Earlier in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Sixth Assessment Report about the current state of global climate change.
Otherwise known as the AR6 report, the document goes over the current condition of the global climate, possible outcomes for the future, information about risk assessment and adaptation, and limiting negative outcomes from climate change.
Throughout the almost 4,000 page report, one of the main points by the 234 authors is that human influence on climate change is now a confirmed fact, whereas, in previous reports, it was considered very likely.
From 2011 to 2020, the global surface temperature was 1.9° C higher than 1850 to 1900. Between 2016 and 2020, we have recorded the hottest temperatures since at least 1850. The report also stated that it is “virtually certain,” meaning a 99 to 100 per cent probability of hot extremes like heat waves have become more frequent and intense since the 1950s, while cold extremes are less frequent and less severe.
Moving towards the future, the report has predicted temperatures will reach 1.5 C above 1850-1900 levels by 2040, and that there will be increases in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, droughts in some areas, and a decrease in Arctic sea ice and snow.
Currently, the “Physical Science Basis” is the first out of three installments of the AR6 report. The second contribution will be released to the public in Feb. 2022. It will focus on the impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, while the third installment discusses climate change mitigation, which is set to release in March 2022.
Paul Richard, an instructor from the environmental technology program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says the information of the AR6 report didn’t surprise him, only the tone.
“It’s managed to be more alarmist than before,” he says. “Whereas before, you read other reports that gives the impression that ‘well okay, so things are getting worse.'”
The report was released on Aug. 9, and Richard says it is perfect timing for Canadian politicians to see that action is necessary from the extreme weather happening across the globe, including the forest fires in B.C.
“I hope it will put a little more of a fire under their feet [and] that this will come as a bit of an embarrassment for a policymaker, and the public will get to see that. Therefore, more change because we’re poised for it,” he says. “I hope to see a change, but maybe more because of what we’ve physically experienced.”
However, Richard wishes that the report mentioned coastal environments with seagrass and other plants because they effectively capture greenhouse gas emissions. Richard says creating even artificial sea plants protects salmon and coastal areas from flooding caused by storms.
After looking through the report, Richard says there is a negative and positive takeaway. The negative is that “some changes are unavoidable, and we will overshoot the 1.5 C objective of the Paris Accord.”
“The good part is, there’s still stuff we can do to correct that and even get back to 1.5 degrees,” says Richard. “It’s still possible, but we have to act.”
Ellen Pond, an instructor in the policy studies program at KPU, shares similar points to Richard and says solving the climate crisis is still possible. Pond says that although the information in the report wasn’t surprising, it makes it more clear that humans are causing a physical impact on the environment.
“We can still avoid catastrophic climate change, as long as we take action,” says Pond.
“The other piece that’s there is that we are living with climate impacts, and we’re going to live with them. We also have to adapt because the more we adapt, the less bad the impacts are on the human community.”
Pond says although she’s unsure how the report will affect Canadian policymakers, the report will spark more conversation with political members about climate change, especially with the upcoming election.
“Scientific evidence does not necessarily lead to policy change. It’s actually up to all of us, in Canada, to push harder for the change that we need,” says Pond. “We have an election with a really short [campaign] period. I think [the report] feeds more good evidence into the policymaking process. I think it remains to be seen.”
“We have to tell decision-makers that dealing urgently with climate is really important. We can actively engage and choose a better path,” said Pond in a follow-up email to The Runner.
Erin Pedersen, the sustainability coordinator at the Kwantlen Student Association, says the report came out at the perfect time to influence climate policy in Canada due to extreme weather events and the upcoming federal election. The information in the report did not surprise Pedersen either.
“Working on climate change as part of my job, it was confirming things we already knew,” she says.
Pedersen predicts this may be a climate-focused election for British Columbians with the extreme weather events people are experiencing, such as forest fires and heat waves. She says the report and weather will push more people to help fight the climate crisis.
“I hope this will strengthen Canadian climate policy. I hope that it will really give us the impetus to get off fossil fuels and to stop clinging to this idea that we can still be using fracked natural gas and still be exporting oil all over the world,” says Pedersen.
“As Canadians, we have an oversized carbon footprint per capita. Any Western nation has historically contributed more to carbon emissions worldwide, and so we have a responsibility to lead the way and help the rest of the world transition.”
Pedersen says the most important takeaway is the importance of taking action now and preventing the worst impacts.
“It’s the biggest challenge humanity’s ever faced, and it’s terrifying but also exciting. Imagine if we do it,” says Pedersen. “Imagine that we succeed. That’s what I think is really exciting.”