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Combatting the Menace of Global Warming

September 26, 2016
By: 
Gord Campbell, BASc, MASc, PhD, PEng, CCE
Senior Research Officer
National Research Council Canada
Adjunct Research Professor
Western University
Member
Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

 

Background

Canadians are aware of global warming but most do not understand the seriousness of the implications. The factors affecting global warming have been studied, documented and reported in the scientific literature and public media. There is a universal consensus of the link between rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels due to fossil fuel combustion by humans and global warming accompanied by unpredictable climate change. An excellent compilation of credible information is found in the Wikipedia.

Some facts:

  • Global fossil fuel related CO2 emissions have risen from 23 billion tons in 2000 to 32 billion tons in 2010, a 40% increase.

  • Canada’s emission of CO2 gases is 753 megatonnes/year (0.753 billion tonnes/year) which amounts to about 21 tons/year for each Canadian

  • The increase in global temperature of 1 degree C during the past 15 years is accelerating

  • The year 2015 was warmest global year on record (since 1880); it broke the record by the largest margin. In 2016 to date, the global temperatures are significantly higher (an ominous sign)

  • Cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all United States and Canadian CO2 emissions, creating about 200 kg for each 70 litre tank of gas burned!!! Most of the weight of the CO2 doesn't come from the gasoline itself, but from the oxygen in the air required for combustion

  • The wildfire that destroyed part of Fort McMurray has been related to global warming. This single wildfire destroyed as much as 600,000 hectares of forest (equivalent to the area of Prince-Edward Island) that play a vital role to combat climate change by removing more greenhouse gases than they emit. It takes at least a decade before the forests destroyed by wildfires are storing more carbon than they are releasing. An average of 9000 fires burn more than 2 million hectares each year in Canada which is twice the average area burned in the 1970s.

According to the Government of Canada, “Climate change will affect communities all over the world. Climate change is projected to lead to both changes in average conditions and in extreme weather events. Increases in droughts, heavy rains, floods, and severe storms, where these occur, can be very disruptive for society and are among the potential impacts of most concern. As well, rising sea levels will affect coastal areas, along which, in many regions, human communities are concentrated. Changes in temperature and precipitation will affect natural habitats and managed ones, with impacts on agriculture and food supplies of particular concern to a growing human population. There will be opportunities as well as risks associated with climate change, but in balance, impacts are expected to become increasingly negative as global average surface temperature becomes increasingly warmer”.

The scientific evidence is conclusive. The enormous emission of CO2 into the environment is creating global warming that is causing insidious climatic changes. The current procrastination to initiate mitigation measures must be transformed into immediate action in order to avoid a global crisis.

Mitigation Strategies

The much-heralded Paris Climate Agreement deals with greenhouse gases emissions, mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020 (too late?). Canada has signed the Agreement but not ratified it. As of August 2016, 180 UNFCCC members have signed the treaty; 22 of which ratified it (now 24 with the recent US and China announcement), which is not enough for the treaty to enter into force.

A definitive study co-authored by Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation shows that Canada's economy can still grow by almost 20 per cent over the next decade while the country dramatically reduces its greenhouse gas pollution by about half.

Various Canadian government websites (Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada and Environment Canada) present information about global warming and invitations for consultation. The Provincial and Territorial governments have action plans for mitigating global warming. Our Canadian governments are demonstrating a responsible attitude towards global warming, but are their plans adequate and within a suitable timeframe?

A call for significant action

Investing in research and innovation will provide new mitigation technologies. There are a multitude of potential innovations that could benefit Canada’s mitigation efforts and as well prevent the continued escalation of CO2 emissions by other countries. Consider how Canadian initiatives now could reap rewards in growing Canada’s global warming related commercial industries, before other countries capitalize on this multi-trillion dollar opportunity. Our research capabilities in the public sector agencies can be readily redeployed. Partnerships among Canadian research agencies, professional organizations, universities and industries can be established.

The National Research Council Canada (NRC) is “the Government of Canada's premier research and technology organization (RTO). Working with clients and partners, we provide innovation support, strategic research, and scientific and technical services.” The specific Areas of R&D do not mention global warming. NRC has the diversified research expertise, integrated corporate structure and enterprising culture to play a pivotal role to generate new knowledge and technologies to combat global warming, but they must be given the directive by the federal government.

Canada’s Innovation Agenda identifies “Six Areas for Action”. The list does not include global warming.

Please make innovation research to combat global warming a priority for Canada.