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January 13 2012


December 23 2011


Canada’s White Christmas Isn’t So White Anymore

The tradition of snowy white Christmases is threatened by climate changeEnjoying a white Christmas is an honored tradition for many all over the world, and nowhere  more than for those in Canada’s Great White North. But for most Canadians, the tradition of a white Christmas is becoming more a dream than a reality.

David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada studied weather records and snowfall trends collected across Canada between 1964 and 2009. What Phillips found was that the chances of having a white Christmas with more than  2 centimeters (.7 inches) of snow on the ground has decreased dramatically in the past few decades.

The second largest and second coldest country on earth, 85 percent of Canada will still be blanketed in snow, says Phillips. But in the countries southern tier, where most people live and celebrate Christmas, the chances of a decent snowfall has dropped by nearly a quarter since 1991.

“Most Canadians will see a green Christmas,” said Phillips. “Who would have thought in the Great White North, the land of ice and snow, that we would be denied something that we hold close to our hearts?”

“It’s about a feeling,” added Phillips, “it’s about the Christmas card look to a scene, it’s about sleigh bells and chestnuts roasting.”

In Calgary Alberta, the chances of a white Christmas has fallen most precipitously. Between 1964 and 1984, the city had a 74 percent chance of a decent snowfall by Christmas. But from 1991 to 2009 the probability of a white Christmas  fell to only 47 percent.

And even when the snow does fall, there is less of it. Goose Bay, Labrador, in northern Canada, still has a 100 percent chance of snow by Christmas, but instead of the average 25 inches of snow depth recorded between 1964 and 1982, only 13.7 inches on average blanketed the community on Christmas between 1991 and 2009.

Fewer white Christmases don’t necessarily put anyone in peril, but it could have an impact on Canada’s tourism industry and is a “bummer” for those attached to the idea of a pristine, white Christmas full of deep fresh snow.

“It’s an emotional thing,” says Phillips. “We’re the great White North, we are the land of ice and snow, and we are losing that reputation, because winters just aren’t what they used to be.”

But the changing winters in Canada may help the onset of climate change “resonate” with Canadians suggests Phillips.

“When climatologists talk about climate change and global warming and it sounds technical, but it hits home with white Christmases.”

Additional source:
Climatewire (subscription required)

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August 03 2011


Canadians Embarrassed (Again) After Government Overestimates Its Carbon Reductions

The Canadian government is again being called out for providing misleading information about its commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) has released its fifth annual report [pdf] analyzing government efforts to follow through with its obligations to reduce its carbon pollution, as set out under the 2007 Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act (KPIA).

The findings are disturbing and show that Canada’s emissions reduction policies are only about half as effective as advertised. The recent analysis shows that government policies aiming for 54 million tonnes of carbon reductions by 2012 will only yield around 27 million tonnes of reductions.
Individual project emission data was originally evaluated by Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada, and taken together showed that the 2011 KPIA plan was on pace to achieve the Conservative government’s climate goals. When Environment Canada combined the individual project totals into an integrated model, however, the results are not so pretty. Environment Canada’s modeling reveals that a significant amount of double counting is taking place between projects. Moreover, best-case scenarios are also being overused (as reference cases) leading to frequent overestimations for reductions.

Clare Demerse, director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, remarked that:

“It’s normal to expect the package to be less than the sum of all its parts but doubling the estimate is unexpected.”

Unfortunately, this type of discrepancy is all too common for the governing Conservatives who continue to oppose the binding 2012 pollution reduction targets as set out in the Kyoto Accord.

Just last month, in advance of the latest round of United Nations (U.N.) climate talks, the government decided not to include 2009 data from a 567-page U.N. report on Canada’s carbon emissions. The government has long said that Canada will not achieve the 2012 Kyoto targets, but when the 2009 data was finally released after a media investigation, it showed a significant 20% increase in pollution from Alberta’s tar sands industry and that the government would likely fail to achieve its modest goals for a 17% reduction in total carbon emissions by 2020 (from 2005 levels).

The NRTEE report confirms that a ‘business as usual’ scenario will make it extremely difficult for Canada to control its carbon pollution.

Demerse added:

“Sadly, the bottom line from this report is that Canada’s current climate policies are far too weak to reach our national target for cutting greenhouse gas pollution. That’s not a new message, but it’s a critically important one.”

This latest NRTEE report does make the following recommendations in the hopes that the 2020 climate goals are still on the government’s agenda:

1. To improve the consistency between the integrated modelling estimates and measure-by-measure estimates of emissions reductions, the NRTEE recommends that consistent, reliable, and substantiated assumptions be used to define the reference case across all estimates. In particular, if the reference case assumption is that none of the mitigating actions would have occurred in the absence of the policy, the Plan should present sufficient evidence to substantiate this assumption. This recommendation applies in particular for the ecoENERGY for Renewable Power, ecoENERGY for Buildings and Houses, ecoENERGY for Industry, and Pulp and Paper Green Transformation programs.

2. To acquire additional evidence regarding the effectiveness of policies and programs, the NRTEE recommends the government implement additional ex-post (after the fact) policy evaluations. Studies like the analysis implemented by NRCan to explore the actual emissions reductions realized from the ecoENERGY Retrofit Initiative can provide valuable insights as to how the policy has performed historically. As existing programs wind down, these insights can be used to improve estimates of likely future reductions, and can also inform future policy design choices by exploring the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of existing programs.

3. To help Canada continue to be accountable to its emissions reductions objectives, the NRTEE recommends the government continue to broaden its public process for evaluating its climate policies over the long term. The NRTEE applauds the government for publishing its 2020 emissions forecasts in January 2011. The government should continue to publish updated forecasts as it implements new policies and programs and moves toward long-term emissions reductions.

4. To move forward with a coordinated Canadian climate strategy, the NRTEE recommends that consideration be given to how federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal policies can be better coordinated to complement and reinforce current and future efforts. Assessing the effectiveness of provincial/territorial/municipal policies can help highlight the important role of these policies in contributing to Canada’s national emissions reductions objectives and inform future federal action in support.

The NRTEE is an advisory agency to the federal government whose members are mainly industry and political appointees. In spite of fears that committee members may owe a debt to the government which appointment them, the NRTEE has again proven its independence by calling out Conservative reticence on climate change. Earlier this year, the committee released a report saying that Canada must get serious on climate and stop dragging its feet waiting for the U.S. to act first.

Photo Credit: NRTEE

June 13 2011


Canada Hiding Its Carbon Emissions Growth Amidst Rapid Tar Sands Boom

Each year, in advance of United Nations (U.N.) climate discussions, governments around the world submit an inventory of their carbon emissions. This year, Canada is taking a unique approach to lower its reported emissions in preparing the annual carbon inventory – it has purposefully excluded information in order to give the false impression that when it comes to climate-altering tar sands pollution, “everything is fine.”

In reality, Canada’s carbon emissions have tripled since 1990, and Canada is making only minor progress to lower its carbon production 17% by 2020, according to Environment Canada’s own figures.

Last week, however, it was revealed that in the 567-page report detailing the country’s emissions, the Canadian government decided not to include 2009 data. Why? Perhaps because it documents a 20% increase in pollution from Alberta’s tar sands industry. The elusive data was only gradually released through emails in response to an investigation by Postmedia News. <!--break-->
Canada’s effort to hide tar sands pollution is frightening, greenwashing aside, for several reasons:

•    Tar sands makes up about 6.5% of the country’s total emissions, and is arguably the most important contributor to the country’s overall emissions (up 11% in 2009);
•    Canada is the world's sixth largest oil producer and tar sands production is expected to increase to 3.5 billion barrels of oil per day by 2015, to 4.2 billion barrels by 2020 and  rising to 4.7 billion barrels by 2025 – an increase of 68% by 2025;
•    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that carbon emissions from tar sands oil is approximately 82% higher than average oil.

The government’s most recent data reveals that the rules in place to control tar sands pollution are not effective, since the industry has failed to lower emissions intensity per barrel of oil, as required. Mark Johnson, spokesman for Environment Canada said the newly released 2009 figures showed that there is “very little change in the total emissions intensity in oilsands.” In fact, industry claims that emissions per barrel had improved 39% since 1990, have been revised to around 29%.

Previously, the tar sands industry responded to challenges on its environmental practices by cultivating an image that the tar sands represent “ethical oil” as compared to importing oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or Nigeria. Oil producers even commissioned Cambridge Energy Research Associates to prepare a report [pdf] suggesting that emissions from tar sands oil is merely 5-15% higher than traditional oil.

Now the dirty oil industry is not even trying to defend spiraling emissions growth. According to Travis Davies, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry believes it can still clean its operations through “incremental improvements” over the next five years.

Unfortunately, incremental steps will do little to help Canada achieve progress towards its lagging pollution-reduction goals, which are not aggressive enough to match the scientific evidence of anticipated climate change impacts.

In January, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy called [pdf] on Canada to stop waiting for the U.S. to take action on climate change. More recently, the Conference Board of Canada predicts continued failure on climate action in a highly critical report describing the lack of coordinated efforts between the Canadian federal and provincial governments.

At this month’s ongoing U.N. climate discussions in Bonn, Germany, Canada is being challenged by officials from Australia, China, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and the Philippines who are questioning government fossil fuel subsidies, tar sands emissions disclosure, the lack of low-carbon investments and the basis for the country’s weak emissions reduction target.

Peter Betts, the lead European Union negotiator and a director at the United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change, says he was “struck that the colleague from Canada didn't refer to the tarsands issue, or at least only once in passing…"

Canadian negotiators seem unfazed by the criticism, content to remain laggards on climate action. They not only admit but boast that the Harper-led government will not meet the emissions reduction commitments Canada agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Judith Gelbman, a member of Canada's delegation, sums up Canada’s politically-motivated position:

"Now that we've finished our election we can say now that Canada will not be taking a target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol."

March 02 2011


Major Cuts To Pollution Control Spending On The Horizon In Canada

A number of Canadian environmental policies and programs are facing significant budget cuts during the next year. Not surprisingly, reducing carbon emissions and air pollution are two of the areas facing the budget axe from Stephen Harper's anti-science administration.

Environment Canada will endure a 14% reduction in funding (or $222 million) and the budget to combat global warming emissions and other air pollution will drop a massive 59% (from $240 million to below $100). <!--break-->Previously, global warming and clean-air funding:

"served to inform Canada's domestic regulatory approach to greenhouse gas emissions, provide a platform to deepen engagement with the U.S. on climate change issues and enhance Canada's visibility as an international leader in clean energy technology."

Environmental and public health protection initiatives have long been targeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has firmly opposed acting to regulate carbon emissions, despite the many high-level recommendations from his own advisors and in the Canadian Parliament to the contrary.

Since Natural Resource Canada will face a 21% reduction (nearly $1 billion), the extremely popular and highly effective home retrofit program (previously funded with $390 million) to pay for energy efficient upgrades will also be axed.

Gillian McEachern, the program manager for climate and energy at Environmental Defence said that the scale of these cuts severely undermines any possibility that industrial emissions of carbon will be regulated this year, or any time in the future:


"If they're cutting the departmental budget by 60 per cent, we have to question who's going to be around to write the regulations."

Such cuts are not reflective of the scientific evidence documenting the need to curb carbon emissions and other pollutants that threaten public health. The Harper administration seems determined to ignore science, and that doesn't bode well for the Canadian people or the climate that sustains all life.

May 06 2010


Freak April Rain Showers Hit Canadian Arctic

While the Gulf of Mexico continues to choke on oil from a man-made disaster, the Arctic is experiencing another form of man-made onslaught thanks to climate change. 

Late last month, British explorers hiking in the Canadian Arctic reported that their ice base off Ellef Ringnes Island had been hit by a three-minute rain shower.  A team of Canadian scientists camped about 145 km west also reported being hit by rain at the same time.

Pen Hadow, the British team's expedition director, told Reuters, "It's definitely a shocker ... the general feeling within the polar community is that rainfall in the high Canadian Arctic in April is a freak event."

Hadow, whose team is gathering data on the effects of climate change on the Arctic Ocean in the Catlin Arctic Survey, said that "scientists would tell us that we can expect increasingly to experience these sorts of outcomes as the climate warms."
But the group was not expecting such a sudden reminder of the consequences of a warming Arctic.

Ice base manager Paul Ramsden said, "It is obviously quite worrying when you are camped out on ice. I felt distinctly nervous for a while because the consequences of getting wet here can be serious."

And the rain isn’t the only indicator that things are out of whack in the North.

Reuters reports:
“Hadow said the team carrying out the carbon dioxide experiments had noticed that ice was abnormally thin and was moving around more than they expected. The winds were stronger than usual.”

Tyler Fish, another team member, told CBC that "We worry that if it's too warm maybe some of the scientific samples will start to thaw ... or the food will get too warm and spoil."

 "We have been told there will be more unpredicted events like this as the climate of the region warms. Our team up there have already reported many locals people at Resolute have also been commenting on the unusual warmth of the winter this year," Pen Hadow added.

The Arctic is heating up three times more quickly than the rest of the Earth, and scientists have linked the higher temperatures to global warming pollution.

Scientists working in the Arctic say the thick multiyear ice covering the Arctic Ocean has essentially vanished, and U.S. data shows the 2009 ice cover was the third-lowest on record, after 2007 and 2008.

David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, described the freak rain in the High Arctic in April as “really bizarre,” noting that 50 to 60 years of historical weather data show no signs of rainfall ever occurring in April in the High Arctic.

"My business is weird, wild and wacky weather, and this is up there among fish falling from the sky or Niagara Falls running dry," Phillips told CBC News.

April 28 2010



Charlie Paton, Martin Hartley and Ann Daniels, aka ‘The Explorer Team’ Catlin Arctic Survey Ice Base reports ‘unheard of’ April rain – A surprise for experienced polar team The scientists and staff at the Catlin Arctic Survey Ice Base in the high Arctic off Ellef Ringnes island in the Canadian High Arctic have reported an abnormal [...]

March 29 2010


The problem with Canada

Category: climate Posted on: March 22, 2010 10:44 AM, by James Hrynyshyn Since I moved to North Carolina (five years ago next month), it’s been depressing to watch the political climate there move ever closer to the one the U.S. managed to pull itself out of in 2008. The latest news, which concerns attempts by the federal [...]
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