It probably comes as no big surprise, but Canada may be drastically off its emission targets, despite contrary promises from the government.

Though the Harper government says Canada is halfway to reaching its 17 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020, critics say the country has only cut emissions by as little as 3 per cent.

The devil, it seems, is in the details, according to CTV.  The Montreal based environmentalist group Équiterre says the government is skewing the data to make it look more palatable.

Canada’s 2020 emissions target of 607 megatonnes is based on the projection that 850 megatonnes of harmful gases would have been released into the atmosphere had the federal government done nothing to reduce emissions.

By using that projection as a starting point, instead of the roughly 750 megatonnes of greenhouse gases Canada emitted in 2005, the government can say it’s halfway toward reaching the goal. However, emissions are currently down only three per cent from 2005 levels, at 720 megatonnes.

Other projections have placed Canada’s 2020 emissions as much as 19 per cent higher than its goal. This is good news, though, according to The Province, but only because its emissions targets have been so bleak.

Environment Canada’s previous estimates from 2011 projected the country’s annual emissions would be 29 per cent above Harper’s 2020 target, set under the 2009 Copenhagen climate change agreement.

Perhaps the contributing factor is the government’s lax stance on emissions from the tar sands. The Environment Minister Peter Kent said the government doesn’t want to inhibit job growth. This winter Canada also earned some well-deserved international ire when the country pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, joining the United States, Afghanistan, Andorra, and South Sudan.

However, with global warming in full swing, Alberta can expect to be scorched anyway by 2100. Maybe the seat of the Conservative Party will have to acknowledge the “climate change” problem by then?

*Photo by Guy Gorek (Creative Commons)

Photo: Wikipedia CC

Photo: Wikipedia CCI’ve always liked the joke that the quote on Quebec license plates “Je me souviens” (I remember) isn’t a statement of national pride but actually a reference to the winter. It’s always there, lurking, in the shadows of Mont Royal.  Yet as much as winter is an integral part of the Canadian identity and image, this won’t be the case for much longer.

Though temperature changes of a few degrees of the earth’s surface might not sound like a lot, it will have a drastic impact on Canada’s geography. It is predicted that global climate change will result in almost 40 per cent of land-based ecosystems making changes from one ecological community type – such as forest, grasslands or tundra – toward another.

So here’s what your kids and grandkids can expect by 2100 (88 years from now):

A milder, muggier Montreal and Toronto, a drier Vancouver

The St. Lawrence region will see more precipitation (25 per cent) but also milder temperatures, meaning Montreal  and Toronto will probably turn into Chicago, which is currently turning into Mobile, Alabama. (For real, they are planting Southern trees)

And Vancouver, after thousands of years of suffering through the rain in the summer will see a lot less. This might sound nice to some of its residents who are sick of the rain, but it will have a pretty big impact on B.C.’s aquatic community

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta will be hardest hit

NASA says the hardest hit will be Western Canada, particularly the prairies and the boreal forest, which are expected to retreat northwards. What this means is that as the region heats, the prairies can expect a drastic change in ecology and lifestyle.

“So anywhere in Canada where you are currently at what’s called an ‘ecotone,’ or the transition zone between the prairie plant communities and the boreal forest plant communities, that’s where the greatest change will be observed,” said NASA collaborator, Jon Bergengren, a global ecologist and earth systems scientist.

This is the sort of thing that has led to the collapse of civilizations in the past,  but in our modern world plentiful water and tree-lined streets  of Alberta and Saskatchewan will be rationed to the 1%.

(Umm…paging Stephen Harper…)

Drier Southern Alberta and Ontario

Southern Alberta and Ontario in particular could face strains on their water as rising temperatures increase evaporation, according to the University of Waterloo. A similar effect will be felt in Ontario, as the Great Lakes water levels start to drop.

Retreating forests

As temperatures rise, Canada’s famous boreal forests will recede farther and farther north. More than half of the forest is predicted to vanish in the next century, according to the Canadian Wildlife Federation. And drier conditions further south mean more forest fires of increasing intensity.

A smaller and less healthy Arctic

It’s not exactly news that the polar ice cap is shrinking and sea levels are rising thanks to a warming earth. What is becoming more apparent though is thevariety of ways this can screw with the planet, from extreme weather to sinking cities. In Canada’s Arctic regions the temperature has already changed four degrees celsius, which is leading to more waterborne illnesses, according to National Geographic.

Which means that

Ecologically speaking, Canada is about to go through some kind of climate change vortex. Changing temperatures, retreating forests and glaciers, more rain, more forest fire will tip the balance in many ecosystems.

Or as NASA says:

While Earth’s plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth’s natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

*Photos from Wikipedia, arbyreed (via Creative Commons), and 

They say seeing is believing, but at Germany’s imaginative and revealing climate change museum, they believe experience is even better.  That’s the driving force behind the immersive installations offered by the Klimahaus (Climate House) and its main exhibit, “The Journey,” that transports visitors around the world along one line of longitude, eight degrees east.

Opened in June 2009 in the northern German port city of Bremerhaven, the UNESCO-sponsored museum is the first of its kind. The journey exhibit takes people through a range of the world’s climate zones: mountain glaciers, scorching desert, muggy rainforest and onwards around the globe in an effort to show what climate change means across the planet.

Along the way we meet the people who live in each zone and find out how their lives and worlds are changing due to global warming, be it in Switzerland, Sardinia or Niger. Many of the people we meet through photos, videos, audio and inspired installations are already living in the extremes, but everywhere the journey takes us we see that climate change is inescapable and is a reality people, animals and plants are living.

Picture it: starting in the middle of unassuming Bremerhaven we head due south on train tracks, first stop Switzerland and the Alps. There we learn about the rural traditions of an elderly couple who milk cows and make cheese in a mountain village. Why not have a seat and milk one yourself, it’s easy.

Or climb to the top of the scaled-down glacier and learn about whooping, the fun and lesser-known cousin of yodelling.

But we also learn how things are changing: glaciers in the region are receding quickly, leaving behind massive debris freed from the melting ice and creating major risk of rockslide, a product of climbing temperatures and a world consuming more fossil fuels than ever. You’ll even feel the temperature of a glacier in a passage on the way to the next stop, Sardinia.

The family that awaits you on the Italian island lives with extreme heat. Parts of Sardinia, off Italy’s southwestern coast, suffer from high temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius regularly and dryness that makes forests prone to wild fires. No one works from one to four in the afternoon as the oppressive heat makes it simply impractical.

Working with the premise that a butterfly in one part of the world can cause a tornado in another, we control weather settings in one room and watch the effects on camera as visitors in nearby rooms feel a brisk breeze, a sudden rise in temperature or a downpour next to the old Fiat.

Climate change in Sardinia has only exacerbated the problem of forest fires, which we see helicopter pilots lament in a video as they fly over an infernal landscape. But they also say that education and public engagement has led to better management of the forests and a recent reduction in the number of fires annually.

Further south along the 8th degree line we come to a place on the edge of the desert, though it’s hard to believe you’re not in the Sahara itself. Kanak is a remote region in Niger and is home to the Tuareg, nomads who have been herders in the region for 1300 years. They live on the northern edge of the Sahel, a band of terrain that crosses Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

Conditions there are difficult to bear. After peering into the daily lives of Tuareg families we enter a desert-like room where a single acacia tree stands on a stretch of barren, sandy land. Here, water is at a premium from wells 30 metres deep and desertification is making life harder each year. That reality is brought home by the room’s 35-degree dry heat wave and the single drop of water falling on the tree every twelve minutes, simulating the amount of precipitation the region receives annually.

A quote from a Tuareg woman on the wall leading into the room speaks volumes: “When I was a young woman a lot of things were different. I saw things I no longer see. I don’t see any of those things anymore: giraffes, ostriches, tortoises, antelopes, deer. There were enough.”

“Canada” in the Tuareg language

From Niger the journey continues southward to the rainforests of Cameroon, Antarctica, the Pacific island nation of Samoa and up towards Alaska and before returning to northern Germany. But even to this point the message is clear: climates around the world are changing and the Klimahaus makes those seemingly distant consequences strikingly real.

Please read the conclusion of the Klimahaus journey featuring a climate refugee art exhibit and a closer look at Germany’s renewable energy efforts.

* Photos by Tomas Urbina and Malika Pannek