This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report regarding the potential impact that a temperature increase of 1.5 °C, caused by global warming, could have on the world as we know it. The goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions was set during the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, with a target temperature increase of less than 2 °C, the ideal goal being the reduction of this temperature increase to 1.5 °C by the end of the century.
The risks associated with an increase over 1.5°C include increased incidence of droughts, floods, extreme heat, and, by extension, poverty. Therefore, this goal is about more than avoiding a temperature increase: it represents saving millions of lives by preventing the increased incidence of natural disasters and extreme weather such as heatwaves, and avoiding the economic disruption caused by the associated costs for reparation and rescue efforts that follow extreme weather.
Despite the public acting to reduce individual pollution by lobbying for change through consumer action, such as refusing plastic straws in restaurants and bring-your-own-bags programs; plastic pollution is still a major issue. Even with consumers aiming to minimize their plastic usage, it’s a nearly impossible task to achieve when retailers sell products in unrecyclable packaging.
William D. Nordhaus, the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences recipient, has stated recently that carbon taxes are a viable solution to reducing greenhouse gases, as industries should have the incentive to use more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as renewable energy to avoid paying the extra tax. This could potentially change investment trends, which might in turn discourage the six Canadian financial companies currently investing in new coal plants from doing so, as coal is considered one of the dirtiest power sources.
Along with the potential for more frequent and more devastating natural disasters, a 1.5°C global temperature increase would result in an average sea level rise of 48cm, based on the analysis of 70 peer-reviewed climate studies completed by Carbon Brief, a UK based climate science and policy website. With our lovely Wolfville residing on the coastline, we are at risk of facing major issues associated with climate change, some of which we are already noticing. Climate change had a local effect just this year, with Annapolis Valley farmers taking a major hit this spring as a result of a severe late frost event, which damaged a variety of crops, from berries to apples to wine grapes.
Along with abnormal temperature patterns such as this frost event; Eastern Canada is expected to experience 26% more extreme rainfalls with this 1.5°C increase. Canada’s current environmental action plans include nationally pricing carbon, eliminating coal-fired power plants, renovating homes and businesses to be more energy efficient, and investing in cleaner technology and renewable energy. While Canadians and Canadian industries should be implementing plans to contribute to the reduction of emissions, the general consensus was that the 1.5°C goal may not be attainable.
The next step when prevention is not possible is preparation, meaning homes and businesses must be prepared for the consequences of this global temperature rise, such as more frequent flooding, forest fires, and storms. An example of what this might entail could be avoiding building in areas directly adjacent to the coast, a fairly common practice for the construction of vacation homes and cottages in Nova Scotia, as these will likely succumb to rising sea levels or storm surges.
Regardless of one’s position as to the legitimacy of climate change, action plans to prevent global warming objectively improve the quality of life of the population. Famine is often caused by weather events which damage crops, and many health problems can be attributed to a lack of poor air quality caused by pollution, in conjunction with a lack of access to clean water. Almost all aspects of human health are influenced by the environment, which is in turn affected by climate change. Therefore, tackling the issues we are undeniably observing, whether their cause be climate change or otherwise, is a task for everyone and must be addressed accordingly by international organizations.
Laura Porter-Muntz is a fourth-year Biology (Co-op) student and the Science Editor of The Athenaeum