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UN report on climate change means Canadian engineers must gear up

Engineers working in sectors such as energy management, industrial emissions controls, mass transportation and floo...


Engineers working in sectors such as energy management, industrial emissions controls, mass transportation and flood control should be gearing up for busy times following the release of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released last Friday in Paris.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the report represented “scientific consensus regarding the quickening and threatening pace of human-induced climate change.” He called for countries “to move much more rapidly … and with more determination.”
Canada’s Environment Minister John Baird seemed to take up the challenge almost immediately, suggesting in an interview from Paris with CBC News that the government should move to a regulatory approach reducing greenhouse emissions instead of doing more studies and relying on voluntary compliance.
Baird said: “The time for talking about this and studying it in Canada is over. We have to get acting.” Baird also hinted that they would be looking towards engineering solutions to controlling greenhouse gases: “Realistically, the only way to get … reductions is to develop technologies,” he said.
Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki said that the report indicated that now the burden is on politicians to take action. He suggested that spending priorities should be realigned towards reducing greenhouse gases.
The UN report released on February 2 reflects work from scientists and climate experts from 113 countries. A Canadian, Ken Denman, is one of eight key authors of the study, which includes a 21-page “Summary for Policy Makers.” The study is the first of four volumes to be released this year.
Following are extracts from a UN press release and from the summary.
The report: “brings together the world’s leading climate scientists and experts [who] concluded that major advances in climate modelling and the collection and analysis of data now gives scientists “very high confidence” — at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being correct — in their understanding of how human activities are causing the world to warm.” This level of confidence is much greater than the IPCC panel indicated in their last report of 2001, and is based on substantial advances in the science and extent of knowledge and research.
The new report: “confirms that it is ‘very likely’ that humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases have caused most of the global temperature rise observed since the mid-20th century. The report says it is likely that the effect of human activity since 1750 is five times greater than the effect of fluctuations in the sun’s output.
Some of the evidence for the scientists’ conclusions was taken from ice cores. They found that records from these, going back 10,000 years, show a dramatic rise in greenhouse gases from the onset of the industrial era. The rise in greenhouse gases, according to one of the opening statements in the report is “due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.”
The scientists predict a warming of about 0.2 degrees C for the next 20 years, rising sea levels, and shrinking sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. They predict: “Large areas of the Arctic Ocean could lose year-round ice cover by the end of the 21st century if human emissions reach the higher end of current estimates.” Arctic sea ice has already shrunk by about 2.7 per cent every decade since 1978. The extent of frozen ground in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter/spring season decreased by about 7 per cent in the later half of the 20th century.
The oceans are also already being affected. The UN scientists write: “Observations since 1961 show that the average temperature of the global ocean has increased to depths of at least 3,000 metres and that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system. Such warming causes seawater to expand, contributing to sea level rise.
For the future, the scientists predict among other things that it is “very likely” that precipitation will increase at high latitudes and “likely” it will decrease over most subtropical land regions. The upward trend in heat waves will continue.
The Summary Report for Policy Makers is available from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change web site at:
http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/docs/WG1AR4_SPM_PlenaryApproved.pdf