What is Climate Change and Why Should You Care?
Author: Stacy Corneau
Everywhere you turn, it seems someone is talking about climate change. Governments and companies alike are taking action across Canada to mitigate the effects of a changing climate. From the Government of Canada’s carbon tax on companies, to Starbucks building sustainable stores with near-zero construction waste, to the City of Ottawa aiming to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, mitigating climate change is a priority for many.
But what is climate change?
To answer that question, we should first explore: what is climate? Climate is the usual weather of a place observed over long periods of time. For example, in the Ottawa Valley, our average climate is humid and hot in the summers, and wet but cold in the winters. This is simply the average climate, whereas the specific weather can change very rapidly; one hour, it can be raining and the next, sunny and warm. Climate takes decades and centuries to change.
Climate change is the changes in the average climate, such as increased rainfall or much hotter summers, in an area over a long period of time. For example, you may have noticed we’re experiencing a milder winter in the Ottawa Valley area than usual this year. This is due to the region’s changing climate. Experts suggest that, by 2030, winters may be up to four weeks shorter and Ottawa’s average temperatures will increase by 1.8 C.
So, what are the risks of climate change?
You may be thinking “great, warmer winters. What’s the problem?” A common misconception we often hear about climate change is that it’s a vague, global issue that won’t be impacting the planet for generations, but nothing could be further from the truth. Climate change is happening in our backyards today.
Across Ontario and Quebec, the effects of a warmer climate are resulting in heat-related illnesses in denser parts of our communities, rising water levels, heat waves, smog episodes, and ecological changes, to name a few.
Ontario Valley residents saw the effects of climate change firsthand in the spring of 2019. Streets turned into canals as row upon row of homes were flooded. In Ottawa, nearly 2,200 homes were flooded or at-risk during the nearly two-week long floods, whereas Gatineau saw 3,800 homes and cottages impacted. Over 100 kilometres of road across the two provinces were also flooded or put at risk.
Our communities will continue to face these challenges unless actions are taken to curb the impacts of a warming climate.
What can be done about climate change in the Ottawa Valley?
Nature-based climate solutions are one of the answers for mitigating the effects of climate change. These solutions involve actions to manage ecosystems, such as forests and wetlands, in a way that reduces climate change impacts while improving biodiversity. Nature-based climate solutions impacts climate change in multiple ways, including increasing human resilience to climate change.
One example of a nature-based climate solution is the creation of green corridors. These corridors allow species to travel safely between different protected areas and are an important part of species adaptation. The Noire and Coulonge Rivers are an ecological corridor linking the Ottawa River to the boreal forest. This connection makes it easier for species, such as the painted turtle, snapping turtle, and the endangered Eastern Wolf, to migrate north to adapt to climate change. The rate of biodiversity loss is likely to increase due to climate change, so green corridors are one option to reduce non-climate stresses species face as they adapt to the shifts in climate.
Fostering ecosystem integrity through restoration projects is another nature-based climate solution. Reducing the harm caused by human activity, such as urbanization and construction developments, in these ecosystems can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and through restoration projects, an increased rate of carbon can be sequestered, both of which contribute to the mitigation of climate change. For example, Gatineau Park’s 361 square kilometers of wilderness is home to 118 rare or endangered species and 50 lakes, but the increase in roads, traffic, development within the park, and construction around the park’s borders puts pressure on Gatineau Park’s ecosystem. Ecosystem protection is an important buffer for climate change. Intact forests sequester carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The effects of climate change are happening more rapidly than in previous decades. It’s crucial we take action to protect our communities’ ecosystems through nature-based climate solutions for a better tomorrow.