03 Nov Environmental Challenges
As I stare out at the grey, rainy day here in Eugene, my thoughts turn to recent bad news about our atmosphere and oceans. Three publications from the past few weeks indicate the climate change is likely to have a massive economic impact, the world’s fish stocks are on the verge of collapse, and Canada is not complying with its Kyoto obligations. The good news is that each of the first two reports suggested that significant policy intervention could still make a difference. Is there the political will to make that happen?
Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.
In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.
The investment that takes place in the next 10-20 years will have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next. Our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.
An article in the November 2006 issue of Science indicates that:
Human-dominated marine ecosystems are experiencing accelerating loss of populations and species, with largely unknown consequences. We analyzed local experiments, long-term regional time series, and global fisheries data to test how biodiversity loss affects marine ecosystem services across temporal and spatial scales. Overall, rates of resource collapse increased and recovery potential, stability, and water quality decreased exponentially with declining diversity. Restoration of biodiversity, in contrast, increased productivity fourfold and decreased variability by 21%, on average. We conclude that marine biodiversity loss is increasingly impairing the ocean’s capacity to provide food, maintain water quality, and recover from perturbations. Yet available data suggest that at this point, these trends are still reversible.
Just before both of these were released, however, Canada’s 2006 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development noted that Canada is failing to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol:
What Canada is doing with respect to its Kyoto target
40. The challenge in meeting Canada’s Kyoto target is often expressed in terms of an “emissions gap.” This is the difference between projected annual business-as-usual emissions (the emissions that would occur in the absence of any specific requirements to reduce emissions) in 2008–12, and Canada’s Kyoto target.
41. According to the Government of Canada’s National Inventory Report—Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada (1990–2004), in 2004, Canadians emitted 758 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, 34.6 percent higher than Canada’s Kyoto Protocol target. Much of this growth is attributed to increased emissions from energy industries and from transportation, whose emissions increased 41 percent and 30 percent respectively between 1990 and 2004. Within the energy industry, the increase is largely fuelled by increased demand for electricity and growing oil and gas production for export. Transport-related emissions account for over one-quarter of Canada’s emissions, and within this sector the largest increase is from light trucks (including mini vans and sport utility vehicles)—an increase of more than 100 percent from 1990 to 2004.