Climate change in Alberta
How the causes and impacts of climate change could affect Alberta's environment, health and economy.
The climate is changing and globally we are experiencing impacts, such as:
- increasing temperatures
- rising ocean levels
- more frequent droughts, floods and forest fires
More extreme weather is creating greater challenges.
Causes of climate change
The Earth’s climate is affected by these human and natural factors that are external to the climate system:
- Changes in ocean currents
- Changes in solar radiation
- Natural activity, such as volcanic activity
- Depleting ozone layer through use of chemicals like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
- Increases in concentrations of greenhouse gases, primarily from burning fossil fuels, which trap heat within our atmosphere
- Using forests and wetlands for agricultural, residential and industrial uses
Greenhouse gas emissions
The main greenhouse gas emissions are:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Methane (CH4)
- Nitrous oxide (N2O)
Each of these compounds has an important affect on the earth’s temperature by trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing global temperatures to increase. While this natural greenhouse effect makes life on Earth possible, an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could dramatically change our ecosystem.
97% of climate scientists now agree that human activity is responsible for most temperature increases over the past 250 years.
Humans have substantially increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, including:
- Natural gas
The biggest concern is the speed at which growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is occurring. For more information, please see the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) website at Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report
Impacts of climate change
Climate change will likely result in long-term changes in temperature and precipitation, as well as increased frequency and severity of weather events such as droughts, floods, forest fires, and severe storms. Climate change brings with it both great challenges and unique opportunities.
Some of the key areas where the effects of climate change are expected include:
Climate change may lead to negative impacts on agriculture production (crop yields) and financial loss, livestock production and farming infrastructure, from increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events and long-term impacts of climate change.
Biodiversity and ecosystem services
Climate change is expected to impact:
- the current level, mix and geographic distribution of biodiversity, such as Alberta’s native species and ecosystems.
- various ecosystem services and benefits, including clean water, crop pollination and recreational opportunities.
Climate change could affect energy supplies by:
- disrupting energy generation and supply during extreme weather events
- increased stress on transmission infrastructure
- increasing demand on electrical generation (additional loads created by cooling requirements)
Extreme weather events
Certain types of extreme weather events may increase in frequency and/or intensity:
- forest fires
- heavy precipitation with associated increased risk of flooding
- individual severe storms
Warmer temperatures and reduced soil moisture create conditions for:
- continued mountain pine beetle infestations
- grasslands displacing existing forest ecosystems
- greater incidence of forest fires
Infrastructure (such as buildings, roads, bridges, pipelines and electricity transmission) is generally sensitive to gradual changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. Extreme weather events can easily overwhelm the capacity of infrastructure.
Recent trends and future projections for water resources include:
- loss of water stored as ice and snow will affect the timing and level of water flows in major river basins
- lower summer stream flows, falling lake levels, and retreating glaciers
- net result of less surface water and soil moisture, as well as greater variations in soil moisture from season-to-season and year-to-year
Financial and insurance implications
The costs of adapting today result in avoidance of damages – and therefore avoided costs. According to the United Nations Development Programme, from a global perspective it is estimated that every dollar spent today on adaptation results in $7 saved in emergency response.
- between 1983 and 2008, Alberta averaged around $100 million a year in catastrophic losses due to extreme events (hailstorms, wildfire, flooding, etc.). This value increased substantially starting in 2009.
- Alberta averaged $673 million a year in insured losses from extreme weather events from 2009 to 2012.
- according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Alberta has experienced the 2 most costly disasters in the country's history with the Fort McMurray wildfires at $3.58 billion and the 2013 southern Alberta floods at $1.7 billion.
Alberta is committed to developing a provincial adaptation strategy to help ensure the province is better prepared for and more resilient to a changing climate. The strategy will be developed with input from Albertans through a separate engagement process that recognizes the unique challenges and opportunities of adaptation.
Alberta's current emissions
Figure 1: Alberta emissions profile
|A||Oil sands (mining, in situ and upgrading)||26%|
|B||Electricity / heat generation||18%|
|C||Oil and gas and mining||17%|
|F||Residential / commercial||6%|
|G||Manufacturing / construction||6%|
Sources of emissions
In 2013, Alberta’s provincial emissions totaled 267 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.
Over half the emissions in Alberta are the result of industrial, manufacturing and construction activity, as well as from producing the electricity we consume in our homes, communities and businesses.
The remainder comes from heating our homes and businesses, transportation and from agriculture, forestry and municipal waste.
Alberta’s emissions have increased 15% from 2005. Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to peak in the early 2020s.
What you can do
The choices we make every day have an impact on the planet. There are plenty of simple lifestyle actions Albertans can take to reduce emissions and play a part in the global fight against climate change.
Discover some of the things you can do to curb your energy consumption, lower your emissions and save money.
- Upgrade to a programmable thermostat or simply set your home’s temperature to 16 Celsius when you leave the house or go to bed.
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room, or if you don’t require lighting. Consider occupancy sensors that turn on and off automatically.
- Replace light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs.
- Shorten your showers to less than five minutes.
- Purchase energy-efficient appliances, such as an ENERGY STAR® washing machine, which uses up to 50% less water and 50% less energy per load than average.
- Install new insulation and energy-efficient windows.
- Choose a push mower. Running an old gas lawn mower for an hour can create as much pollution as driving your car 500 kilometres.
- Buy local food and other goods whenever you can. Less travel distance means lower emissions.
- Walk, bike or take public transit. Choose a more fuel efficient vehicle if you drive.
- If you have to drive to work, consider carpooling.
- Check your tire pressure. Tires that are underinflated by two pounds per square inch can cause a four per cent increase in fuel consumption.
- Use a block heater to warm your vehicle's engine in the winter. Buy a timer for it and set it for two to three hours before you need to start your car.
- Avoid idling your vehicle. Idling for longer than 10 seconds during cold weather isn’t necessary, and wastes gas and money.