An international report concludes there’s no escaping global warming, but that came as no surprise to members of the Climate Caucus, a group of elected municipal officials from across the country who are making the climate a priority of their work.
“The report is not a surprise in any way,” said the group’s founder, Nelson city councillor Rik Logtenberg. “We knew it was coming. We knew it was going to be a strong warning.”
The Climate Caucus has gained 400 members from across the country since its inception two years ago. Logtenberg said the group’s work is based on the data produced by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which recently published Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis that concludes global warming is likely to rise by about 1.5 C within two decades.
The report has 234 authors from 66 countries, with another 517 contributing authors. It contains cited references to 14,000 studies.
The IPCC is the United Nations body, established in 1988, that assesses the science related to climate change. It will sponsor an international conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, this fall, to be attended by about 190 world leaders.
“The report helps to communicate the urgency to people that haven’t been paying attention,” said Logtenberg, adding that many caucus members have been experiencing the first-hand effects of climate change this summer including drought and disastrous wildfires.
“We don’t need outside reporting to see what’s happening,” Logtenberg said. “We can see it with our own eyes.”
He gave the example of the Sunshine Coast, which he says is in danger of running out of drinking water this fall because of heat waves and drought as well as a population increase from people arriving from other parts of the province to escape wildfire smoke.
“This is happening in B.C., and one of the unexpected effects is the strain put on the resources of the communities that have to support these migrants,” Logtenberg said.
This was confirmed by Donna McMahon, a director of the Sunshine Coast Regional District, in a phone interview with the Nelson Star. She said it is the same in the Gulf Islands and on Vancouver Island.
“I just was emailing with a friend of mine who lives outside of Kelowna,” McMahon said. “She just self-evacuated and went to Vancouver, but she said people in Penticton are sleeping in their cars. I don’t know where people are going to go if they have to evacuate some of those places.”
This is an example of how municipalities are at the front lines of climate change, Logtenberg said, because their health, property, infrastructure and economies are directly threatened by it. He said transportation and buildings are the biggest producers of greenhouse gases in the country and municipalities have a lot of control over both.
Judy O’Leary of Nelson works for the Climate Caucus as one of its co-ordinators. She says the organization has working groups on many aspects of climate change including building retrofits, water resilience, and the valuation of natural assets.
The group is lobbying the B.C. government for a provincial system of incentives for energy retrofits to buildings, similar to Nelson’s EcoSave program. On this front the caucus is working in collaboration with the climate group Help Cities Lead.
O’Leary said the caucus’s nature-based solutions project is looking at how municipalities can attach a value to natural assets – streams, shorelines, wetlands, forests – so that they show up on the city’s books as assets and are not discounted when environmental decisions are made.
Another working group is made up of outdoor recreation communities being hit by climate change, in conjunction with the ski industry group Protect our Winters and the University of Waterloo.
O’Leary said the caucus provides a valuable support for its municipal councillor members.
“Sometimes it’s a little lonely for some of those councillors who might be the only one on their council who is climate friendly,” she said.
The caucus has created a councillor handbook, available on its website, where members can find plans that are ready to go, based on experience and research in other communities, with references and contact information.
There are sections on transportation, buildings, zero waste, nature-based solutions, and food security.
The IPCC report finds that “unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 C or even 2 C will be beyond reach,” resulting in heatwaves that would affect global agriculture and health.
An increase of 1.5 C is generally seen as the most that the planet could withstand without widespread social, environmental and economic upheaval.
Increasing temperature, in addition to making the world hotter, will lead to more intense rainfall and flooding, changes to global rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, permafrost thawing, loss of glaciers and icecaps, marine heatwaves, ocean acidification and ocean warming, the report states. Some of these changes, once in place, could take decades or centuries to reverse.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has described the report as a “code red for humanity.”
“The alarm bells are deafening,” he said in a statement. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”