Urgent climate change action is needed or else Canada’s extreme heat and severe weather will worsen

Toronto Star

Jenna Moon

Aug 09, 2021

Canadians can expect climate change to lead to more severe weather events and a possible disruption in food supply if action isn’t taken to address the looming threat of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming.

A bombshell report released Monday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of dire consequences if there is not rapid action globally to keep warming under the 1.5 degree benchmark — at which point the consequences of warming will rapidly accelerate.

Here are key issues Canadians should keep in mind. The Star will continue to update this file throughout the day to offer more perspectives on the threat of climate change.

Extreme weather is here to stay

Canadians have suffered under the extreme conditions brought on by the west coast’s early summer heat dome and the ensuing wildfires which continue to burn across the country. These extreme events will be more common as temperatures rise.

Samantha Green, faculty lead in climate change and health at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, told the Star that the current extreme weather events are happening at 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming. According to the IPCC report, we are on track to reach 1.5 degrees of warming — something which must be avoided for both “planetary well-being (and) also for human health,” Green said.

The climate will become unpredictable, she said, continuing that some years, Canada may suffer under extended droughts, while flooding could follow the next. In some cases, parts of Canada may experience flooding as other regions endure drought.

The IPCC report found that a warmer climate will mean very wet and very dry weather and climate events will intensify.

This is a health crisis

Climate change and public health are inextricably linked, Green stressed. Aside from the physical threat of injury from fire and floods, there are risks to mental health from the displacement caused by these events, she said.

Wildfire smoke can trigger asthma attacks and the early development of asthma in children, Green noted. Meanwhile, smoke has similarities to air pollution — which is linked to an increase in inflammatory disorders such as heart attacks and strokes, she said.

“The climate crisis is a health crisis, and I think we need to understand it as such,” Green said.

Climate change will hit Canadian cities hard

Cities aren’t exempt from the devastation worsening weather events bring with them — and in fact may face “amplified” impacts, said Sarah Buchanan, campaigns director for Toronto Environmental Alliance.

The urban heat island effect, which occurs when cities replace natural landscapes with pavement and other surfaces that cling to heat, could mean hotter temperatures in the summers, Buchanan said, adding that in turn, tenants without access to ample air conditioning, or those that live in areas with limited tree cover will feel climate impacts more severely.

“We need to think about who is feeling these climate impacts most,” she said. “How do we put actions in place to give people relief to keep people safe and healthy?”

Buchanan said that upgrading existing infrastructure to address emissions and create greener options is necessary.

Additionally, addressing the crisis offers an opportunity for cities like Toronto to not only be more resilient to climate change, but also one that prioritizes the health of residents, she said, adding that more transit options is just one way that cities could look at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no longer a question on if action should happen, Buchanan said. “We have to stop kicking the can down the road to build that world — we have to build that world now.”

Climate change will accelerate damage to our ecosystems and in turn, humans

Canada’s ecosystems are already changing. Climate change, however, “supercharges” the existing impacts that previous warming has already had, said Dale Marshall, national climate program manager for Environmental Defence.

When species go extinct, the nature of an ecosystem completely changes and could lead to a total collapse, Marshall said. “Our species is incredibly dependent, not only for our well being but for our survival, on the natural environment and natural ecosystem.”

The more pressure placed on ecosystems means more and different species are at risk, he said. Those risks don’t stay in one spot, Marshall stressed. Rather, they “rebound back on us in terms of how well we’re able to thrive or survive in the future.”

This article was reposted from the Toronto Star: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/08/09/urgent-climate-change-action-is-needed-or-else-canadas-extreme-heat-and-severe-weather-will-worsen This article first appeared in the Toronto Star, on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.