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CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere at all-time high

Attention all climate change deniers — the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is at an all-time high, the highest in 800,000 years according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) have the potential to initiate unpredictable changes in the climate system, because of strong positive feedbacks, leading to severe ecological and economic disruptions,” the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin read.

Some of the factors that influenced the level of carbon dioxide is population growth, intensified agricultural practices, deforestation and land use, industrialization, and energy use from fossil fuels. A strong El Nino in 2015 and 2016 was also a strong contributor as it reduced the capacity of forests and oceans to absorb the gas.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, which means as levels increase, it becomes progressively more difficult to reduce them.

“Without rapid cuts in COand other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”

The last time the Earth had a similar concentration of carbon dioxide was three to five million years ago.

The conclusion of this report reaffirms what scientists have been saying for years. Climate change is drastically affecting people’s lives and it will only continue to get worse if society doesn’t stand up and do something about it.

Many developing and developed countries have pledged to help reduce greenhouse gasses, but progress is too slow to make a real difference.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed by 196 countries in December 2015 with the goal of lowering “the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” The United States withdrew from the agreement in June 2017.

The commitments made under the Paris Agreement — Canada promised to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and provincial support for cap and trade programs — will be impossible to reach if the world doesn’t act now. Sustainable development and the investment in renewable energy despite political and bureaucratic ties have never been more important.

“We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed. The last few years have seen enormous uptake of renewable energy, but we must now redouble our efforts to ensure these new low-carbon technologies are able to thrive,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

What does this mean? Government’s need to stop thinking about the cost of sustainable and carbon-free technologies and start to actually implement their plans. Every day citizens can also contribute by investing in renewable energy and green retrofits on their homes. If that seems like too much, start small by taking transit, reducing waste, and using reusable containers in your lunch.

It’s probably too late to make a difference for 2017, but if everyone aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, hopefully the Earth can be saved from an excruciating death.

Canada remains dedicated to Paris Agreement despite U.S. decision

The Paris Agreement has been making headlines worldwide after the Trump administration removed themselves from the Paris Climate Agreement and ignited world-wide criticism. Though the United States seems to be doomed to a coal-filled future, where does Canada stand when it comes to Paris Agreement goals?

As it turns out, Canada has a lot of work to do in order to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, but remains dedicated to the accord. When the U.S. dropped out of the Paris Agreement, not one other country followed suit and Prime Minister Trudeau went as far to release a statement criticizing President Trump’s decision: “We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” Trudeau said. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.”

It appears the Canadian government understands climate change is an important issue, but is this country doing enough to combat the devastating effects of carbon emissions? The Columbia Institute, a non-profit dedicated to research and building sustainable communities, released a report card assessing the federal government’s climate change achievements and outlining which areas need improvement. According to the report, entitled Top Asks for Climate Action report,  as of 2015, Canada ranked 58 out of 61 countries for climate protection performance. The government has met certain climate change goals by implementing a national price on carbon, establishing a national transportation strategy, and offering dedicated funding to public transit in its municipalities. Alternatively, things Canada needs to work include setting greenhouse gas targets that would meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel industries, and moving towards renewable energy instead of locking the economy into a high carbon path.

The next step would be for Canada to adopt science-led and legally binding greenhouse reduction targets and follow best practices of countries like Finland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Mexico. As a part of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) mandates nationally determined commitments by 2020. Canada’s current targets do not meet the Paris Agreement standards, and these new objectives would need to be set at 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 from the current standing goal of 30 per cent.

South of the border, the Trump government announced on June 1 the United States wouldn’t remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the accord as ‘unfair’. Ignoring the pleas of many U.S. stakeholders, Trump instead offered to renegotiate the terms. The European Union outright refused to engage in negotiations. Instead, the EU plans to bypass the federal government and work directly with U.S. businesses, governors, and mayors to keep up with the climate change commitments.

Though this decision is devastating from an environmental perspective, it opens up key opportunities for Canada. If the U.S. is solely dedicated to promoting fossil fuels, the clean technology sector is ripe for the taking and Canada has the option to become a leader in renewable energy. Since there are only three countries in the world that haven’t signed the Paris Agreement (Syria, Saudi Arabia, U.S.), there are a lot of stakeholders looking for ways to implement clean technology and the green economy will only grow from here.

Though the U.S. has made a critically bad decision to leave the Paris Agreement, Canada and the rest of the world remains dedicated to slowing climate change and saving planet earth. Trudeau is leading the country towards becoming one of the more sustainable places to live in the world, but a lot of work remains. If Canada does set concrete greenhouse reduction goals that match targets set in the Paris Agreement and then actually implements them, the country will be well on its way to trying to combat the inevitable pollution caused by our climate-change-denying-neighbour down south.

Nature’s roar: the crisis of climate refugees

The reality of climate change refugees once seemed like a distant threat that plagued small villages in far-away places, but with the recent wild fires that forced 80,000 people to flee Fort McMurray, the dangers of climate change have arrived at our front doors.

Climate change is having a variety of effects on the planet, including floods, wild fires, droughts and extreme storms. It has become a forefront topic of discussion because of the dangers this environmental phenomenon poses for civilization. Quite literally, nature is at war with us. Though discussion surrounding the reasons and potential effects of climate change are increasingly relevant, more of an emphasis is necessary surrounding climate refugees.

A climate refugee,  as defined by the Global Governance Project 2012, is an “environmental migrant forced to move due to sudden or gradual alterations in the natural environment related to at least one of three impacts of climate change; sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and drought and water scarcity.” The impacts of climate change are causing refugees in the present, and it will only get worse if current temperatures continue to rise. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, 1.3 billion people will be at risk because of climate change related disasters.

In 2015 and 2016 alone, there were 19 million people displaced due to climate change. There was a severe migrant crisis in Syria influenced by war and drought, an earthquake in Nepal followed by an avalanche at Mt. Everest, drought in Ethiopia, floods in South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Mozambique, and a heat wave in Southern India. Wild fires plagued the west last summer and earlier in May 2016, forced the entire city of Fort McMurray to evacuate.

Many climate refugees try to remain in their own country, and in the case of the residents of Fort McMurray, Canada has enough resources to help its displaced people. In other countries though, climate-induced disasters can be catastrophic because there is a lack of assets available to help distressed populations. Arguably, the Syrian crisis is the most prevalent example to date of the fate that awaits climate refugees. When a country is plagued with drought, a lack of resources, and an unaccommodating government, it is a recipe for war. The mass migration of Syrians to safer northern countries represents the beginning of a series of massive moves from southern regions to colder, northern climates.

report on the extreme temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa was released in April 2016 that shows how the projected two-degree rise as a result of climate change by 2050 may actually be higher in the Middle East. With the current increase in temperature in the region, which includes 29 countries, the average summer temperature may rise to 50 degrees by 2050 and will become unliveable. If this occurs, people will be forced to move to other regions in the world, and compete for water and food resources. A strain on natural resources and the global economy will most likely follow.

We need to change. All of us are responsible to our planet, and we are looking at a global shift so extreme it may lead to our own extinction. Even as an environmentalist, I am at fault as well. Seeing various Facebook posts, tweets, and articles pop up that blame the oil industry for the fires in Fort McMurray, it isn’t justified. We all use the products that these natural companies produce whether or not we want to admit it. Making the world miners vs. environmentalists, west vs. east, and rich vs. poor is not going to help curb climate change. The blame game is a waste of time.

Instead, we need legislation to protect climate refugees. We need mandatory, international rights that ban countries from building fences to keep people out, and prevent people from being forced to walk from border to border with nowhere to go. On a global level, climate contracts like the  2015 Paris Agreement needs to address migrants as a central concern, instead of simply assigning a task force to the “discuss the issue”.  Most importantly, we need to drop the us vs. them philosophy and unite together the way Canadians recently did in the Fort McMurray crisis.

On another level, we need to change our focus on resource consumption. Food, water, and natural resources need to be considered as valuable assets that should be shared by all, rather than limitless consumer goods that are solely at the disposable of the rich. If mass climate-caused immigration is imminent, we need to prepare and provide everyone with their equal share. Renewable resources need to be taken seriously, and not just used as dinner table talk for saavy environmental science majors.

Looking at the fire destroying a city in my home province of Alberta, it becomes clear. Nature is angry and she’s fighting back. As people, we are so consumed with arguing between each other that we can’t even hear nature’s roar. The question then becomes: when do we shut up and listen?