Photo: Canada climate summary shows need for action

Warming experienced by different regions in 2010. (Environment Canada)

By Ryan Kadowaki, Climate Change Program Coordinator

Environment Canada has released its comprehensive climate summary for 2010. Last year marked the warmest on record for Canada with a national average temperature of 3°C above normal.

The seasonal and summary reports provide us with an important perspective on the rate of climate change and also the regional variation within overall climate trends. One look at a map of Canada's warming distribution shows that the Arctic is experiencing tremendous warming. The Arctic experienced its warmest year on record at 4.3°C above normal and hasn't experienced a cooler than normal year since 1993. The Arctic has endured a continued decline in sea ice, both in extent and thickness. The federal government has voiced its intention to protect its northern sovereignty, but that objective needs to extend to protecting the environmental integrity that sustains northern communities and ecosystems.

Much like the warming pattern, changes in precipitation are not evenly distributed. While Canada experienced an average year in terms of its overall precipitation, the country saw significant deviations from average in many places. The southern prairies experienced their wettest year on record while a number of regions, such as B.C., the northern prairies and northern Ontario, all experienced conditions that were 20 per cent drier than normal.

Just as we can't rely on data from one province to inform us of changes to Canada's climate, we need to examine global temperature when monitoring an environmental phenomenon that doesn't respect international borders. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010 was tied with 2005 for the hottest worldwide since record-keeping began in 1880.

An examination of the bigger picture is particularly relevant during the winter months when the thought of warming temperatures runs counter to what we observe outside. The east coast of North America experienced below-average temperatures this winter, was pummelled by blizzards and captured by headlines such as snowmaggedon. At the same time, Australia was coping with record flooding exacerbated by the warmest recorded sea surface temperatures. These outcomes reinforce the notion that weather is not climate.

And the observations could not be clearer. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. However, this data alone has not been enough to convince policy-makers that we need far more decisive action to mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions. We can all play a crucial role by being actively engaged and encouraging decision-makers to take real action. Each year that we delay puts a greater strain on the planet and our ability to adapt and prosper into the future.

January 21, 2011

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