The toasty planet keeps getting hotter.
On Oct. 6, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report. It predicts the planet will be 1.5 C warmer than it was before the industrial revolution between 2030 and 2052 if human-made greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the current rate.
Sea level rise, biodiversity loss and extreme weather are likely to increase as temperature climbs.
The report draws distinctions between 1.5 C and 2.0 C of warming: past 1.5 C of warming, impacts such as ecosystem loss and Arctic sea ice loss are more likely to pass irreversible tipping points.
If emissions aren’t significantly reduced, the world could be on track to surpass 1.5 C and head straight for 2.0 C.
Jason Hollett, the Executive Director of Climate Change Nova Scotia, explained that even “if all human sources of greenhouse gas emissions stopped today, there’s already change baked into our system.” Impacts are going to be felt regardless, and “that’s what the IPCC report talked about, that 1.5 C is most likely the minimum of where we’re going to hit.”
Changing for climate
Unavoidable warming has led the Nova Scotian government to establish adaption strategies for living in a warmer world.
One strategy involves collaboration with the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture. Hollett said food security in a warmer world will be a major concern and ensuring farming operations are resilient is crucial to provide enough food for a still growing population.
“This year we’re going to have more growing days in the province which represents an opportunity for the agricultural sector,” said Hollett. “However, we are seeing changes in the precipitation patterns, and that can impact access to water resources, which are also important to the agriculture sector.”
Nova Scotia isn’t an innocent victim to climate change. According to Hollett, the electricity sector accounts for 44-45 per cent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. Coal burning still supplies 50-60 per cent of that energy.
To reduce emissions, Nova Scotia set a goal to bring in 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from electricity must be reduced by 65 per cent. According to Nova Scotia’s Electricity Plan (2015), “more than 25 per cent comes from clean renewables, and that will rise to more than 40 per cent around 2018.”
Hollett said the province is working with Newfoundland and Labrador to import electricity from Muskrat Falls, a hydroelectricity project. (This project is a controversial one, with Indigenous groups and their allies protesting since its inception).
Hollett also mentioned the government made a commitment under the Pan-Canadian Framework to create a cap and trade program to reduce CO2 emissions. Nova Scotia is on track to reach these goals, said Hollett, but there’s no set plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero.
In addition, the Department of Environment recently approved Lafarge Canada to burn 350,000 scrap tires for fuel at the company’s cement plant in Brookfield. As reported in Halifax’s alt-weekly, The Coast on Oct. 10: “Burning tires, even when carefully monitored, risks releasing toxic dioxins and dangerous heavy metals in the local environment.”
Making a plan
The IPCC report said it is crucial to reach world-wide net zero emissions by 2050 to prevent warming from exceeding 1.5 C. In the 2010 Dalhousie Climate Change Plan, the Dalhousie Office of Sustainability proposed a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Rochelle Owen is the Executive Director of the Dalhousie Office of Sustainability. She’s also the author of Dalhousie University’s climate change plan. The plan covers mitigation, adaption, and education surrounding climate change. Owen is updating the plan in 2019 to address how to reach carbon neutrality from a mitigation point of view.
A key strategy is employing more renewable energy, she said. Some buildings, including the Computer Science Building, are decked out in solar panels. But the energy generated only accounts for three per cent of the building electricity load. The main problem is lack of space.
“If you calculate out how much space we have and how much it costs [to input renewable energy sources], the target coverage is probably in the 10 per cent range,” said Owen. “To reach carbon neutrality you pretty much have to do offsite renewable power purchase projects.”
Owen also stated that the emissions targets set out by the plan are on track with the IPCC reduction targets.
Despite the changes Nova Scotia and Dalhousie are making to reduce emissions, climate change is going to affect daily life. The IPCC report made it clear it’s too late to completely avoid any impacts. Hollett believes the report should act as a wake-up call to buckle down and reach emission reduction goals.
“If we act now, and we act aggressively, we can avoid some of those terrible impacts that we may see in the future compared to if we don’t act,” said Hollett.
“I think [the report] is meant to be motivation to the world to say yes, things are bad, but we have opportunities to really mitigate these impacts, and we have an obligation to mitigate these impacts.”