CLIMATE NEWS SCAN – 31 July 2012
- How will Canada’s energy priorities affect BC?
- Climate visualization study closes gap in climate research
- Vancouver’s adaptation strategy: An encouraging first step
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RESEARCH THEME I: THE LOW CARBON EMISSIONS ECONOMY
How will Canada’s energy priorities affect BC?
July 19, 2012. Based on three years of research and input from more than 250 energy stakeholders, the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV) has released a report on Canada’s energy future. The report outlines a vision for Canada based on a responsible path for energy development and a low-emissions economy. The comprehensive strategy, titled Now or Never, addresses the real and urgent challenges facing Canadians in today’s evolving global energy landscape and the implications for Canada. The study produced 13 priorities for action to achieve long-term and affordable energy solutions by addressing the challenges and opportunities of responsible development and energy efficiency. Written as a call to action, the energy study urges Canada to leverage its natural resources, technology and human capital to position itself as the most energy productive nation in the world while maintaining a high level of environmental performance.
While Ottawa may be calling the energy challenge “a national-family Canadian affair,” energy policy has traditionally been a provincial mandate. British Columbia (BC) is seeking to renegotiate the Northern Gateway Project with Alberta and the federal government. Under the current terms, BC would receive less than eight percent of the pipeline revenue while assuming 100 percent of the marine risk for the port terminal and tanker traffic, and 58 percent of the land-based risk for the pipeline. The significance of that risk was reinforced by Enbridge’s announcement this weekend of a second spill in the US in 12 months. While Alberta has announced a review to address safety and environmental concerns associated with the Northern Gateway pipeline, Alberta Premier Alison Redford has expressed disappointment in BC’s demands for a bigger share of the benefits and a smaller share of the risks. As the provinces have real and legitimate differences of interest and opinion when it comes to energy policy, it remains as challenging as ever to forge a coherent national strategy despite the Senate Committee’s hard work and thoughtful recommendations.
RESEARCH THEME II: SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
Vancouver’s adaptation strategy: An encouraging first step
July 20, 2012. Last week, the City of Vancouver announced its plan to adopt a climate adaptation strategy. On July 24, City Council voted to approve the plan in principle that will address strategies on how to deal with future climatic events such as intense storms, flooding, and hotter and drier summers. The strategy will be reviewed annually and updated every five years. Adaptation strategies are not inexpensive; indeed, Vancouver’s sewer separation program – which will expand sewers from one to two pipes and alleviate backup problems caused by heavy rainfall – is pegged at $84 million in the City’s 2012-14 Capital Plan. A coastal flood risk assessment can cost upwards of $750,000. The essence of adaptation, however, is to pay upfront costs now to minimize damages and potentially larger costs in the future. The adaptation strategy is part of Vancouver’s Greenest City Plan and includes nine measures such as water conservation actions, extreme heat planning, and a backup power policy.
At the December 2011 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Durban, South Africa, 14 mayors and other elected leaders representing over 950 local governments from around the world, came together to sign the Durban Adaptation Charter, a political commitment to strengthen local resilience to climate change. Vancouver was one of those signatories, and it is encouraging to see that the City is following through. However, what is missing from Vancouver’s 60-page climate strategy, is how green infrastructure and nature-based adaptation approaches will be used. It is commendable how comprehensive the strategy is, but there is little discussion of how greener options such as constructed wetlands and green roofs will be implemented, which makes the financial and environmental case for the strategy less compelling. New York City has an entire plan dedicated to green infrastructure as part of plaNYC. Green infrastructure can be more cost-effective than hard structural alternatives such as dykes, and can have less adverse impacts on the environment as argued in a recent paper in Nature. Vancouver’s adoption of this strategy is a good first step, but thinking carefully about how to implement other cost-effective actions, such as green infrastructure, would enhance the efficacy and resiliency of its overall strategy.
RESEARCH THEME III: RESILIENT ECOSYSTEMS
Using marine vegetation to protect against ocean acidification
July 22, 2012. Rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are causing the Earth’s oceans to become more acidic over time, threatening the survival of many marine species. The higher acidity interferes with calcification, a process essential for the growth of coral reefs and shellfish. A recent study has found that seagrass and seaweed may help to mitigate the harmful effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs and other marine life. The research, which was presented this month at the International Coral Reef Symposium, uses data from the Indo-Pacific Ocean to show that seagrass meadows can soak up enough dissolved carbon from the water around them to significantly reduce acidity. This effect is strong enough that coral reefs downstream from these meadows could potentially grow 18% faster than in areas where seagrass is absent. The researchers are hopeful that seagrass management could be a powerful tool in future efforts to protect coral reefs from ocean acidification.
While this study focused on tropical reef ecosystems, the same processes are relevant to marine environments in BC. Ocean acidification affects the calcification process not only in the growth of coral reefs, but also in the production of shells by BC’s oysters, clams and mussels. Shellfish aquaculture in BC has a long history going back to the pre-contact period, and has the potential to contribute $100 million annually to the BC economy. Ocean acidification threatens the future of this industry, and has already had major impacts on oysters in the Pacific Northwest. Varieties of seagrass native to BC, as well as kelp and other seaweeds, could have the same benefits as the tropical seagrass analyzed in the study and, under the right conditions, these aquatic plants might mitigate the effects of ocean acidification on BC shellfish. While the benefits to BC are speculative at this point, conserving or restoring seagrass meadows and kelp forests might prove to be an effective strategy for sheltering BC’s marine life from the full effects of ocean acidification.
RESEARCH THEME IV: SOCIAL MOBILIZATION
Climate visualization study closes gap in climate research
July 23, 2012. It has long been argued that there is a great need for more research that explores the often-overlooked human dimensions of climate change. While the fields of natural sciences and economics have been studying the causes, effects and solutions to climate change for some time, a broader social science based inquiry into society’s interactions with the issue of climate change is still relatively incomplete, and leaves considerable room for further research. Specifically, a key area of climate change research is the public perception of climate change and its solutions. Both policy makers and researchers agree that greenhouse gas mitigation policies are only effective at curbing climate change if they are fully implemented. However, strong public support is often required to implement public policy, and in many cases this support does not currently exist. To address this knowledge gap, social scientists from fields as divergent as psychology, sociology and political science are delving into the challenge.
Research conducted by the University of British Columbia’s Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP) is at the forefront of this inquiry. Through a series of case studies in communities across BC and Canada, CALP researchers have designed and tested visioning tools and a process for community decision making that provides policy makers and the public at large with an opportunity to see the likely future outcomes of policy decisions made today. The tools aim to link the high-level technical discussions around atmospheric CO2 concentrations with the potential consequences and courses of action on a local level, helping to empower participants by showing them what can be done in their community to curb the effects of climate change. This research is an important step toward expanding the relatively small but emerging body of studies looking to address the human dimensions of the climate change issue.
RESEARCH THEME V: CARBON MANAGEMENT IN BC FORESTS
‘Climate envelopes’ supporting ecosystems have migrated in BC forests
July 20, 2012. Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have found that changing climate conditions are pushing BC’s ecosystems out of the weather conditions they need to be sustained. Across BC’s 16 major ecosystems, “climate envelopes” have shifted by 23% on average as weather conditions have changed. This shift has “caused a surprising amount of mismatch between the ecosystem and climate zones,” said Associate Professor Tongli Wang from UBC’s Faculty of Forestry. By measuring 44 variables, the researchers assessed shifting weather patterns over the past 40 years. Looking forward, their projections suggest that suitable climate for grasslands and dry forests will substantially increase. While the habitat for coastal rainforests is projected to remain stable, boreal, subalpine and alpine ecosystems will likely decline.
These shifts in weather have enormous implications for forest management and carbon in BC. Scientists are looking for species that can withstand climate transitions over a multi-decade growing cycle. Trees planted today will be harvested in 50 or 60 years, so that they need to be planted with the climate of the 2050s in mind. The uncertainty of climate change poses a risk to a wide range of forestry projects, carbon projects included. The Forest Products Association of Canada commented that, “figuring out how to adapt – which species may be more disease resistant – is a business imperative now, not just an environmental issue.” Forest managers are using adaptive management to mitigate these risks. By planting drought resistant seedlings from hotter and drier ecosystems they are helping forests cope with climate conditions decades from now. This kind of forest management will increase certainty around forest ecosystems, helping forest carbon projects provide the quality credits required by markets.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
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