Canadians now have a unique interactive tool to explore how climate change will affect their communities 10, 20, or even 60 years from now. Launched today in Toronto, the Climate Atlas of Canada includes short films from all over the country that illustrate not only how climate change is impacting different regions, but also the innovative solutions some communities have devised in response.
“It’s important for people to be able to see how climate change will affect them locally and what other Canadians are doing about it,” Ian Mauro, Atlas co-creator and co-director of the Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg, said in an interview.
Funded in part by Environment and Climate Change Canada, a government agency, the Atlas incorporates 12 global climate models, more than 250 map layers for over 2,000 towns, cities, and regions, and will eventually include over 300 short film interviews with local people and experts. Flexible and interactive, users can pick a year like 2035 and see how climate change will impact temperatures, precipitation levels, the number of frost-free days, the length of the growing season, and a dozen other variables.
"The more we learn about the changes in store for our cities, regions and country, the more equipped we will be to make smart decisions to minimize risks to our infrastructure, communities and economy,” Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said in a statement provided to Motherboard.
Canada is woefully unprepared to deal with impacts of climate change, according to a report from federal Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand and auditors general in nine provinces released last week. Nor is Canada going to meet its 2020 carbon reduction targets and has no realistic plan to meet its 2030 Paris climate commitment, the report says.
The first step in fixing this is to raise awareness about the effects of climate change in Canada, said Mauro. The new Atlas includes non-technical explanations about the science, the terms used, where data comes from, and what it means. “Schools, municipalities, town and city planners are hungry for this kind of local information,” he said.
Iconic environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki believes the Climate Atlas of Canada can play a role in that. “I hope it helps all Canadians realize the need for immediate and widespread climate action,” Suzuki said in a statement.
Since four out of five people in Canada live in urban areas, the Atlas has a series of reports for major cities reflecting projected climate change and its impacts, and a national overview that compares differences across them. These changes are dramatic—by mid-century, Toronto could face up to 87 days with temperatures above 30℃ (compared to a recent average of 12 days) and big increases in rainfall.
The report also includes what actions some cities are taking to cut emissions and prepare for coming changes. Vancouver, for example, aims to be the world’s greenest city by 2020, using 100 percent renewable energy, expanding transit, reducing waste, and more.
Small, remote, or rural communities in Canada are also responding to the pressures of climate change. One film shows how local people in the Nova Scotian town of Tatamagouche invested their savings in a few wind turbines and use them to power their electric cars and offset the community’s reliance on fossil fuels. Another shows how the Indian Island First Nation in New Brunswick is addressing the reality of losing their homes and traditional territory due to rising sea levels by building a dyke around the community and raising roads.
“They’re far more prepared for climate impacts than other communities,” said Mauro. “I was blown away by what some small communities are doing.”
A future film will show how Quebec’s popular tourist destination, the Magdalen Islands, are crumbling into the sea, forcing the relocation of homes and the shoring up of roads connecting them. Island residents have been encouraged not to buy anything new because there’s almost always carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing process, Mauro said.
“The Atlas is a resource that I can imagine drawing upon in my own effort to inform the public and policymakers about the reality and threat of climate change,” said Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University, author and popular speaker on climate change. It looks to be a bit more comprehensive than anything in the US, Mann said via email.
“I have three young kids. The Atlas isn’t just a project for me,” said Mauro. “Canada has to transform itself into a low carbon economy.”
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