Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Stark Choice: Extreme Heat or Dirty Fuels

By Stephen Leahy
Sunday, August 18, 2013

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 15 2013 (IPS) - Two reports released Wednesday reveal the dangerous gap between science and politics. New climate research shows that extreme events such as the severe heat wave in the U.S. last year will double in 2020, increase 400 percent by 2040, and then get far worse without significant carbon reductions.

Meanwhile, an analysis shows Canada cannot meet its weak 2020 carbon emissions reduction target even as it plans to triple the size of its massive tar sands operations in coming decades.

Canada’s has no credible carbon reduction plan and has done virtually nothing on climate since Stephen Harper’s government came to power in 2006, said activists.


Canada, the United States and other countries pledged to reduce their total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 17 percent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2020 under what is known as the Copenhagen Accord. Scientists say that target is too weak and will result in global temperatures rising by at least 3.5C, a very dangerous level of climate change.

Those high temperatures will likely produce heat extremes that kill people, animals and crops, and blanket 85 percent of the planet’s land area in summer by 2100, German and Spanish scientists reported late Wednesday.

“That’s what our calculations show for a scenario of unabated climate change,” said co-author Dim Coumou of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Shockingly, it is already too late to prevent a doubling of heat waves by 2020 and four-fold increase by 2040, concludes the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The reason for this is that burning enormous amounts of fossil fuels over the past 50 years has added 40 percent more heat-trapping CO2 gas to the atmosphere. Even if all human sources of CO2 emissions ended today, temperatures will continue to rise from the present 0.8C of additional warming to as much as 1.1. to 1.5C due to a time lag in the climate system, scientists say.

And those temperatures would not decline for a very long time.


The U.S. is on target to make its meet its Copenhagen reduction pledge. However, Canada’s abysmal environmental record has come to the attention of the Barack Obama administration. President Obama recently said that he would only approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”. The long-delayed Keystone XL would bring 800,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen (heavy oil) to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.


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