Like many Canadians, I stood outside this past Sunday, November 11th, at a local cenotaph to commemorate Remembrance Day. I couldn’t help but notice the weather: it was almost 20°C in Toronto and record-breaking weather for Southern Ontario. You shouldn’t read too much into one warm day and elsewhere in the country places like Edmonton and Winnipeg were getting blanketed by snow and sub-zero temperatures, but I think most people can agree that 2012, like many recent years, has been both remarkable and unpredictable.
To start the year, Southern Ontario and Quebec enjoyed a very mild winter. After experiencing warm temperatures for most of February, a snap frost in March wiped out most of the fruit crop, costing farmers millions of dollars in lost apples, pears, cherries and plums. During the summer months parts of the US and Canada were hit with record drought that has pushed up food prices and caused many US counties to declare states of emergency. Summer Arctic sea ice melted to a record low, surprising many top scientists. All across Canada, the weather has been unusual and costly.
Last week Barak Obama was re-elected President of the United States in a close contest. Days before voters went to the polls, the election campaigns were interrupted by the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage and likely influenced the outcome of the election. I actually stayed awake until after 2am EST to watch Obama’s victory speech. Many environmentalists were encouraged by his mention of the threat presented by the destructive power of a warming planet. It is a problem that our politicians and leaders are having a difficult time ignoring, and hopefully the Obama administration is able to work toward some policy solutions. In Canada, the Harper government has committed to following US actions to combat climate change, so we may see some progress in climate policy over the next several years.
With the impacts of climate change accelerating and international negotiations in a stalemate, 2012 will likely be remembered as a year of lost opportunity. The next UNFCCC conference begins in two weeks in Doha, Qatar, and will bring together delegates from over 190 nations (except Canada, who remains the only country to leave Kyoto). The COP talks in Qatar will attempt to reach a new international agreement to curb GHG emissions, although based on the results of past negotiations the chances of success is doubtful.
Perhaps when I’m standing for Remembrance Day in the future, warm November temperatures won’t be out of the ordinary. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that we’re heading toward a new conflict, not with other nations but against a warming world. While there will likely be political wrangling over issues such as water scarcity and Arctic sovereignty, the fact remains that as a global community we all will be facing challenges posed by climate change. Images of the US National Guard providing disaster assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy may be an indication that we’ll need our troops more than ever.
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