P.E.I.’s Top 3 Weather Stories of 2015

By Dr. Adam Fenech

Another year has gone by and it’s time to talk about Prince Edward Island’s top three weather stories of 2015. This past year continues to remind us of the important part weather plays in our everyday lives. Every year brings stories of weather no matter where you are, and Prince Edward Island is no different. And while I am tempted to speak about the rare record-breaking warm weather at the end of May in Summerside of 23.7 degrees Celsius (°C), and in mid-August of record-breaking warm temperatures above 30°C across the Island, it is more appropriate to focus on the cold winter weather of 2015. Here are my top three weather stories for 2015, and how they affected Prince Edward Island.

Number 3 – Cold Winter Tempratures of 2015

The winter temperatures of 2015 were well below the normal – the “normal” being the average of 30 years from 1981-2010. After a balmy December in 2014 of 2.5°C above normal, Prince Edward Island experienced five straight months of daily average temperatures below normal to start the year of 2015 –January was 1°C colder; February was 5.3°C colder; March was 2.9°C colder and April was 3°C colder. Prince Edward Island also suffered through 49 straight days of daily average temperatures below the freezing mark from January 20 to March 10, 2015 with no thaw relief whatsoever.

Number 2 – Most Snow on the Ground Recorded on Prince Edward Island in 2015

Prince Edward Island also set a record in 2015 for the 159 cm of snow “measured on the ground” at Charlottetown Airport in March, breaking the record from 1956 of 122 cm. This means that the snow kept accumulating between snowfalls with colder than normal temperatures, rather than melting in between snowfalls. The winter of 2015’s snowfall came in large storms as Prince Edward Island did not have more days than normal with snow. In fact, there were 4 days fewer than normal. There were large winter storms in the 2015 winter in January (27th), February (2nd, 3rd, 15th) and March (15th). A storm over February 15-16 brought 86.8 cm of snowfall with winds gusting to 128 km/h making it a more severe storm than the infamous February 19, 2004 snowstorm known as White Juan.

Number 1 – Most Winter Snow Ever Recorded on Prince Edward Island in 2015

A winter for the record books – one to tell the grandchildren about. A late April snowstorm helped the winter of 2015 break the record for the most snowfall recorded in one year on Prince Edward Island – a new record of 551 centimetres (cm) or 12 cm more than the previous record set in 1972. In any “normal” winter season from October to May, Prince Edward Island receives about 290 cm of snow. This winter started with lots of snow in November (three times more than normal), hardly any in December, and then about the normal amount in January. February was brutal with four times the normal amount of snowfall, and March not much better with three times the normal amount. April was relatively snow free but one final storm on April 28 clinched the record.

And all of that snow and the accompanying cold weather had an enormous impact on Islander life.

  • Island schools were closed 13 days in the 2015 winter which was one more than the number of closures the year before but it is worth noting that the timing of the March break in 2015 almost certainly prevented another five unscheduled school closures, and the timing of Islander Day prevented another which would have totaled 19 days of school closure for 2015.
  • The Confederation Bridge was closed the winter of 2015 more than double the average in the same previous periods since it opened in 1997. Only a fraction of the closures were triggered by conditions on the bridge itself, the rest was caused by road conditions on the New Brunswick and PEI sides.
  • All of the snow led to many roof collapses. Mount Albion farmer Joel VanGurp and his family were in their pig barn in late March doing chores when a portion of the structure’s roof collapsed. Firefighters arrived and used a chainsaw to cut through the exterior walls to get into the downed structure to rescue the 300 sows with piglets inside. P.E.I. farmer Robbie Sanderson faced a $50,000 bill to repair his barn after a section of roof collapsed under the weight of the snow at the end of March 2015. And Rowing PEI lost four of its nine sculls when the roof of a barn where the equipment was being stored collapsed at a loss of about $50,000.

The lingering effects of the severe and long winter of 2015 were felt on the Island for months.

  • PEI lobster, oyster and scallop fisheries were delayed by over one week in their spring openings because many harbours were still iced in come early May. Some fishermen at Red Head Harbour used chainsaws to try to cut the ice in the harbour into chunks to speed the breakup. Eight PEI harbours asked the Canadian Coast Guard for assistance from a hovercraft that breaks up ice, but its arrival was delayed due to high winds. There was a lot of anxiety and disappointment among fishermen.
  • Potato planting season in P.E.I. was pushed back by about two weeks due to the record-setting snowfall. In mid-May, many fields were still too wet with lingering snow, preventing farmers from planting. The late start meant smaller and fewer potatoes at the end of the season due to a bit of a yield depression on some crops, especially some potato varieties that need a longer growing season to bulk up.
  • Golfers needed to be patient as the majority of PEI golf courses delayed their season opening by as much as two weeks because the ground was still holding onto some of the snow. The good news was that the record snow did a good job protecting fairways and greens from the elements, so the courses, once opened, were in ideal shape.
  • Just like the summer weather, insects emerged later this year on Prince Edward Island. Normally the first summer pests begin to show up in June, but they emerged in mid-July in high numbers, roughly three weeks behind from last year due to the cool spring. And Entomologist Christine Noronha says the severe winter actually ensured the survival of many insects as the large snow cover actually insulated the soil and the areas where insects hibernate leading to a higher survival rate. The snow may also be the reason mosquitoes seem to be out in droves this year with the snow cover providing them with pools of water to breed in.
  • The harsh winter of “too many cold days and way too much snow” was also blamed for the estimated 85 per cent reduction in PEI maple syrup production; for a poor crop of apples prompting a P.E.I. apple orchard owner not to open his U-pick operation Wintermoor Apple Orchard in York; and for an 18 per cent reduction of honeybee hives on PEI.

Islanders love their weather. Islanders are defined by the weather – we live by it. We are at the whims of Nature and the weather it brings. It keeps us at home, keeps us from work, keeps our kids from school yet it brings communities together. While tragic at times, our weather brings out our great spirit of humanity, sense of community and commitment to always look out for each other. From North Cape to East Point, West Point to Murray Head – and all points in-between – weather shapes who we are. Happy Christmas to all.

A Paris Agreement on Climate: And Most of Us Cheered

FullSizeRenderby Dr. Adam Fenech

Following two weeks of intense negotiations, including an additional day added and lengthy overnight discussions, over 190 countries signed onto the Paris Agreement on Saturday to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. This legally-binding agreement marks the first time that all countries, both rich and poor, have committed to deep reductions in the pollutants that cause global warming – the previous emissions treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, only included commitments from rich, developed nations.​

The 31-page agreement includes a commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to pre-industrial times, a level that scientists consider potentially dangerous, while striving to limit them even more, to 1.5°C. This will be difficult given that humans have raised global temperatures by 0.8°C since the industrial revolution, and that even if humans stopped increasing greenhouse gases today, global temperatures would likely rise another 0.8°C. This is due to the previously released greenhouse gases that continue to overheat the atmosphere due to their long lifetimes in the atmosphere as long as hundreds of years. So humans have committed the planet to a global temperature increase of 1.6°C already, leaving just 0.4°C wiggle room to keep temperatures below the dangerous level of 2°C, let alone the ambitious 1.5°C target. The Paris Agreement asks the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global authority on the science of global warming, to provide a special report in 2018 on how nations might be able to meet the 1.5°C target, a key demand of poorer, developing countries ravaged by the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels.

Another major commitment in the Paris Agreement is that richer, developed countries should provide $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poorer nations deal with the consequences of climate change and foster greener economies. The agreement promotes universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, particularly in Africa, through the greater use of renewable energy. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to spend $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are tasked with preparing, maintaining and publishing their own greenhouse gas reduction targets that the agreement says should be greater than the current ones and “reflect [the] highest possible ambition.” These targets will be reviewed and revised every five years starting in 2023.

As an overall aspirational target, the Paris Agreement sets the goal of a carbon-neutral world sometime after 2050 but before 2100, which means a commitment to limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to levels that Nature can absorb through its trees, soils and oceans. Scientists believe the world will have to stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether in the next 50 years in order to achieve this goal.

While the Paris climate talks agreed upon the final draft Saturday afternoon, it must now be ratified, which for Canada consists of passing a bill through Parliament (the House of Commons and Senate), thus giving Canada’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement takes effect or as the United Nations puts it, “enters into force”, 30 days after 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the agreement.

I have discussed with colleagues as to whether we should cheer or jeer the Paris Agreement signed this past weekend. Many were disappointed that a global carbon tax or some carbon pricing was not adopted especially given the political opportunity available since oil and gas prices are quite low at the moment. Discussions focused on whether to support a less satisfactory agreement, or hold out for something stronger, and it soon led to enforceability.

International agreements like the Paris Agreement cannot be enforced in the same sense as domestic law. Only rarely can countries be compelled to perform their legal obligations. There is a procedure for “going to court” in international law, which involves the International Court of Justice at the Hague, but these cases are rare, primarily because the results are seldom satisfactory. Greater attention has been given to developing non-enforceable techniques which, in practice, can be as effective a means of persuading countries to comply with their international obligations.

Simply by requiring countries to meet regularly to review implementation of the Paris Agreement can ensure that it stays at the forefront of attention. It may sound obvious, but it is important because an accord like the Paris Agreement can very easily turn into a “sleeping agreement” of little practical value unless countries are constantly reminded of their obligations.

Reporting requirements are also useful. If countries have to submit to regular reports on what they have done to meet the provisions of the Paris Agreement, they may prefer to comply with it rather that have to report that they have done nothing. The Paris Agreement will be implemented in Canada by national legislation, and national law is much easier to enforce than international law. Some groups may have no standing in the International Court of Justice but may, if the national laws permit it, be able to force its government to comply with an international agreement by bringing an action in its national courts.

As University of Toronto professor John Robinson so eloquently argued, “The power of a Paris agreement is not its enforceability, but the huge symbolic and political agenda and momentum it creates. Political expectations will be raised. A whole suite of activities will be set in place in different countries around the world. These activities will create momentum, which if sustained, can start to shift development pathways. And the legitimacy such an agreement will give to domestic efforts in countries around the world, from government policy-making, to private sector initiatives, to NGO activities, is very important. So to my mind it is more important to have some sort of agreement that is likely to create such momentum than to make sure the agreement is strong enough to reflect all our aspirations today.”

Robinson continued that “we should recognize that Paris can never be more than a signpost on the way. International agreements are only a part of the puzzle. The really hard work that needs to be done will occur at the national level and below. An international agreement can provide a positive context and very useful momentum for such efforts. And no such agreement can substitute for the huge, and much more local, efforts that must be undertaken if we are to realize the challenge that climate change poses to us: to create a truly sustainable world.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to meet with the Canadian premiers within the next 90 days to discuss implementing the Paris agreement in Canada.

Will A Third Industrial Revolution Solve Climate Change

IMG_5960By Dr. Adam Fenech

I am in Paris this week for the climate conference seen as the last “do or die” chance at getting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions under control to limit the human increase in global average temperature to 2°C, above which is considered a “dangerous” level. Presently, 184 countries have submitted their intended plans for greenhouse gas reductions although, when totalled up, do not add up to resolve the issue. I have written earlier about some “magical” solutions to reduce the impacts of climate change that scientists call “geo-engineering solutions,” such as seeding the oceans with iron dust, but the discussions in Paris are focussing on ideas that are much more transformational for human society such as the concept of the “third industrial revolution” as proposed by author Jeremy Rifkin.

To Rifkin, the price of energy and food is climbing, unemployment remains high, the housing market has tanked, consumer and government debt is soaring, and the economic recovery is slowing. Facing the prospect of a second collapse of the global economy, humanity is desperate for a sustainable economic game plan to take us into the future. The third industrial revolution beckons.

The third industrial revolution refers to an embracing of today’s new technologies to create thousands of businesses and millions of jobs that will impact the way we conduct business, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life. The five pillars of Rifkin’s third industrial revolution are shifting to renewable energy; transforming every building into green micro–power plants to collect renewable energies on-site; deploying storage technologies in every building to store intermittent energies; using Internet technology to transform the power grid into an energy internet that allows buildings to sell surplus green electricity back to the grid and share it with their neighbors; and transitioning our transport fleet of cars, trucks, trains, boats and airplanes to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell green electricity on a smart, interactive power grid.

We all know about the first industrial revolution that began in Britain in the late 18th century with the mechanization of the textile industry. The revolution moved from hand production methods to machines, the increasing use of steam power, and, most importantly to climate change, a shift from wood and other bio-fuels to coal. The second industrial revolution came in the early 20th century, when Henry Ford mastered the moving assembly line and ushered in the age of mass production. The first two industrial revolutions made people richer and more urban. Rifkin identifies that a third industrial revolution is under way where a number of remarkable technologies are converging: clever software, novel materials, more dexterous robots, new processes (notably three-dimensional printing) and a whole range of web-based services.

The old way of making things involved taking lots of parts and screwing or welding them together. Now, even the Climate Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island owns a 3-dimensional printer. A product can be designed on a computer and “printed” on a 3D printer, which creates a solid object by building up successive layers of material. In time, these amazing machines may be able to make almost anything, anywhere.

Like all revolutions, this one will be disruptive. The revolution will affect not only how things are made, but also where, and by whom. Some companies will lose money but others will make money. Some people will lose jobs, but others will gain employment.

The Paris climate talks are discussing a living example of the third industrial revolution at Nord-Pas de Calais in France. Traditionally an industrial region, Nord-Pas de Calais has become a pioneer of tomorrow’s economy based on energy transition and digital technologies that have brought about behavioural change and a shift in the growth model towards a new carbon free economy. It started with millions of dollars of investments, lofty goals and a rallying call to “rev3” (or third industrial revolution) to begin projects for efficient energy in high schools; a zero carbon university; a rev3 hospital; industrial energy efficiency; smart electricity networks; new transport systems; and ecosystem service enhancements of their water catchment area. Its success has been linked to a unique shared governance model of the politicians, unions, businesses and the academic world along with the inclusion of civil society to bring about this change.

Some say they are dreamers, but the Paris climate talks have shown that they’re not the only ones.

Canada’s Commitment to Greenhouse Gas Reductions at Paris

IMG_6191By Dr. Adam Fenech

I am in Paris this week for the climate conference seen as the last “do or die” chance at getting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions under control to limit the human increase in global average temperature to 2°C, above which is considered a “dangerous” level. Presently, 184 countries have submitted their intended plans for greenhouse gas reductions with the country of Angola being the latest. Canada tabled their intentions back on May 15 of this year under the former Canadian Government of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The Harper government provided Canada’s intention to achieve an economy-wide target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada pointed to its stringent coal fired electricity standards that ban the construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units, and that accelerate the phase-out of existing coal-fired electricity generation units. Canada also noted action in the transportation sector by working closely with the United States towards common North American greenhouse gas standards for vehicles. As an example, 2025 model year passenger vehicles and light trucks are expected to emit about half as many greenhouse gases as 2008 models. Canada announced its intentions to regulate hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the fastest growing greenhouse gas globally; to develop regulations to address methane emissions from the oil and gas sector; as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas fired electricity, chemicals and nitrogen fertilizers through what it called Canada’s “responsible sector-by-sector regulatory approach that ensures Canada’s economic competitiveness is protected.”

But under a new Canadian Government led by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, Canada won’t be arriving in Paris with any new targets to cut emissions further. That won’t happen until after the Paris climate talks, when premiers and territorial leaders meet to negotiate a new national approach to climate change. Instead, Canada announced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta last week a contribution of $2.65 billion over the next five years towards an international climate fund to help developing countries fight climate change.

In March of this year, I was part of a group of over 6o Canadian scholars from universities across the country in disciplines ranging from engineering to social sciences that calls itself the Sustainable Canada Dialogues. The group, led by Catherine Potvin of McGill University, produced a consensus on science-based, viable solutions for greenhouse gas reduction. The report provides 10 policies that can kick-start Canada’s transition toward a low-carbon economy and sustainable society. We highlighted the opportunities, for jobs and the economy, stemming from actively pursuing low-carbon electricity, evolving smart urban design, creating participatory and open governance institutions and rising to the challenge of something tantamount to a total transportation revolution.

Two key policy orientations stand out: there needs to be a price on carbon now throughout Canada, and I wrote about carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems earlier. Some mixture of both approaches might be the way forward. The second one is to ensure electric connections between the provinces that produce hydro-electricity and those that do not. Such an interconnection would allow Canada to have 100% carbon free electricity and could become the backbone of our transition to a low carbon sustainable society.

The group proposes that the “problem” of climate change should be viewed as an “opportunity for change” that will improve the well-being of all Canadians. For us, sustainability entails a vision of the future that improves social and environmental well-being. Seen in this context, climate change policy should promote a transition to a new state, similar to the transition that occurred during industrialization. We hope that Canada will be up to the expectations. For the present and future generations, the time is now ripe to initiate ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts.

Magic Solutions to Solve Climate Change

IMG_5933By Dr. Adam Fenech

I am in Paris this week for the climate conference seen as the last “do or die” chance at getting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions under control to limit the human increase in global average temperature to 2°C, above which is considered a “dangerous” level. Presently, 183 countries have submitted their intended plans for greenhouse gas reductions (the country of Pulau tabled their intentions this past weekend). So far, these do not total up to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that will keep the global temperature increases below the dangerous level, and with two weeks of intense negotiations ahead, I think that it is already clear that countries will not be able to do so. So what next? The public is looking for a magic solution to solve this crisis. Scientists call these geoengineering solutions, that is, ways in which humans can manipulate the global climate system and reduce the impacts of climate change. Lets take a look at three examples being considered, no matter how far fetched, including putting small particles high up in the atmosphere to deflect incoming solar radiation, seeding the world’s oceans with iron dust, and placing large mirrors up in space to reflect the sun’s rays.

Scientists have known for years the impacts that volcanoes have on the global climate. Not all volcanoes but those that spew their dust particles high up into the atmosphere where they deflect the solar energy entering the Earth’s atmosphere, thereby lowering global temperatures. The most recent example is the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Phillipines on 15 June 1991. It injected more particles into the stratosphere than any eruption since the Krakatoa Volcano in Indonesia in 1883. Over the following months, the aerosols formed a global layer of sulfuric acid haze causing global temperatures to drop by about 0.5°C in the year 1993 including right here on Prince Edward Island. Many scientists are now proposing that we do not wait for the next large volcano and pump particles into the high atmosphere ourselves. Some people are bold enough to try it themselves. The former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on global warming, Dr. Yuri Izrael experimented with his hometown of Tbilisi in the eastern European country of Georgia by releasing sulphur dioxide particles into the lower atmosphere. These had the result of lowering the local temperature by scattering the incoming solar radiation. It probably also affected the local air quality so I would not recommend any more of these experiments.

Seeding the ocean with iron dust was suggested by oceanographer John Martin more than 15 years ago. Iron acts as a fertilizer for many plants, and some, like the phytoplankton that form the base of the marine food web, need it to grow. Adding iron to the water stimulates phytoplankton growth, which in turn gobbles up carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. The resulting decrease in carbon dioxide should help reduce temperatures since it is one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Some scientists theorize that adding iron to the Southern Ocean alone could reduce carbon dioxide levels by 15 percent. And some are even ambitious enough to try it themselves. In July 2012, Russ George, an American businessman and entrepreneur, led an iron fertilization experiment spreading 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean from a fishing boat in an eddy 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii off Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Results showed increased algae growth over 10,000 square miles as well as a quadrupling of the local 2013 salmon runs from 50 million to 226 million fish.

Putting gigantic mirrors in space to redirect sunlight away from the Earth and thereby lowering global temperatures is another proposed geoengineering solution being considered by scientists. The mirrors would orbit at Lagrange point L1, a gravitationally stable point between the Earth and the sun that is about four times the distance from the Earth to the moon The mirrors would barely be visible from Earth and would block just 1 percent to 2 percent of the sun’s light, but scientists say that would be enough to cool the planet. Launching mirrors combining to an area of 1.5 million square kilometres (almost the size of Greenland) would be prohibitively expensive though at about $10,000 per pound.

All of these geoengineering solutions need to be examined carefully, often with the precautionary principle in mind. The precautionary principle states that if an action has a suspected risk of causing harm, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those who would take the action. The side effects of these large-scale proposals are not yet known. Better not play with Nature any further than we already have with our global warming experiment.

Cap-and-Trade Systems to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

IMG_5930By Dr. Adam Fenech

I’ll be there in Paris next week for the conference where the United Nations will negotiate a legally binding agreement on climate with the aim of keeping global warming below a dangerous level of 2°C. Discussions have turned to carbon pricing as a means of reducing greenhouse gases to combat global warming such as cap-and-trade systems. The “cap” is like a license to pollute up to a certain threshold, setting a limit on greenhouse gas emissions, which is lowered over time to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere. The “trade” creates a market that allows large industries to trade their polluting licences amongst each other. Each industry is given a license to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gas, known as a carbon allowance, and they can do so, or innovate in order to meet or come in under their allocated limit. The less they emit, the less they pay, so it is in their best interest to pollute less and save money, as they can sell the remainder of their allowance.

The cap-and-trade system worked very well to combat the acid rain issue back in the 1980s. Acid rain is rainfall that is made so acidic by atmospheric pollution that it causes environmental harm, typically to forests and lakes. The main cause is the industrial burning of coal and other fossil fuels, the waste gases from which contain sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which combine with atmospheric water to form acids. Much of eastern Canada is affected by acid rain caused in central Canada and the United States. An agreement between Canada and the USA in 1990 reduced acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide emissions by almost 40 percent. To help industry meet these reductions, the US government created a cap-and-trade system for sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from the nation’s 3,200 coal plants. The system created a market for firms to buy and sell government-issued allowances to emit SO2. By 2007, annual emissions had declined below the programme’s goal for a total of 43% reduction from 1990 levels, despite electricity generation from coal-fired power plants increasing more than 26% from 1990-2007.

In economic theory, a cap-and-trade scheme can be cost effective, meaning the total costs of pollution reduction are minimised. Because each company has flexibility to choose the course of action, it costs the least to achieve environmental compliance – broadly either reduce its own emissions or buy more allowances to cover its emissions. Investment flows to where it is least costly to reduce emissions. The cost of pollution reduction becomes equalised across all regulated companies, and, in total, the mandated environmental target is achieved at lowest cost.

The province of Quebec entered a carbon cap-and-trade system in 2013 whereby businesses that emit 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e) a year are subject to the cap-and-trade system. Presently, only the industrial and electricity sectors are subject to the system, but soon it will include fossil fuel distributors. In 2014, Québec linked its system with that of California, thus creating the largest carbon market in North America, and the first one in the world to have been designed and to be operated by subnational governments of different countries. The Western Climate Initiative’s (WCI) carbon market has expanded further to include the provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba, with the expected addition of Ontario soon. Prices per tonne of carbon allowance are about $16.

There is another cap-and-trade system operating close to Atlantic Canada known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI that includes eight northeastern United States (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Delaware and Maryland) who have capped their greenhouse gas emissions at 88.7 million tonnes declining 2.5% each year until 2020. The cap is already down to 66.8 million tonnes in 2015. The carbon allowances are sold at auction raising $2 billion that is now invested in energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, direct consumer bill reductions and other greenhouse gas reduction programs. The auction prices for carbon allowances under RGGI have ranged from $2 to $6 per tonne.

Critics have cited problems with monitoring the reductions in emissions but I think this could be accomplished if 3,200 coal plants in the USA have participated in a successful acid rain reduction program. Others have a problem with giving industry a license to pollute no matter if the overall goal is a reduction in this pollution. But we have to accept that our present lifestyle requires that wastes be produced. And until we move completely to renewal energy such as using solar or wind power, we’ll have to accept some greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps forever.

Carbon Taxes to Fight Climate Change

IMG_5924By Dr. Adam Fenech

I’ll be there in Paris next week for the conference where the United Nations will negotiate a legally binding agreement on climate with the aim of keeping global warming below a dangerous level of 2°C. Discussions have turned to carbon pricing as a means of reducing greenhouse gases to combat global warming such as carbon taxes.

A carbon tax is a tax based on greenhouse gas emissions generated from burning fossil fuels. It puts a price on each tonne of greenhouse gas emitted, making products more expensive and therefore less demanding, resulting in reduced emissions. It has the advantage of providing an incentive without favouring any one way of reducing emissions over another. By reducing fuel consumption, increasing fuel efficiency, using cleaner fuels and adopting new technology, businesses and individuals can reduce the amount they pay in carbon tax, or even offset it altogether. A carbon tax was considered back in the late 1980s as the climate change issue emerged into the world’s consciousness but rejected due to the experience of the oil crisis of the 1970s. In 1973, the price of oil increased from $3 per barrel to nearly $12 globally (even higher in the United States) in one year following an oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Such a radical price increase did little, if anything, to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used by North Americans.

But this did not prevent Canadian provinces from introducing carbon taxes. In 2008, British Columbia introduced a carbon tax of $10 per tonne of greenhouse emissions (2.41 cents per litre on gasoline) increasing each year by $5 per tonne until 2012 when it reached a final price of $30 per tonne (7.2 cents per litre at the pumps). Before the tax actually went into effect, the B.C. government sent out “rebate cheques” of $100 to all residents of British Columbia. And revenue neutral by law, the proceeds from the B.C. carbon tax are matched by cuts in other taxes (like income tax).

Stewart Elgie, a professor at University of Ottawa, has examined the impacts of the B.C. carbon tax both environmentally and economically. According to Elgie, since the carbon tax was introduced, B.C.’s total use of fossil fuels has dropped by 16.1%, while in the rest of Canada fuel use went up by 3% over that time. B.C.’s economy as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has slightly outperformed the rest of Canada’s since the carbon tax began. Since 2008, the province has cut income taxes by almost $1 billion more than it has taken in carbon revenues – so taxpayers are ahead overall. According to Elgie, British Columbia’s personal and corporate income tax rates are now among the lowest in Canada, making it an attractive place to do business. The international weekly newsmagazine The Economist describes British Columbia’s carbon tax as “a winner.” Critics are not as optimistic facetiously calling the carbon tax “the miracle of British Columbia.”

But Alberta is listening and just announced their own carbon tax this week to be introduced in two steps: $20 per tonne in January 2017 and $30 per tonne in January 2018. As part of a climate change plan endorsed by both environmentalists and the oilsands industry, Alberta estimates their carbon tax will amount to roughly $470 in increased heating, electricity and transportation costs for an average household in 2018. The carbon tax on industry is expected to raise $3 billion a year, which will be reinvested in renewable energy sectors and cover the increased costs to consumers.

Carbon taxes have been demonized in Canada. Both carbon taxes in British Columbia and Alberta were not election issues before they were implemented. The Canadian Liberal Party of 2008 was not as lucky. In the 2008 Canadian federal election, a carbon tax proposed by Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion became a central issue in the campaign. It would have been revenue-neutral, with increased taxation on carbon being balanced by tax cuts for individual citizens. However, it proved to be unpopular and contributed to the defeat of Liberal Party with its worst share of the popular vote since Confederation.

There remain skeptics, especially those suggesting that the carbon tax needs to be implemented internationally to create an “even playing field” for businesses. But I’m sold. I believe that a carbon tax that depresses our demands for fossil fuel, and then reinvests those tax dollars to behaviours that we wish to promote, such as energy conservation schemes or renewable energy, is a good thing. And there is now evidence to prove it.

A Time for the World to Come Together on Climate Change

IMG_5580

By Dr. Adam Fenech

I was a young graduate student back in 1992 when I attended the United Nations’ Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That conference was the beginning of an international political response to addressing the issue of global warming through the adoption of the agreement titled the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change. Almost all of the 195 countries of the world have signed this agreement aimed at stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous human interference with the climate system.” And now 23 years later, we all know that we have not been able to reduce our appetite for burning fossil fuels to create energy, and that we are beginning to feel the effects of climate change that are rapidly advancing to a dangerous level.

 Next week, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference will attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society. It will be the first time in over 20 years of United Nations negotiations to result in a legally binding and universal agreement on climate with the aim of keeping global warming below a dangerous level of 2°C.

The year 2015 is shaping up to be the warmest year on record around the globe. While we here on Prince Edward Island experienced a severely cold winter, almost everywhere else temperatures have been absurdly warm. Global temperatures for the month of October this year became the hottest October on record almost 1°C above normal, an absolutely incredible amount for weather records taken since 1880. October was the eighth month this year when a heat record was set, with only January and April not setting records. That’s a record number of broken records in any year. 2015 will be the hottest year on record breaking the record set last year in 2014. Since the year 2000, global monthly heat records have been broken 32 times, yet the last time a monthly cold record was set was in 1916. My research at UPEI has shown that our province has also warmed substantially over the past 140 years, and is getting drier as well.

The climate meeting in Paris is seen as the last “do or die” chance at getting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions under control to limit the human increase in global average temperature to 2°C. It is recognized by scientists that humans have raised global temperatures by 0.8°C since the industrial revolution, and that even if humans stopped increasing greenhouse gases now, global temperatures would likely rise another 0.8 degrees, as the previously released greenhouse gases continue to overheat the atmosphere due to their long lifetimes in the atmosphere as long as hundreds of years. So humans have committed the planet to a global temperature increase of 1.6°C already, leaving just 0.4°C wiggle room to keep temperatures below the dangerous level of 2°C. To give us a 4 in 5 chance of doing so (so not guaranteed), humans need to release less than 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents of greenhouse gases by 2050 to stay below 2°C. Our greenhouse gas emissions keep growing by roughly 3 percent per year – and at that rate, we’ll reach the 565-gigaton allowance in 13 years or by the year 2028.

That is, unless we are able to make an agreement to provide some significant greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in Paris, and then meet them. Presently, 178 countries have submitted their intended plans for greenhouse gas reductions (the country of Nuie tabled their intentions yesterday). So far, these do not total up to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that will keep the global temperature increases below the dangerous level. But there are two weeks of intense negotiations ahead.

I’ll be there in Paris next week. Terrorism has limited the number of conference activities and security will be tight. But I will be there to advance a report I co-authored with a group of 60+ Canadian scholars titled Sustainable Canada Dialogues that produced a consensus on science-based, viable solutions for greenhouse gas reduction. The report provides 10 policies that can kick-start Canada’s transition toward a low-carbon economy and sustainable society. We highlighted the opportunities, for jobs and the economy, stemming from actively pursuing low-carbon electricity, evolving smart urban design, creating participatory and open governance institutions and rising to the challenge of something tantamount to a total transportation revolution. I know I’ll have an attentive audience.

UPEI’s Climate Research Lab launches Some Weather We’re Having! The 2016 PEI weather trivia calendar, co-authored by Don Jardine, Adam Fenech

front cover promo-page-001Islanders are defined by the weather. We are at the whim of Mother Nature and the weather she brings. It keeps us at home, keeps us from work, keeps our kids from school, yet it brings communities together.

There’s nothing like the weather as a conversation starter. “Some Weather We’re having!”, the 2016 Prince Edward Island weather trivia calendar, will help that banter.

Co-authored by Don Jardine and Dr. Adam Fenech and published by the Climate Research Lab at UPEI, this second edition of the weather trivia calendar is filled with 366 stories about real local weather events from across the Island over the past 400 years.

“There are so many stories,” said Jardine, the climate station manager at the Climate Research Lab. “There are some sad ones and some funny ones. Everybody has a story, we could probably fill a hundred calendars.”

Jardine and Dr. Fenech recently put their like minds together for the P.E.I. weather trivia calendar, tapping into Jardine’s stockpile of photographic images and research he’s been gathering since 2009 when he was working on a climate change project.

The 2016 calendar includes sections about the frequency, location, and seasonality of hurricanes that struck Prince Edward Island. It also contains details of PEI’s winter of 2015, the snowiest in recorded history. The winter of 2015 set a new record for the most snowfall recorded in one year on Prince Edward Island: 551 cm, 12 cm more than the previous record set in 1972.

“Because of the nature of the Island, the way that we live, we’re very affected by weather; sometimes it keeps us at home or away from school and sometimes it drags us to the beaches because it’s so nice,” Dr. Fenech says. “The weather really controls a lot of what we do and who we are. We say in our calendar ‘Our weather is our story.’ It’s the stories around the weather that are so intriguing.”

Some examples of these stories:

  • With the roads closed due to the ice storm of 1956, Joe MacDonald brought his kids to Tryon Consolidated School by skating down the road with one child under each arm.
  • The Mount Stewart Fire Department waded into chest-high, ice-cold water to guide a boat to the front steps of the Birt family home on Egan Street so the family could be taken to safety after the Hillsborough River spilled over its banks and flooded the neighbourhood in 2000.
  • One hundred school children had to spend the night at the Englewood High School in Crapaud due to a major snowstorm in 1964 which caused roads to be blocked.
  • After a windy, stormy night in 1989, the Giddings family of White Sands awoke to find 15 herring fish on their driveway about 80 metres from the shore. It was believed to be the result of a waterspout.
  • The high tide reached such a height during a particularly nasty storm in 1915 that seaweed was deposited on sidewalks throughout Charlottetown.
  • In 2004, Gordon Ellis took home the largest pumpkin prize with his 913-pound pumpkin, the first time in eight years that the winning pumpkin weighed less than 1,000 pounds. The smaller pumpkins were blamed on a cold, wet spring and Hurricane Arthur.

The calendar can be bought at The Bookmark, all Murphy’s Pharmacies, and the UPEI Bookstore.

Weather Predictions for PEI Winter 2016

IMG_5369Last week, Islanders were rudely awoken to the early arrival of snow with almost three centimetres (cm) measured at the Charlottetown airport. This signals the time for our annual winter weather predictions. A great hesitation hangs in the air as no-one predicted last winter’s record breaking snowfall of 551 cm. The Canadian Farmers’ Almanac deserves some congratulations as they predicted a colder and snowier winter than normal. But no-one had the audacity to predict a winter with 12 cm more than the previous record set in 1972. I have heard gossip around town about another record winter ahead just as severe as last year. Well, here is what the experts say.

Normally, a PEI winter (the months of December, January and February) averages -6 degrees Celsius and receives about 197 cm of snow and 122 millimetres of rain. Environment Canada uses climate models to forecast seasonal weather. Climate models are mathematical equations strung together that describe the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere. These equations are calculated using the largest computers in the country, known as supercomputers. Environment Canada forecasts the winter of 2016 (January, February, March) to be above normal or “warmer and wetter”. I must mention, however, that Environment Canada’s seasonal forecast models are accurate for Prince Edward Island only 40-50% of the time (which is not significantly better than chance, meaning flip a coin and you’ll have the same odds of getting the forecast correct). Environment Canada’s seasonal forecasts are accurate in Northern Quebec, the southern Yukon and Baffin Island, but here on PEI, not so well.

We all know people who swear by almanacs when forecasting the seasonal weather, so I took a look at three of them. The 2016 Canadian Farmers Almanac forecasts the winter of 2016 as “bitter cold and snowy”; the 2016 Harrowsmith’s Canadian Almanac says the winter of 2016 will be “snowier and wetter than normal” and temperatures “around normal”. The 2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac, the one we are most familiar with as it has been forecasting seasonal weather since its first issue in 1792 (the time of George Washington’s presidency), uses a “secret formula” kept tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire. The Old Farmer’s Almanac makes claims of 80% accuracy of their results, but studies of their forecasts show no better over the long-term than about 50%. The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasts the PEI winter climate of 2016 to be “warmer than normal” and “drier than normal”.

Dr. James Kinter, a leading climate scientist from George Mason University in the United States, was visiting PEI this past summer and predicted colder than normal temperatures this winter for PEI but less precipitation (rain and snow). Dr. Kinter based his predictions on the effects of a strong El Nino, that is, a temporary change of climate that happens every few years when winds shift in the Pacific Ocean along the equator, warming the water more than usual. These El Nino events trigger changing weather patterns globally.

My own research at the University of Prince Edward Island that examined over 140 years of weather observations in Charlottetown has shown that the climate has definitely gotten warmer and drier, especially over the past 10-15 years or so. And that’s where I put my forecast for the winter of 2015 – to continue the trend and be “warmer and drier”.

 Climate is variable, though – it goes up and down. Climate is nature’s merry-go-round so it is often difficult to predict the coming season even with supercomputers, secret formulas or historical trends. To emphasize this point, one of my graduate students, Eric Gilbert, flipped coins to see what Lady Fortune’s forecast for the winter of 2016 will be – the result being “colder and drier”. So there are many forecasts made but only one will be correct. Predictions are split down the middle as to whether the winter of 2016 will be warmer or colder, but the majority are for a drier or less snowier than normal winter for PEI. I can support the “less snowier” part of those predictions, but we’ll have to wait a few months to see who is right.

 

Predictions of PEI Winter 2016
Source Temperature

Warmer (+) Colder(-)

Precipitation

Wetter (+) Drier (-)

Environment Canada + +
Canadian Farmer’s Almanac +
Harrowsmith = +
Old Farmer’s Almanac +
Dr. Kinter
Dr. Fenech +
Chance (Flip a Coin)

 

. The PEI Weather Trivia Calendar 2016 will be available in two weeks for purchase at book stores around town. This year’s calendar offers 366 all new weather stories for every day of the year; twelve beautiful full-colour PEI weather photographs; information about hurricanes on Prince Edward Island including their frequency, location and seasonality; stories of the winter of 2015, PEI’s snowiest in recorded history; historical PEI weather stories from the Charlottetown Conference (1864), when PEI joined Confederation (1873), and the PEI Land Purchase Act (1875); and much, much more!

Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at afenech@upei.ca or (902) 620-5220