The ABC’s of Global Climate Change

Siur-thinkstock-480457436-Coal Stacks

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, February 17, 2016

In 2015, the International Panel on Climate Change (Panel) reported that: greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from human activity are now higher than any other period in human history; the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere is now higher than at any other time in the last 800,000 years; and it is “extremely likely” that emissions from human activity, along with other human activities such as deforestation, have been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century (1).

The Panel reported that, in 2010, approximately 49 Gigatonnes (Gt) of GHGs were emitted from human activity, and that fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes were responsible for more than three quarters of those emissions (1).

According to the Panel, there is fairly strong to very strong evidence that climate change has: more than doubled the occurrence of heat waves in some locations; increased heat-related deaths in some regions; increased extreme precipitation and the risks of flooding in some regions; increased extreme sea levels (e.g., storm surges) since 1970 as a result of increasing sea levels; and significantly increased the vulnerability of some ecosystems and human populations to heat waves, droughts, floods, and cyclones (1).

51Systems-Thinkstock-490736941-Flooded Neighbourhood

The impacts of climate change on human health and the environment are expected to become more extreme as we move through the 21st century.  Under a number of different scenarios, it is predicted that climate change will: increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves and extreme precipitation; increase ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea levels; continue to melt permafrost and glaciers; increase the risk of extinction for many plants and animals; undermine the security of food and water supplies; and increase the displacement of people (1).  

The severity of these risks, however, will vary significantly depending upon the actions taken to reduce emissions and protect carbon sinks.  The risks are expected to be severe if global temperatures increase by 4 degrees relative to pre-industrial times.  They are expected to be moderate to high if global temperatures increase by 1 to 2 degrees.  While some of the risks of climate change are now unavoidable, the risks of climate change can be substantially reduced by aggressively cutting emissions of GHGs in the very near future (1).   

In order to keep the global temperature from increasing by 2 degrees, models suggest that annual GHG emissions around the world must be reduced by 40 to 70% of 2010 levels by the year 2050.  To keep the global temperature from increasing by 1.5 degree, annual GHG emissions must be reduced by 70 to 95% of 2010 levels by the year 2050 (1).

Wind Turbines, Leamington, Ontario, Kim PerrottaIn order to meet these aggressive goals, the Panel has identified a number of key measures: moving away from the use of coal and other fossil fuels for the generation of electricity; enhancing energy efficiency to reduce energy demand; and encouraging behavioural changes to reduce energy demand.  In the majority of the models that support a stable climate future, the share of low-carbon electricity supply (e.g., hydro electricity, solar energy, wind turbines) increases from current levels of about 30% to more than 80% by 2050 (1).  

The Panel notes that many of the actions needed to reduce GHG emissions are associated with co-benefits or adverse side effects.  It notes, however, that the co-benefits associated with “energy end-use measures” outweigh the potential for adverse side effects (1).  For example when coal plants are phased out with investments in energy efficiency and renewable energies, significant health benefits can result from improvements in air quality (2).  Likewise, when public transit and bike lanes shift commuters out of their vehicles, significant health benefits can result from improvements in air quality and increases in the levels of physical activity among residents (3).    

References: 

  1. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2015. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report for Policy Makers. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf
  2. Pembina Institute, CAPE, Asthma Society, Lung Assocation of Alberta and NWT. 2013. A Costly Diagnosis – Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.  Prepared by Kristi Anderson, Tim Weis, Ben Thibault, Farrah Khan, Beth Nanni, and Noah Farber.  http://cape.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/costly-diagnosis.pdf
  3. Grabow, Maggie, Scott Spak, Tracey Holloway, Brian Stone Jr., Adam Menick, Jonathan Patz. 2011. “Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States”,Environmental Health Perspectives.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1103440

Federal Agency Failing to Protect Canadians from Pesticides

Photo: Dan Tobias, Myer’s Farm, Dundas, Ontario

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, January 28, 2016

Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand, released a new report on pesticide safety this week.  It audits the processes applied by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to the regulation of pesticides in this county.  It identifies a number of significant failings, which suggests that the PMRA is currently failing to protect Canadians and the environment from chemical pesticides.   

The Commissioner reports that the PMRA continues to make heavy use of ‘conditional registrations’ that allow companies to put their pesticides on the market before they have submitted all of the data and studies to the PMRA.   The PMRA is supposed to be reviewing the evidence submitted by companies to ensure that their products do not present “an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment”. Some of these conditional registrations have been in place for up to 20 years.    

Photo: Daniel Tobias, Weir's Lane Apiary, Dundas, Ontario
Photo: Daniel Tobias, Weir’s Lane Apiary, Dundas, Ontario

The Commissioner found that 80 of the 7,000 pest control products on the market today have been conditionally registered; 29 for more than 5 years and nine for more than 10 years.  Thirty-six of these 80 pesticides are neonicotinoid pesticides (or neonics). This is the class of pesticides that been strongly linked to the death of bees and the collapse of bee colonies in Canada.  They have also been strongly associated with harmful impacts on a wide variety of animals.  After reviewing more than 1000 peer reviewed scientific articles, the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides concluded that neonics are likely to produce major adverse effects on ecosystem services, such as pollination, that are vital to food security.

The Commissioner’s report also found that the PMRA:

  • Has been moving too slowly when re-evaluating pesticides that have been on the market for more than 15 years; 
  • Has not been assessing the cumulative health effects of pesticides in all of the situations where it should;
  • Has not applied the 10-fold safety factor required to protect children and infants from pesticides in most situations where it should;
  • Has not been conducting special reviews promptly for pesticides banned by countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as it should; and
  • Has not moved quickly to cancel registrations for some pesticides when reviews demonstrate that they do pose “unacceptable risks” to human health or the environment.

The Federal Commissioner’s report can be accessed at: Commissioner’s Report on Pesticides 2015

 

Quebec Moves to Ban Neonics and other Agricultural Pesticides

DPT_4559

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, January 2016

CAPE is moving its campaign on neonics – the pesticides linked to bee deaths – to the province of Quebec!

On November 22, 2015, the Quebec Minister of the Environment, David Heurtel, announced a bold new strategy for the regulation of pesticides in Quebec.  He is proposing to update Quebec’s pesticide regulations which banned 20 chemical pesticides for use on lawns and gardens back in 2003.  He is proposing to extend the list of banned pesticides to include 60 active ingredients. 

Neonicotinoid pesticides or “neonics” are included in the list of pesticides to be banned.  Neonics are pesticides that have been clearly linked to the death of bee colonies in Ontario and Quebec (1).  These pesticides are harmful to birds, fish, and invertebrates such as worms, as well as bees.  When the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides examined over 800 scientific articles on neonics, it concluded that they are threatening “ecosystem services such as pollination that are vital to food security and sustainable development” (2). 

Building on the regulatory action taken by Ontario on neonics in 2015, the Quebec Pesticides Strategy 2015-2018 proposes to ban the use of neonics for agricultural purposes except when it has been demonstrated as necessary by an agronomist.  While the Ontario Regulations seek to reduce the number of acres of corn and soya that use neonic-treated seeds, the Quebec Strategy proposes to reduce the “risk to public health, pollinators and the environment by reducing the use of the most dangerous pesticides on all crops” (3). This means that Quebec plans to ban the use of neonic-treated corn and soya seeds, and higher risk pesticides such as atrazine and chlorpyrifos, on all crops, except when an agronomist determines that the pesticides are needed.

Neonics-Ad-Nov 2015

Atrazine has been identified by some as an endocrine disruptor that can adversely affect sexual differentiation, produce mammary and prostate cancer, and adversely affect the neural and immune systems (4).  If Quebec successfully bans atrazine, which is used extensively on corn crops, it would be the first jurisdiction in North America to do so (5).  

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has found chlorpyrifos to be acutely toxic to a wide range of organisms including mammals, birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates and honeybees, but has been in the process of re-evaluating it since 1999 (6). Chlorpyrifos has also been identified as a developmental neurotoxicant that can cause brain damage to children with exposure to very low doses during critical windows during pregnancy and early postnatal life (7).

So, in 2016, CAPE will be working with Équiterre in Quebec and other partners to: educate the public about the health and environmental impacts associated with neonics, atrazine and chlorpyrifos; support the banning of these high risk agricultural pesticides in Quebec; and advocate for regulations that create healthy crops, healthy bees, and healthy people.  

References:

  1. Health Canada.  2014.  Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health.
  2. Van Lexmond MB et al.  Worldwide intregrated assessment of systemic pesticides – Global collapse of the entomofauna: exploring the role of systemic insecticides.  Journal of Environmental Science and Pollution Research 22:1-4 & http://www.tfsp.info/worldwide-integrated-assessment/
  3. Province of Quebec. 2015. Quebec Pesticide Strategy 2015-2018.
  4. Louise Henault-Ethier. 2013.  Defining Ecotoxicity of Pesticides: Key Concepts, Hot Topics and Current Controversies over Atrazine and Glyphosate.  
  5. Équiterre, Nadine Bachand, Chargée de projet – Choix collectifs, agriculture et pesticides.
  6. Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. 2015. Pesticide Safety.
  7. Jennifer Sass, Ph.D. & Robin M. Whyatt. 2016. Comments to EPA from Environmental Health Scientists and Healthcare Professionals In support of EPA’s Proposal to Revoke Chlorpyrifos Food Residue Tolerances Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0653.