Climate Change and water
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CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE YUKON RIVER,
A HARBINGER OF THINGS TO COME
A study of the Yukon river by WWF-Canada, which will be launched on Wednesday, paints an alarming picture of the effect of climate change on this and other rivers in Canada’s Arctic, where climate change is happening at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.
“WWF’s threat assessments of the Yukon, the Peace-Athabasca and the Mackenzie River watersheds show that they are increasingly stressed by climate change. This is why a commitment to real action is very important in Paris, because these are threats that we need to mitigate, not just adapt to,” says WWF Canada’s CEO, David Miller.
While adaptation involves efforts to limit our vulnerability to climate change impacts through various measures such as rain harvesting or desalination in the case of water, mitigation involves reducing the magnitude of climate change itself. Hence the importance of Paris 2015.
Climate change conferences have been held since 1995, yet little consensus has been reached and even less concrete action has been taken.
Canada was active in the negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol, the first and only binding international agreement that sets targets to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change; the Liberal government that signed the accord in 1997 also ratified it in parliament in 2002. But In December 2011, Environment Canada Minister Peter Kent announced Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord; making Canada the only only country to repudiate it.
Is there room for optimism? Will this Conference of Parties (COP) be any more effective than Kyoto?
“I think there are reasons to be optimistic today. In Canada, we see Alberta launching a very significant climate change program which would have been completely inconceivable nine months ago. As for this conference, I am also cautiously optimistic for two reasons; first, the nature of the Paris agreement seems to be less about agreeing to targets and more about countries having an action plan. Secondly, Paris is in a different place than Kyoto was in 1997; climate change is felt more urgently today, we've seen terrible storms in cities and the huge costs to people, government, insurance companies and cities they cause,” says Miller.
According to the former mayor of Toronto, as opposed to the immediate aftermath of Kyoto, we are now seeing real actions being taken by people, by cities, by provinces and business . These initiatives are making a real difference and need to be scaled up.
“If you take Germany’s ideas about clean energy or the city of Toronto’s ideas (between 2003 and 2010) about energy retrofitting buildings and public transit expansion and you spread those ideas rapidly around the world, it will make a big difference in both reducing emissions and creating jobs .” he says.
As for the relevance of Arctic watersheds to urban dwellers in southern Canada, it is only a matter of time before the effects spread south.
“Even if we live in Canada's large cities we need to pay attention to these northern rivers, they are really significant rivers and ultimately the watersheds are linked to human civilization one way or another . If we see early signs of the impact of climate change as we are in the Yukon, we're going to see them in urban rivers as well, and they are already stressed from pollution and invasive species,“ says Miller.