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Dire consequences on the horizon
He doesn’t want to sound alarmist, but there’s no doubt Richard Zurawski has grave concerns.
“We don’t want to scare people but everything I read says that we are in a crisis,” says the Halifax councillor
Zurawski’s statement at a meeting of Halifax Regional Municipality council’s environment committee highlights dire circumstances, in a world where climate change threatens millions of people. He’s convinced the time to act is now.
The local crisis, Zurawski said, is that the nearly half million residents of HRM each annually produce about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds that are emitted into the atmosphere. Those greenhouse gases directly contribute to warming temperatures and the goal is to reduce that emission level to one tonne per person by mid-century, the councillor said.
The former meteorologist, elected to city council in 2016, was responding to a presentation by Shannon Miedema, manager of the municipality’s Energy and Environment Planning department, and Alex MacDonald, a climate change specialist with the same department.
According to the presentation, Halifax releases nearly 7.5 million tonnes of emissions, mainly from residential buildings, on-road transportation and commercial and institutional facilities. These sectors contribute about three quarters of the community-wide emissions.
The state of the world
Leading climate scientists warned in a recent report there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 C; beyond that, even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
The authors of the landmark report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the target is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the 2016 Paris agreement pledge to keep temperature increases between 1.5 and two degrees.
“This has to be made clear to council that we have no alternative,” Zurawski said. “If we do not do this, the world as we know it – and without any hyperbole involved – will be so dramatically different that we will be reacting to all sorts of things that we shouldn’t have to react to.”
Zurawski said it’s imperative that we reach the 1.5-degree goal.
“If we continue in the way we are going, we will commit in the next 80 years to a 5.1-degree-Celsius rise in global temperature. That is unthinkable; much of the United States will be uninhabitable. By uninhabitable, we are talking about desert temperatures with humidity approaching 65 degrees Celsius.”
Heat-related deaths would abound, and water shortages would be evident everywhere, Zurawski said.
The world is currently one degree warmer than pre-industrial levels. At a two-degree increase, extremely hot days, such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere this summer, would become more severe and common, increasing heat-related deaths and causing more forest fires, the United Nations panel report said.
What we can do
Miedema and MacDonald say emissions must be reduced significantly by the year 2050. To do so must be taken in steps, setting up smaller, incremental targets and deciding where to go from there based on mitigation objectives and climate scenarios.
Businesses and the private enterprise must play a role as well, they said.
“I will urge you in the strongest sense to lay out the scenario that happens if we do not implement this,” Zurawski told Miedema and MacDonald after the presentation.
The impact of climate change has the potential to be directly catastrophic for human beings, according to researchers, but nature would be hardest hit. Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at two degrees compared with 1.5 degrees. Sea-level rise would affect 10 million more people by 2100 if the half-degree extra warming brought a forecasted 10-centimetre additional pressure on coastlines. The number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt.