Column: Cost of climate change will be more than hot days

As we head into a scorcher of a weekend, climate scientists are warning that 2015 could be the warmest year globally on record.

Parched soil between crown rows in Chilliwack.

As we head into a scorcher of a weekend, climate scientists are warning that 2015 could be the warmest year globally on record.

The U.S. based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that the period January to April has already surpassed all previous records. Global land and sea surface temperatures were 0.80 degrees C above the 20th century average.

Nine countries have experienced record high temperatures so far. El Nino is expected to influence even higher global temperatures, and scientists now wonder if this could be the end of that alleged 18-year global warming “pause”. But according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, while the increase in global surface temperatures may seem to have slowed, since 2000 the oceans have taken up more heat and warmed, Arctic sea ice continues to melt and sea levels continue to rise.

All that heat dovetails with what’s happening in B.C. and in Chilliwack.

“There were 41 record breaking high temperature records in 2014,” said Roger Pannett, volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada. “To date in 2015 we are (already) now up to 35 high temperature records. On June 15 the record high minimum was 16.1 degrees C, 5 degrees above normal. The previous record high was 15.0 degrees C in 1903. The record high mean (temperature) was 24.05 degrees C, 8.35 degrees C above normal. The previous record was 22.8 degrees C in 1963.”

Pannett added that June continues to be the warmest on record, the previous mean highs of 18.8 degrees C occurring in 1958, 1967, and 1969.

Then there is the worrisome lack of rain. Chilliwack had the driest April/May on record since 1879 with a combined rainfall total of 93.5 mm. As at 23 June, this is the driest June so far on record with just 8.1 mm of rain on three days.

Coping with climate change is going to be all about adaptability. This month, Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team released their report: Paying for Urban Infrastructure Adaptation in Canada.

They didn’t mince words. Adaptation is going to be a massive challenge, worse if nothing is done.

“In the absence of adaptation, estimates indicate that climate change may cost the people of Canada approximately $5 billion per year by 2020 and between $21 billion to $43 billion by 2050. Local governments must therefore develop a clear understanding of anticipated climate change impacts in order to analyze the costs of inaction.”

These impacts are here, now, driven by anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The authors wrote that if emissions peaked this year and remained at current levels until 2100, atmospheric concentrations would exceed 550 ppm. To keep emissions under 450 ppm (currently at 400 ppm) means a 50 per cent reduction of emissions by 2050 and 80 per cent before 2100.

But energy consumption is driven 80 per cent by fossil fuels which is down only marginally from 84 per cent in 2005 despite increases in nuclear and renewable energy sources. Fossil fuel use is expected to increase by approximately 45 per cent to 220 per cent over the period 2010 to 2035 when emissions will have increased to 43 million tons.

Adaptation is critical to cope with extreme storms, rain/snow events, or blistering heat.  At the municipal level it may include the engineering of green/cool roofs, improved dykes and flood control, wetland preservation, backup power, permeable pavement, improved sewer systems, reservoir protection, and monitoring of road infrastructure to name just a few.

Nothing will be cheap. Local governments are going to need greater access to public money as well as public buy-in for most projects. Some may need to be public/private ventures.

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