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September 27, 2021

Our planet is heating up, causing tremendous upheaval for life as we know it.
Every Monday, The Climate Barometer from delves into
climate science and looks at what life on a changing planet will mean


It was another week when climate change captured global attention -- but even as world leaders made new commitments to preserve the planet, they were drowned out by calls to do more.

Even as dignitaries gathered at the United Nations for days of climate talks, the global body pushed them to do more to reduce emissions, adapt to the realities of climate change, and help developing nations do the same.

That message seemed to get through to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- not someone who many would normally associate with climate leadership. Speaking at the UN later in the week, Johnson said that humanity must "grow up" and accept the consequences of our behaviour toward the planet.

Also addressing the UN General Assembly was Chinese President Xi Jinping. His remarks came with a firm commitment, announcing that China will no longer build coal-fired power plants outside its borders. China does, however, remain one of the world's largest users of coal power, and continues to build new coal-fired plants domestically.

China and the United States both announced plans to increase foreign aid related to cleaner energy and a healthier planet. The U.S. later announced additional plans to beef up its response to Arctic thawing.

The commitments made last week are far from what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been seeking. He wants leaders to commit to ending the burning of coal, halting all subsidies to fossil fuels, and ramping up taxes on pollution.

Last week's UN meetings were only a small taste of what's likely to come later this year, when world leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference. It is likely a good bet that more substantive announcements will be made there.

But will they come close enough to what Guterres wants to see for those on the front lines of the climate fight to be satisfied? We got a hint last week about what could happen if that's not the case, as large-scale youth-led climate protests returned to the streets in Canada and abroad.


Taking a look at stories about the environment that caught our attention this week
  • The World Health Organization has updated its air quality guidelines for the first time in 15 years. Although the new guidelines are not legally binding, the global health authority took a hard-line stance on air pollution, equating it to smoking tobacco. Jill Baumgartner from McGill University weighed in from a Canadian perspective, noting that people here can be exposed to harmful pollution even when the sky is bright and clear.
  • Just one wildfire in British Columbia this summer dealt $77 million worth of damage, according to the province's insurance bureau. The White Rock Lake fire was among the most devastating in the province this year, destroying 78 properties and resulting in some 800 insurance claims. Of course, money isn't the only way to measure the damage done by a wildfire. European monitors report that this year's wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere have emitted more carbon than was experienced during any previous fire season.
  • Climate change never seemed to be a major issue during the recently concluded federal election campaign, but new research suggests that elections can most definitely affect the environment. Researchers in Brazil report that destruction of the Amazon in that country tends to escalate during election years, which they say is likely because of deforestation being used as a trade-off for votes. One bright spot: the researchers found that the election-year increases in Amazon deforestation have been shrinking in recent years, perhaps owing to media coverage of the issue.

An in-depth look at an important climate issue

For seals, it's a case of one step forward and one step backward.

Last month, an Indigenous-led study out of Alaska concluded that seal-hunting season in one remote village is shortening at a rate of about one day per year. Some years, there's so little sea ice that hunters in Kotzebue Sound only have one weekend to harvest bearded seals.

While troubling for the local human populations that rely on the seals, the shorter hunting season is good news for the seals themselves. However, they're facing another problem.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia reported earlier this month that climate change will drastically change the types and sizes of fish that can be found in Arctic waters. In effect, they say, this means that seals and other Arctic predators will lose out on nutritious food sources in favour of "marine junk food."

Higher up in the Arctic food chain, vanishing sea ice is also disappearing the most common food sources for walruses, particularly female ones. There's also new evidence that many species of Arctic dragonflies will struggle to adapt to warmer conditions.

On the other side of the world, meanwhile, scientists report that 98 per cent of emperor penguin colonies could be destroyed by the end of the century due to melting ice, leading to efforts in the United States to list the species as threatened.

Of course, climate change is causing plenty of adverse effects for animals between the planet's poles as well. Declines in bumblebee colonies are just one example of this; issues around that are explained well in this video featuring young Mi'kmaw beekeeper Gregory Dugas.

When it comes to the effects of climate change, animals have taught us much, and there is still much more we can learn from them -- possibly even including how to prevent the next pandemic.



CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin shares his exclusive insights

In addition to changing where many of us live, new research suggests, climate change will alter where we travel.

The hypothesis starts from what may seem like an obvious point: Tourism tends to increase when the weather is nice.

Researchers in Utah sifted through the timestamps and location tags of 15 years' worth of photographs posted online to get baseline readings of foot traffic at tourism hotspots across the U.S. After that, they looked at how climate change will affect the weather at those destinations, and what that will mean for visitor volumes.

In this week's Riskin Report, CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin explains when and where in the U.S. tourist demand is projected to increase – and shares a tip for any tourists looking for a new destination in southern Ontario.


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