Our changing climate and the impacts we’ve felt so far…
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, the Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change, released in 2007, asserts that:
Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.
Climate science has increasingly demonstrated the interconnectedness of natural systems to each other and to larger climatic drivers. However, while there is high confidence that regional climate changes are affecting cryospheric (dealing with snow, ice and glaciers), hydrological, and terrestrial, aquatic and marine biological systems, it is often hard to pin-point whether a given event (e.g. a hurricane or a low snow year) is the result of climate change. That said, it is often these extreme events that have the greatest impact on human communities, and thus we must acknowledge the role of climate change in causing such events or exacerbating the frequency of their occurrence.
Looking back over the last decade, when we have experienced some of the hottest years on record globally (1995, 1998, 2005… 2010?) some of the impacts we’re felt so far include:
- Droughts: The 1999 to 2004 drought in the Prairies was one of the worst droughts experienced in at least a hundred years, with much lower than normal precipitation reported in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan for 4 consecutive years.
- Heat waves: August 2003 was the hottest August on record in the northern hemisphere, and heat waves in Europe resulted in the deaths of approximately 35,000 people, over 14,000 in France alone, mostly among the elderly.
- Hurricanes: The North Atlantic saw a record hurricane season in 2005, with category 5 Hurricane Katrina causing tragic impacts in New Orleans, and major tropical storms occurring over an extended season.
- Floods: The August 2010 floods in Pakistan caused by monsoon rains affected approximately 20 million people, with approximately one-fifth of Pakistan’s total land area underwater at one point.
- Glaciers and ice sheets: Much has been documented about the decline of glaciers worldwide, particularly the collapse of ice sheets in Antarctica (Larsen B Ice Shelf collapse in 2002, Wilkins Ice Shelf break-up in 2008) and Greenland (Petermann Glacier collapse in 2010).
- Arctic sea ice: September 2002 marked the lowest summer minimum ice extent since satellite monitoring began in 1979, followed by a series of record or near-record lows and poor ice recovery during winters in subsequent years. In 2007, a new record low was set in early August and the northern navigation route through the Northwest Passage opened in September.
- Forest fires: In February 2009 Australian bushfires in Victoria resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire – 175 deaths. 450,000 hectares were burned displacing over 7,500 people.
- Infestation: The mountain pine beetle infestation in British Columbia peaked in 2005, with a cumulative area of 16.3 million hectares of BC affected to some degree from Fort St John to the US border and from Terrace to the Alberta border. Milder winters are partly to blame for the proliferation of the pine beetle.
- Endangered species: Polar bears were put on the endangered species list in the US in 2008 due to the threat to their habitat from climate change.
The outlook for future impacts only seems worse from here, adding to the importance and urgency of governments working together to seal a deal through the UN process, to address both mitigation and adaption to climate change.
by Holly Goulding