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Climate change report a grim warning for Canada

International report says warming continues world will face changes that cannot be adapted to
Increased wildfires in Western Canada are among the manifestations of climate change. (Phil McLachlan Western News)

Global warming is hurting people in every part of the world and is already costing Canada billions, from wildfires in the West to reduced seafood harvests in the East, says a new report from the world’s top climate change research body.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a new summary report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. The result of two years of work from 330 scientists around the world and intended to guide political decision-makers, its conclusions are grim.

“Climate change, caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, is driving widespread losses and damages to nature and people, which are exposing human societies and the natural world to intolerable and irreversible risks, including killing people, damaging food production, destroying nature and reducing economic growth,” it says.

The report concludes current emissions policies put the globe on track for up to 2.7 degrees of warming. That’s beyond the Paris Agreement target of two degrees, the point at which Earth will be warmer than any time in history.

That warming must be halted, the report says.

“Adaptation also is not an alternative to emission cuts. If warming continues the world will increasingly face changes that cannot be adapted to.”

Canada is no exception.

“The costs of climate change impacts have been rising in Canada since 1983, from an average of about $0.4 billion to $1.9 billion annually,” says a briefing document prepared from the report.

“Wildfires are a top threat to Canada,” the briefing says, drawing from research conducted by agencies such as Natural Resources Canada.

It quotes a 2016 report that concludes annual fire suppression costs could reach $1 billion annually. The federal government has already reported that cost has been reached in six of the last 10 years.

By 2080, the report predicts cumulative forestry losses from fire, pests and other climate-change factors could add up to $459 billion.

Atlantic Canada will also suffer, experiencing above-average sea level rise. The report points out one Mi’kmaq community is already looking into relocation options.

Fisheries will also suffer.

Climate change has already nearly wiped out kelp beds off the Nova Scotia coast, an important habitat for fish. Ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide will harm squid, cod and halibut. If emissions remain high, snow crab landings could decline up to 16 per cent and shellfish and lobster by up to 54 per cent.

The Canadian heartland is at risk of drying out, says the report. While farmers could enjoy a longer growing season and warmer temperatures, those benefits are likely to be outweighed.

“By the 2050s parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Ontario, and the Northwest Territories will experience water scarcity in the growing season,” the briefing document says.

Climate change will also damage the North, says the report. Melting permafrost and ice thaw will damage infrastructure and transportation networks, as has already happened with the rail line to Churchill, Man.

Nor will Canada be immune to what’s happening in the rest of the world.

Extreme weather worsened by climate change will disrupt international supply chains, markets, finance, and trade, reducing the availability of goods in Canada and increasing their price and damaging markets for Canadian exports.

“While Canada will be impacted by the effects of climatic changes within its border, it will also be deeply affected by the consequences of changes that happen elsewhere,” the document says.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a statement the report emphasizes what is becoming increasingly clear.

“This IPCC report shows what people around the world already know — that all countries need to take bold climate mitigation and adaptation action, because the costs of doing too little will be far too high. Canada is ready to continue leading this work.”

— Bob Weber, the Canadian Press