year. They state: “Using medium and high greenhouse gas scenarios for 2050s and 2080s, we find that the annual losses of manufacturing output due to extreme temperature would go from 2.2% today to 2.8-3.5% in mid-century and to 3.5-7.2% in end of century.”  The authors claim to be the first to estimate the effect of extreme temperatures on establishment performance in Canada, and the first to estimate the potential economic impact of climate change in a cold environment. The full results and discussion appear in a 50-page Working Paper, “Manufacturing Output and Extreme Temperature: Evidence from Canada” by economists  Philippe Kabore and Nicholas Rivers.

NRDC report details climate change threats to workers’ health and champions workers’ action

On the Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America’s Workers  was released on July 28  by the Natural Resources Defense Council, with input from the BlueGreen Alliance, American Federation of Teachers, Communications Workers of America, and Service Employees International Union in the U.S. (press release here and a blog summary here). The authors analyse the extensive existing literature and include first-hand stories from outdoor and indoor workers to describe the physical, mental health, and wage-related impacts of heat stress, wildfires, drought, floods, hurricanes, and the spread of infectious diseases. Over 200 reports and articles are cited. The report calls for amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the U.S.- including a federal heat standard – with sufficient budgeting and staff for effective enforcement, with a broader overall call: “Adapting to our new climate means overhauling existing safeguards to respond to an intensified set of occupational hazards; extending occupational health and safety protections to all workers; and ensuring workers have the training, job security, flexibility, and empowerment they need to collectively demand protection from climate change. Because climate disruption is sure to create cascading failures through multiple sectors and to bring some nasty surprises, occupational health and safety activists and professionals must also build a better way to track, analyze, and quickly act on existing and emerging health threats to workers.”

Every worker health and safety accomplishment came about by agitating and organizing

Although the report also calls on legislators, regulators and employers to act, the emphasis is on the role of collective action by workers, noting that “Every worker health and safety accomplishment came about by agitating and organizing.” The report also stresses the need to protect workers’ right to organize: “Legislators at all levels of government must honor the right of workers to a safe and healthy workplace by strengthening and enforcing legal protections for unionization and collective bargaining. To stay safe on the job, workers and their representatives must have adequate knowledge, training, and freedom from retaliation to help shape and improve occupational health programs, refuse hazardous work, report workplace injuries and illnesses, and file complaints with state or federal inspectors.”

The Summer of 2019: Flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves

The world has awoken to the real-life manifestations of climate change in 2019, and we have been bombarded with media images of extreme weather disasters.  July 2019 was approximately 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial era, according to a summary of international heat waves by the World Metorological Organization (WMO) on August 1.  The WMO also published “Unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic” (July 29) and “Widespread fires harm global climate, environment” on August 29, including information about the Amazon wildfires.   “Global heating made Hurricane Dorian bigger, wetter – and more deadly”  by scientists Michael Mann and Andrew Dessler appeared in The Guardian on September 4  and “Is climate change making hurricanes stall?” at the PBS website  both offer clear summaries of  the climate change connection to the most recent extreme weather disaster the world has seen.

In Canada, flooding was the predominant weather disaster: In a July 2019 press release, the Insurance Bureau of Canada  described the flooding events of April and May and estimated that spring flooding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick caused close to $208 million in insured damage . In the same press release, the IBC advocates that all political parties in the upcoming federal election commit to a National Action Plan on Flooding.  ( The IBC  published Options for Managing the Flood Costs of Canada’s Highest-risk Residential Properties in June,  the result of national consultations with the  Working Group on the Financial Management of Flood Risk, co-chaired by Public Safety Canada and the IBC.  The report is summarized in the IBC press release  and in the National Observer  “Who should bear the financial risk of flooding? Report lays out three options” in the National Observer June 19 .  )

BCclimate-risk-assessmentIn what it calls the first report of its kind in Canada to examine climate risks at the provincial level, the British Columbia government published a Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia in July 2019. The report evaluates the likelihood of  15 climate risk events and considers their health, social, economic and environmental consequences, concluding that the greatest risks to B.C. are severe wildfire season, seasonal water shortage, heat wave, ocean acidification, glacier loss, and long-term water shortage.  A compilation of  forty-six articles concerning Wildfires is available from the National Observer, and includes “‘Climate change in action:’ Scientist says fires in Alberta linked to climate change” (June 10).

In late June, Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health was released, written  by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes. The report describes how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, especially children, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes. The report combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, emphasizing the risks of more intense precipitation, flooding and heat waves.

Extreme Heat in Canada and Beyond: 

heatreportcoverThe Prairie Climate Centre at the University  of Winnipeg released Heat Waves and Health  in August – a brief and practical guide to the health impacts of heat waves, drought and wildfires in Canada. The report predicts future heat waves in Canada, based on data newly updated the Climate Atlas of Canada   .  Previous projections were published as Chapter 4 in the federal government’s 2019 report Canada’s Changing Climate Report :  “Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” .

Heat is a much more widespread danger in the United States, with Phoenix Arizona experiencing 128 days at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 2018 –  one of the hottest and fastest-warming cities in the country, according to an article in the New York Times,  “As Phoenix heats up, the night comes alive” . The Times article describes how citizens and workers must re-schedule their lives and their job duties to avoid the killing heat of the day.  Phoenix is also the main focus of a lengthly  article,  “Can we survive extreme heat” in the Rolling Stone (Aug. 27) .

killer-heat-report-cover-thumbnailKiller Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days   was released in July by the  Union of Concerned Scientists, directed to a non-technical audience, and includes interactive maps and downloadable date here . The report offers national and regional projections and in Chapter 5, addresses the particular implications for outdoor workers, as well as city and rural dwellers, and those in low-income neighbourhoods. A more technical version of the research appeared as “Increased frequency of and population exposure to extreme heat index days in the United States during the 21st century” in the Open Access journal Environmental Research Communications .

The accuracy and sensitivity of occupational exposure limits to heat is examined in “Actual and simulated weather data to evaluate wet bulb globe temperature and heat index as alerts for occupational heat related illness”. This important article, published in the  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in January 2019, analysed the cases of  234 outdoor work-related heat-related illnesses reported to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2016 and concluded that wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) should be used for workplace heat hazard assessment. When WBGT is unavailable, a Heat Index alert threshold of approximately 80 °F (26.7 °C) could identify potentially hazardous workplace environmental heat.

Finally, “Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5)  summarizes a more technical article which appeared in the journal Sciences Advances on June 5 .  “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities”  reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement  could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.