Weekly roundup of climate change news to Feb.11, 2024

Here’s your weekly roundup of local and international climate change news for the week of Feb. 5 to Feb. 11, 2024.

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Here’s all the latest news concerning the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and the steps leaders are taking to address these issues.

In climate news this week:

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• Vancouver council hears city not likely to meet most climate targets
• Low snowpack puts B.C. at risk of another brutal drought
• Almost 90 active wildfires in northeast B.C. as drought lingers
• Temperatures above 1.5 C warming threshold for 12 months, EU scientists say

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Human activities like burning fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This causes heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere, increasing the planet’s surface temperature. The panel, which is made up of scientists from around the world, has warned for decades that wildfires and severe weather, such as B.C.’s deadly heat dome and catastrophic flooding in 2021, would become more frequent and more intense because of the climate emergency. It has issued a “code red” for humanity and warns the window to limit warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial times is closing.

But it’s not too late.According to NASA climate scientists,if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the rise in global temperatures would begin to flatten within a few years. Temperatures would then plateau but remain well-elevated for many centuries.

Check back here each Saturday for more climate and environmental news or sign up for our new Climate Connected newsletter HERE.

Climate change quick facts:

  • The Earth is now about 1.2 C warmer than it was in the 1800s.
  • 2023 was hottest on record globally, beating the last record in 2016.
  • Human activities have raised atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by nearly 49 per cent above pre-industrial levels starting in 1850.
  • The world is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement target to keep global temperature from exceeding 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, the upper limit to avoid the worst fallout from climate change.
  • On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, the temperature could increase by as much as 4.4 C by the end of the century.
  • In April, 2022 greenhouse gas concentrations reached record new highs and show no sign of slowing.
  • Emissions must drop 7.6 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 to keep temperatures from exceeding 1.5 C and 2.7 per cent per year to stay below 2 C.
  • 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that the climate is warming and that human beings are the cause.

(Source: United Nations IPCCWorld Meteorological OrganizationUNEPNasa, climatedata.ca)

Co2 graph
Source: NASA

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Latest News

Mild weather scenes from Cypress Mountain in the pouring rain as mild weather has forced closures on local ski hills in Vancouver, B.C., on February 2, 2024. Nick Procaylo/PNG. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10103734A

Low snowpack puts B.C. at risk of another brutal drought

The snowpack in B.C. is almost 40 per cent lower than normal for this time of year, according to the latest bulletin from B.C.’s River Forecast Centre, raising concerns about another summer of brutal drought.

The current snowpack level “is an early indicator of a greater potential for drought,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the River Forecast Centre.

Anyone who was affected by drought last year should expect a similar situation to last year, he said.

Last year at this time, the snowpack in the province was significantly higher and B.C. went on to experience deep and prolonged drought after a record-breaking heat wave in May spurred rapid melting and drying.

Then came the province’s devastating fire season.

“If we get worse weather conditions, which would be a hot April and even earlier melts then, theoretically, it could actually be a little bit worse this year,” said Boyd. “The caveat being so much is dependent upon the weather conditions. If it’s a wet spring or a wet summer, the drought isn’t going to be quite as impactful,” he said.

Read the full story here.

—Nathan Griffiths

B.C. Hydro braces for severe drought that will trim power production

B.C. Hydro is bracing for another year of potentially severe drought in key watersheds that feed its major dams, as the B.C. River Forecast Centre reports below-average snowpacks.

The utility is used to managing the ups and downs of high water years and low water years with a history that stretches back 80 years, but “this is towards the worst end of what we’ve seen historically,” CEO Chris O’Riley said Friday.

“We are wary about the potential for extreme weather with climate change and yeah, it’s definitely something where we’re managing and using all the tools we have,” he added.

O’Riley said that will include importing more electricity to help preserve reservoir levels, a strategy that led to high levels of electricity purchases in 2023, but paid off in its ability to deliver electricity through record demand during January’s cold snap.

“I do want to say (that) customers should have confidence that we’ll have enough power for them,” O’Riley said.

The B.C. River Forecast Centre’s latest bulletin, released Thursday, showed the snowpack in B.C. mountains, critical for maintaining water flows in streams, rivers and replenishing B.C. Hydro’s reservoirs, are as bad as 40 per cent below normal.

Read the full story here.

—Derrick Penner

Vancouver not likely to meet most climate targets, council hears

Vancouver is not considered likely to meet most targets set out in its climate emergency action plan, council heard Wednesday.

The city’s climate emergency action plan, approved by Vancouver’s previous council in 2020, set out six targets for measurable progress by 2030. A Vancouver staff presentation showed the city is currently considered “unlikely” to meet targets in three areas, has a “medium” likelihood for two, and “likely” to meet the target in only one area.

“This is not an indication of whether we’re making progress or not,” Matt Horne, Vancouver’s manager of climate mitigation, told council during a presentation Wednesday. “Across the board here, we do think we are making progress and starting to work toward those targets.”

In three specific areas — promoting complete neighbourhoods, active transportation and transit, and zero-emission heating — Vancouver staff “don’t think that progress is enough to give us confidence of hitting that target,” Horne said.

Currently, most of Vancouver’s climate pollution comes from the use of natural gas in buildings, and gas and diesel in vehicles. The climate action plan’s overall goal is to reduce the city’s carbon pollution by 50 per cent by 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Read the full story here

—Dan Fumano

Donnie Creek
Trees scorched by the Donnie Creek wildfire line a forest north of Fort St. John, B.C. Photo by Noah Berger /AP

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Almost 90 active wildfires in northeast B.C. as drought lingers

There are still dozens of active wildfires in northeast B.C. linked to last year’s brutal fire season that saw the Prince George region account for 80 per cent of the province’s burned land.

According to the B.C. Wildfire Service’s wildfire map, there are 87 wildfires active in the Prince George region, an unusually high number. There is just one active wildfire in the province’s five other regions.

Prince George Fire Centre spokeswoman Sharon Nickel said that holdover fires were more likely to occur when a very large area had burned and when drought conditions were persistent and/or severe.

B.C.’s 2023 wildfire season was the worst on record. Six B.C. forest firefighters died — Devyn Gale, Zak Muise, Kenneth Patrick, Jaxon Billyboy, Blain Sonnenberg and Damian Dyson.

According to theB.C. Drought Information Portal, the Prince George region is in Drought Level 5, the most severe.

The most recentSnow Conditions and Water Supply Bulletinreports the provincial snowpack is extremely low, averaging 44 per cent below normal across B.C.

Read the full story here.

—David Carrigg

Qualicum Beach is fourth local government to vote to join potential class action suit against Big Oil

The Township of Qualicum Beach Council voted four-to-one this week to work with other local governments to bring a class action lawsuit against global fossil fuel companies to recover climate costs.

“We are facing a massive bill for the measures needed to keep us safe from climate disasters, and it’s only going up,” noted Roy Collver, Qualicum Beach resident and head of the local chapter of Sue Big Oil, said in a statement released by West Coast Environmental Law Thursday.

“We cannot afford to let companies like Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil, which have played a huge role in causing the climate crisis, to make record-breaking profits without paying for any of the costs we’re experiencing. Approval for this motion should help to reassure the younger people of Qualicum Beach that they are not being abandoned – that there are many concerned people in the community actively working to help reduce the unfair burden that climate change will have on future generations.”

Qualicum Beach estimates climate action will cost between $1.2 million and $1.3 million in the next decade.

The Vancouver Island town joins the District of Squamish and the Townships of Gibsons and View Royal in committing to work together to bring a class action lawsuit against global fossil fuel companies for the costs of climate change.

The Sue Big Oil campaign is endorsed by 39 organizations in B.C.

—Tiffany Crawford

Dial it up to Category 6? As warming stokes storms, some want a bigger hurricane category

A handful of super powerful tropical storms in the last decade and the prospect of more to come has a couple of experts proposing a new category of whopper hurricanes: Category 6.

Studies have shown that the strongest tropical storms are getting more intense because of climate change. So the traditional five-category Saffir-Simpson scale, developed more than 50 years ago, may not show the true power of the most muscular storms, two climate scientists suggest in a Monday study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They propose a sixth category for storms with winds that exceed 309 kilometres per hour.

Currently, storms with winds of 252 km/h or higher are Category 5. The study’s authors said that open-ended grouping doesn’t warn people enough about the higher dangers from monstrous storms that flirt with 200 mph (322 kph) or higher.

Several experts told The Associated Press they don’t think another category is necessary. They said it could even give the wrong signal to the public because it’s based on wind speed, while water is by far the deadliest killer in hurricanes.

Since 2013, five storms — all in the Pacific — had winds of 192 mph or higher that would have put them in the new category, with two hitting the Philippines. As the world warms, conditions grow more ripe for such whopper storms, including in the Gulf of Mexico, where many storms that hit the United States get stronger, the study authors said.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

A billboard displays a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 C) during a record heat wave in Phoenix, Arizona on July 18, 2023. Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON /AFP via Getty Images

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World temperatures go above 1.5 C warming threshold for a year: climate scientists

For the first time on record, global warming has exceeded temperatures of 1.5 C over a 12-month period, European Union climate scientists reported this week.

Earth also had its hottest January on record, beating a record set in 2020, with an average temperature of 13.14 C or 0.70 C above the 1991 to 2020 average, according tothe European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
The global mean temperature for the past twelve months (Feb. 2023 to Jan. 2024) is the highest on record, at 0.64 C above the 1991 to 2020 average and 1.52 C above pre-industrial times, the agency reported. 
The EU agency blamed human-caused climate change and the El Niño weather phenomenon that warms the Pacific Ocean for driving the record heat over the past year.

Last summer, B.C. had its worst wildfire season, and experts are concerned that this year’s low snowpack could lead to another summer of brutal drought and wildfires. This week, officials with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre said the province’s snowpack is almost 40 per cent lower than normal for this time of year.

Although El Niño has began to weaken in the equatorial Pacific, marine air temperatures in general remained “at an unusually high level” in January, the EU agency added.

Read the full story here.

—Tiffany Crawford

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B.C. environmental groups request review of tire chemical linked to salmon deaths

British Columbia-based conservation groups have written to the federal environment minister requesting a review of a chemical used in tire rubber, which experts say has been linked to the “mass deaths” of coho salmon.

Peter Ross, senior scientist at Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said the mystery of coho dying in urban waterways had persisted for years, until a 2020 study uncovered the role of a chemical used to prevent tires from degrading.

“For 20 years, our colleagues were sleuthing,” he said. “They were looking at all the potential culprits, including copper, hydrocarbons, parasites, salts from roads, and trying to figure out whether any of these known concerns from previous evidence might be explaining what was going on.”

Eventually, the researchers figured out that a “previously undocumented chemical” was responsible, said Ross, director of healthy waters at Raincoast.

The study published in Science, a top academic journal, found a chemical known as 6PPD produces a breakdown substance that’s lethal for coho in particular.

Read the full story here.

—The Canadian Press

Trudeau faces daunting path to sale of Trans Mountain oil pipeline

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised one of the largest government-led asset sales in Canadian history by divesting the Trans Mountain pipeline, a huge conduit that moves crude from Alberta to Burnaby.

But the government faces a mounting set of challenges in unloading it — including high interest rates, a fight over costs with oil companies and a looming election.

The prime minister has pledged to use the pipeline to generate wealth for Canada’s Indigenous people, and the government plans to essentially give a stake in it to more than 100 groups. It’s a complex process, fraught with political pitfalls.

And it appears to have stalled in recent months, according to people familiar with the matter.

“It’s really disappointing. It’s unacceptable,” said Chief Tony Alexis, head of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, one of many Indigenous groups waiting for details on how to acquire an equity position in the project. It has been “radio silence” from the government since a meeting last September, he said.

Read the full story here.

—Bloomberg News

Climate change is fuelling the disappearance of the Aral Sea. It’s taking residents’ livelihoods, too

Toxic dust storms, anti-government protests, the fall of the Soviet Union — for generations, none of it has deterred Nafisa Bayniyazova and her family from making a living growing melons, pumpkins and tomatoes on farms around the Aral Sea.

Bayniyazova, 50, has spent most of her life near Muynak, in northwestern Uzbekistan, tending the land. Farm life was sometimes difficult but generally reliable and productive. Even while political upheaval from the Soviet Union’s collapse transformed the world around them, the family’s farmland yielded crops, with water steadily flowing through canals coming from the Aral and surrounding rivers.

Now, Bayniyazova and other residents say they’re facing a catastrophe they can’t beat: climate change, which is accelerating the decades-long demise of the Aral, once the lifeblood for the thousands living around it.

The Aral has nearly disappeared. Decades ago, deep blue and filled with fish, it was one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water. It’s shrunk to less than a quarter of its former size.

Much of its early demise is due to human engineering and agricultural projects gone awry, now paired with climate change. Summers are hotter and longer; winters, shorter and bitterly cold. Water is harder to find, experts and residents like Bayniyazova say, with salinity too high for plants to properly grow.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

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Guides and Links

B.C. Flood: Read all our coverage on the Fraser Valley and beyond

Frequently asked questions about climate change: NASA

What is climate change? A really simple guide from the BBC

Climate change made B.C. heat wave 150 times more likely, study concludes

B.C.’s heat wave: Intense weather event is linked to climate crisis, say scientists

Expert: climate change expected to bring longer wildfire seasons and more area burned

COVID-19 may have halted massive protests, but youth are taking their fight for the future to the courts

Climate displacement a growing concern in B.C. as extreme weather forces residents out of their homes

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