Queen’s prof breaks down startling IPCC climate change report

Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, Dr. John Smol, says warning is ‘conservative’

Leading expert at Queen's calls climate change "the great multiplier" of environmental challenges.
Credit: 
Journal File photo

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the international community about the increasingly severe—and imminent—consequences of global climate change.

The report, which has gained significant media attention for its dire predictions, stated the planet will reach an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees by 2030 as a result of greenhouse gas emissions over the past century.

“On a global average, these are really big consequences,” Dr. John Smol, a professor of biology and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, told The Journal.

“Many people think an increase of 0.5 degrees isn’t that much. However, they don’t know that the increase is measured on an average global scale.”

Smol explained the seemingly small increase could significantly boost the likelihood of environmental changes like more severe hurricanes, higher sea levels, acidification of oceans and more.

He said Canada, as one of the top producers of greenhouse emissions, should act as a leader to developing countries.

“Canada should take an aggressive stand,” he said. “We have taken very progressive steps, but I believe we are still off target.”

Although reversing the damage caused from emissions is no small task, Smol said a concerted efforts could prevent the elimination of coral reefs, crops from depleting, and oceans levels from rising.

Failure could have multiple interrelated consequences, he said.

“I call climate change the big threat multiplier,” Smol said. “For example, if you have higher sea levels, you’re going to get more intense storms which leads to more flooding.”

Smol said the same principle applies elsewhere, too. Depleting crops lead to a decrease in insect pollination patterns and an increase in ocean acidification, which leads to a loss in fish populations.

The report also includes suggestions for governments to curtail global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. Smol said to do so, changes must be implemented across the board.

“This is just another call to action reminding everyone that the consequences are severe,” he said.

In the field of environmental science, research takes place over the long-term, but according to Smol, the same can’t be said for politics.

“Governments work best in four years and industries work best in quarters,” he said.

Despite the limited planning capabilities of government, Smol said he believes politicians and business leaders can be sold on the economic benefit of transitioning to a clean energy economy.

“This is an area of financial gain,” Smol said. “The issue that CEO’s need to be discussing is whether they are going to be the ones to sell it or are we going to buy it off of China.”

In light of the IPCC report, Smol said he believes it’s time to take immediate action.

“The longer we wait, the harder it is, and our options are decreasing,” he said. “If a country like Canada can’t show leadership, then who can?”

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