Weekly roundup of local and international climate change news for the week of June 24 to June 30, 2024.

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Here’s all the latest news concerning the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and the steps leaders are taking to address these issues.

In climate news this week:

• Canada’s 2023 wildfires burned huge chunks of forest, spewing far more heat-trapping gas than planes
• B.C. homes and businesses to be eligible for rebates for rooftop solar systems
• Three years after wildfire, Lytton’s slow rebuild is underway
• UBC researchers concerned about drop in butterfly sightings

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Human activities like burning fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This causes heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere, increasing the planet’s surface temperature.

The panel, which is made up of scientists from around the world, has warned for decades that wildfires and severe weather, such as B.C.’s deadly heat dome and catastrophic flooding in 2021, would become more frequent and more intense because of the climate emergency. It has issued a “code red” for humanity and warns the window to limit warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial times is closing.

But it’s not too late to avoid the worst-case scenarios. According to NASA climate scientists, if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the rise in global temperatures would begin to flatten within a few years. Temperatures would then plateau but remain well-elevated for many centuries.

Check back every Saturday for more climate and environmental news or sign up for our Climate Connected newsletter HERE.

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Climate change quick facts:

• The Earth is now about 1.2 C warmer than it was in the 1800s.
• 2023 was hottest on record globally, beating the last record in 2016.
• Human activities have raised atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by nearly 49 per cent above pre-industrial levels starting in 1850.
• The world is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement target to keep global temperature from exceeding 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, the upper limit to avoid the worst fallout from climate change including sea level rise, and more intense drought, heat waves and wildfires.
• On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, the temperature could increase by as much as 4.4 C by the end of the century.
• In April, 2022 greenhouse gas concentrations reached record new highs and show no sign of slowing.
• Emissions must drop 7.6 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 to keep temperatures from exceeding 1.5 C and 2.7 per cent per year to stay below 2 C.
• 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that the climate is warming and that human beings are the cause.

(Source: United Nations IPCCWorld Meteorological OrganizationUNEPNASAclimatedata.ca)

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Co2 graph
Source: NASA

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Canada’s 2023 wildfires burned huge chunks of forest, spewing far more heat-trapping gas than planes

Catastrophic Canadian warming-fuelled wildfires last year pumped more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air than India did by burning fossil fuels, setting ablaze an area of forest larger than West Virginia, new research found.

Scientists at the World Resources Institute and the University of Maryland calculated how devastating the impacts of the months-long fires in Canada in 2023 that sullied the air around large parts of the globe. They figured it put 3.28 billion tons (2.98 billion metric tons) of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air, according to a study update published in Thursday’s Global Change Biology. The update is not peer-reviewed, but the original study was.

The fire spewed nearly four times the carbon emissions as airplanes do in a year, study authors said. It’s about the same amount of carbon dioxide that 647 million cars put in the air in a year, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.

Forests “remove a lot of carbon from the atmosphere and that gets stored in their branches, their trunks, their leaves and kind of in the ground as well. So when they burn all the carbon that’s stored within them gets released back into the atmosphere,” said study lead author James MacCarthy, a research associate with WRI’s Global Forest Watch.

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When and if trees grow back much of that can be recovered, MacCarthy said, adding “it definitely does have an impact on the global scale in terms of the amount of emissions that were produced in 2023.”

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

solar panels ubc
Massive solar panels on the roof of Thunderbird parkade at UBC Tuesday, June 18, 2024 that are part of a hydrogen clean-energy project. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

B.C. homes and businesses to be eligible for rebates for rooftop solar systems

B.C.’s public power utility says it will, for the first time, provide rebates for the installation of rooftop solar and battery storage systems for residents and businesses.

B.C. Hydro said in a news release that eligible homeowners can receive rebates up to $10,000 for installing a qualified solar and battery storage system, while apartment buildings, schools, businesses and others could get from $50,000 to $150,000 back.

The utility says the program will make it easier for people and businesses to generate their own electricity, reduce their power bills and deliver clean energy back to the electricity grid.

The rebates are part of a plan to accelerate the shift to clear energy in the province and comes after Hydro made a call for more clean power generation for the first time in 15 years and updated its capital plan that includes $40 billion in investments.

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Chris O’Riley, Hydro CEO, says investing in systems today puts the province on the path to meet power demands later and that’s why they’re taking action to source the clean electricity needed.

The rebates will be available in July.

—The Canadian Press

File photo of a home destroyed in the 2021 Lytton wildfire. (Tricia Thorpe)

Three years after wildfire, Lytton’s slow rebuild is underway

Nearly three years after a wildfire swept through Lytton during a period of record-setting heat, homes and businesses are coming back — but the progress is much too slow, says the village’s mayor.

Denise O’Connor said there has been “significant” progress in rebuilding Lytton, which was razed after a fast-moving wildfire ignited June 30, 2021, killing two people, displacing hundreds, and destroying more than 100 properties.

Last November, the first residential building permit was issued for a single-family home in downtown Lytton. Since then, the village has issued 12 more permits for homes and two commercial buildings, with more in the pipeline.

A grocery store is in the works. Municipal services such as water and sewers have been restored. The Chinese History Museum is being rebuilt, and there is chatter that Scotiabank is looking for a location for a branch, said O’Connor.

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But there is still no café or RCMP detachment. Residents have to make the hour-long drive to Lillooet or, further afield, Ashcroft or Kamloops for medical services such as a pharmacy, urgent care centre, or lab and X-ray services.

“We are in a much better place than we were last year, but we still have a long way to go,” said O’Connor at a news briefing Tuesday from a leased hall used for council meetings. “The process of rebuilding has not been simple or easy for the people of Lytton.”

Read the full story here.

—Cheryl Chan

‘Years of struggle’: How B.C.’s climate change is affecting the way we grow our food

On just two acres of land in the heart of Kelowna, Myles Ferber raises enough tomatoes, greens and nearly 50 other kinds of produce to feed local restaurants, the farmers’ market and a growing number of direct consumers.

“I like that our model relies on diversity,” says the co-owner of Wise Earth Farm as we walk past beds of microgreens and garlic scapes. “If the weather is not good for something for us, it’s likely good for something else. If it’s too hot for bok choy, it’s likely good for tomatoes.”

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It’s that diversity that has protected his family farm during the last few years of disastrous weather events in the Okanagan Valley. That, and the fact that they farm regeneratively, tending the soil with reverence, using good old-fashioned manual labour and some 240 yards of compost a year.

The result, Ferber says, is “a living soil system” that produces the kind of intensely flavourful produce chefs crave.

Market farms like Wise Earth — small, local, diverse, seasonal — will help us keep putting food on the table as our climate continues to change. But, Ferber says: “There’s so little support for small farmers. And there are so many barriers to entry, mainly financial.”

This imbalance is both frustrating and alarming to people who care about our food systems, people like Ned Bell, the chef-ambassador for Buy BC and previously the executive chef for Ocean Wise.

“During these years of struggle, we just need to dig deeper and support our farmers,” Bell says. “Is there a more important thing? Really?”

Read the full story here.

—Joanne Sasvari

Metro Vancouver plans 2025 trial to remove CO2 from sea water

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Scientists are concerned that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because of human activities are pushing more CO2 into the ocean, causing acidification of the ocean.

As the water becomes more acidic, scientists say shellfish and other marine life are struggling to build their shells and skeletons.

That’s why a staff report to Metro Vancouver’s climate action committee this month recommends beginning an ocean alkalinity research trial in spring 2025, using outfall from the Lions Gate sewage treatment.

Ocean alkalinity enhancement adds slow‐dissolving minerals that react with CO2 in the ocean and convert it to other forms that sequester the carbon for hundreds of thousands of years, according to the report.

Researchers would evaluate the potential to remove CO2 from the water in Burrard Inlet, helping to mitigate both climate change and ocean acidification.

Staff say this trial would be done at no cost to taxpayers and would instead be funded by the private firm Planetary Technologies Inc., Ocean Networks Canada, and researchers from the University of B.C.

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Read the full story here.

—Tiffany Crawford

white butterfly
A cabbage white butterfly rests on a flower. Photo: Dr. Michelle Tseng/UBC Photo by Dr. Michelle Tseng/UBC /sun

Butterfly sightings sharply down in Metro Vancouver, and scientists are not sure why

Researchers at the University of B.C. are scratching their heads over a mysterious drop in butterfly sightings in Metro Vancouver.

Dr. Michelle Tseng, an assistant professor in the UBC departments of botany and zoology, said her team, which partners with the David Suzuki Foundation, have observed an estimated 60-per-cent drop in cabbage white butterflies across the region this season.

Tseng says there are several reasons this could be happening such as the cooler, wetter spring, or it could be related to climate change and extreme changes in temperature, or from spraying invasive species. But they don’t know for sure.

“We just know they’re they’re not flying around in anywhere close to the numbers that we’ve seen them, I’d say, in the last five years,” said Tseng in an interview Wednesday.

One theory is that the cold snap in January that affected fruit crops in the Okanagan may have also contributed to the declining numbers this spring.

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Read the full story here.

—Tiffany Crawford

More than 300 hectares of land secured to conserve old growth forest

The B.C. government, the federal government and seven land trust and conservancy organizations have worked together to secure critical old growth and habitat for species at risk at eight different sites, the B.C. government said Friday.

About $7.9 million from the Old Growth Nature Fund, along with $8.2 million contributed by private donors and organizations, were used to purchase privately owned lands.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is providing financial support of $50 million to B.C. over three years to protect old-growth forest.

The eight sites total 316 hectares and are highly biodiverse old-growth forests that support species at risk and other wildlife, such as cutthroat trout, band-tailed pigeons and horned grebes. Many of these sites are in relatively densely populated areas of the province, the government said.

The following locations were selected based on recommendations that land trusts and land conservancies submitted for consideration:

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• Kwiakah, Phillips Arm (Central Coast) – 75 hectares
• Crescent Spur (McBride area) – 76.9 hectares
• Bear Hill (Saanich) – 2.2 hectares
• East Sooke – 68.5 hectares
• Talking Trees Nature Reserve (Galiano Island) – 42 hectares
• Puntledge River (Comox Valley) – about 32 hectares
• Osprey Ridge Nature Reserve (Pender Island) – 4.1 hectares
• Vulture Ridge Nature Reserve (Pender Island) – 14.6 hectares

—Tiffany Crawford

Contaminated soil found near Trans Mountain pipeline in Mount Robson park

Trans Mountain pipeline workers found soil with a historical contamination of crude oil in Mount Robson Provincial Park earlier this month.

The company has completed excavation to remove contaminated soil, but some residual contamination remains, Trans Mountain officials said in a statement.

After discovering the contaminated soil, Trans Mountain notified B.C. Parks and the Canada Energy Regulator, the federal body responsible for regulating pipelines.

According to the notice, workers discovered the historical contamination while remediating another, more minor oil release from the pipeline. The old contamination comprised about 10 cubic metres of soil, according to the notice of contamination.

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—Abigail Popple

A big boost for a climate solution: electricity made from the heat of the Earth

One method of making electricity cleanly to address climate change has been quietly advancing and on Tuesday it hit a milestone.

A California utility is backing the largest new geothermal power development in the U.S. — 400 megawatts of clean electricity from the Earth’s heat — enough for some 400,000 homes.

Southern California Edison will purchase the electricity from Fervo Energy, a Houston-based geothermal company, Fervo announced.

The company is drilling up to 125 wells in southwest Utah.

Clean electricity like this reduces the need for traditional power plants that cause climate change. The boost could go a long way toward bringing down the cost of a new generation of geothermal energy, said Wilson Ricks, an energy systems researcher at Princeton University.

“If these purchases help to get this technology off the ground, it could be massively impactful for global decarbonization,” he said. Decarbonization refers to switching out things that produce carbon dioxide and methane, which cause the climate to change, in favor of machines and methods that don’t.

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Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press

File photo of cows. Photo by Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images

Denmark to tax farmers for the greenhouse gases emitted by their livestock

Denmark will tax livestock farmers for the greenhouse gases emitted by their cows, sheep and pigs from 2030, the first country in the world to do so as it targets a major source of methane emissions, one of the most potent gases contributing to global warming.

The aim is to reduce Danish greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, said Taxation Minister Jeppe Bruus.

As of 2030, Danish livestock farmers will be taxed 300 kroner (about $38 Canadian) per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030. The tax will increase to 750 kroner ($96) by 2035. However, because of an income tax deduction of 60 per cent, the actual cost per ton will start at 120 kroner ($15) and increase to 300 kroner by 2035.

Although carbon dioxide typically gets more attention for its role in climate change, methane traps about 87 times more heat on a 20-year timescale, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Levels of methane, which is emitted from sources including landfills, oil and natural gas systems and livestock, have increased particularly quickly since 2020. Livestock account for about 32 per cent of human-caused methane emissions, says the UN Environment Program.

—The Associated Press

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