The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently put out its Sixth Assessment Report which “addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change” says the IPCC website.
The Sixth Assessment Report outlines, amongst others, how climate change will affect different regions of the Earth.
Brian Horton M.Sc., manager, climate change research, YukonU Research Centre, said there are causes for concern within the report.
Horton said the purpose of reports like the Sixth Assessment is to show what the science is saying now.
“The purpose of these assessment reports is to really summarize the natural science understanding of the atmospheric science and summarize that scientific understanding,” said Horton.
Horton said the reports are using “stronger and stronger” language.
“(It says) we’ve tested every other possibility and it doesn’t come up with a better answer than our emissions are causing these changes.”
In the fact sheet for the Polar Regions, the report said annual mean surface air temperatures and precipitation will continue to increase under all assessed emissions scenarios. There is high confidence that mean precipitation and intensity will increase and there’s high confidence that glaciers have lost mass in all polar regions since 2000 and will continue to lose mass.
“There are statements that really show that the sorts of extreme conditions we’ve experienced this past summer in the Yukon are what we can expect more of in the future,” said Horton. “What we experienced this summer is consistent with what’s expected to become more common.”
Horton said it’s “unequivocal” that fossil fuels are contributing to climate change and that’s something being said by many groups in the Yukon.
Still, there is some room for optimism.
“If we act quickly, if we change our behaviours around the use of fossil fuels we do have time to avoid the worst,” said Horton. “There are some climate change impacts that are unavoidable now, but we have time as a society to change course.”
Horton said in general, Canadians have “high emissions intensity” compared to other countries and Yukoners have high fossil fuel emissions compared to other Canadians.
“With that said, government has put in place a number of measures the last couple of years,” said Horton. “They’ve announced Our Clean Future with plans for reducing emissions. That sort of enables Yukoners to help bring down the amount of fossil fuels they’re burning per person.”
The Yukon, with its small population, contributes very little to fossil fuel emissions globally despite the per person use.
“It will take a huge coordinated effort, and that’s already happening, of all countries to reduce emissions and greenhouse gases.”
The Yukon and its northern neighbours don’t contribute much globally, but the effects of climate change are still felt in the north. Horton said that’s where climate adaption gets involved.
This is Horton’s area of focus.
“My group is working with Yukon government, First Nations and the private sector to share knowledge of what climate impacts are happening, what more can we expect and some actions that we can take now to really become more prepared,” said Horton.
Horton used the example of this year’s floods for climate adaption and is studying if that will become the norm and what changes need to be made if it does become the new normal.
Even if the world dropped its emissions to zero, Horton said the effects of climate change will be felt for a long time.
“We’re locked into several decades of change,” said Horton. “No matter what the world does for emissions reductions there are decades of change still to come beyond what we’ve already experienced.”
Canada, Horton said, has an average temperature increase double the global average and in the north it’s triple.
“It’s going to be disruptive, it’s going to cause changes to glaciers, to permafrost and we are seeing those changes in how rain and snow are falling,” said Horton.
Horton said the Sixth Assessment Report is not a policy document but reducing climate change but a coordinated effort among governments is vital.
“We are seeing that leadership from different levels of government,” said Horton.
Contact John Tonin at firstname.lastname@example.org