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Scientists rate Canadian climate policies

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Guest Author

James Byrne is a Climate Scientist and Professor at the University of Lethbridge, Canada. He has published extensively on the impacts of climate change on water, ecosystems and society; served as an expert reviewer of many environmental impacts reports; and has led national and international environmental science and solutions communication programs. Catherine Potvin is Canada Research Chair on Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests: Science for Empowerment. Her research includes biodiversity and ecosystem functioning; livelihoods, empowerment, and biodiversity; REDD+: carbon and co-benefits; and science to inform climate change policy.

Submitted on behalf of 60+ Sustainable Canada Dialogues Colleagues.

The Paris Agreement was ratified globally in November. This is unprecedented amongst international agreements for how quickly it has come into force. The Agreement allows each country to decide how it will tackle climate change, and requires as of 2020, regular reporting on progress. Countries of the world have officially embarked in a global race to implement ambitious climate policies that contribute to reducing green-house gas emissions at the planetary-scale.

This process is not unlike the Olympics games where countries get together to compare their strengths and performance. If Canada wants to be a medalist in 2020, domestic climate policies must rapidly be adopted to accelerate the low carbon transition. In this context, Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD) – a network of 60+ scholars from across Canada – produced Rating Canada’s Climate Policy; a progress report on Canada’s climate actions over the past year. We analysed climate decisions made in Ottawa in 2016 in relationship to the 10 policy orientations that we proposed previously in our position paper entitled Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars.

Canada has recently taken two important steps forward. In September, the Government of Canada announced a $120 billion infrastructure investment plan that explicitly highlights support for infrastructures reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This investment plan raises hopes that Canada can make the transition to low carbon development, but its real impact depends on identifying and funding infrastructure projects that best contribute to desired low-carbon and sustainable outcomes. In October, the Government of Canada Announced a Pan-Canadian Pricing on Carbon Pollution starting in 2018. The price on carbon pollution should start at a minimum of $10 per tonne in 2018 and rise by $10 a year to reach $50 per tonne in 2022. This is a modest start given the Canadian government has stated a central value for the social cost of carbon (SCC) is about $41 Cdn/tonne; and could be as high as $167 Cdn.

Despite the progress discussed above, the Canadian Government decision to approve the Pacific Northwest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project is a step backward, casting doubt on the willingness of the Federal Government to address climate change with concrete and meaningful policies and actions. Our impact assessment indicates that this LNG project would be one of the largest point source of emissions in Canada and would increase BC’s emissions by 8.5%. Continued development of projects with high greenhouse gas emissions will compromise progress in other sectors. It will prevent Canada from meeting its emissions reduction target for 2030, and is incompatible with Canada’s stated goal to help limit global temperature increases to 1.5C. Research indeed estimates that, to maintain global temperature increase below 2C, half of existing gas reserves and one third of existing oil ones must remain unused.

Canadian climate policy must tackle the most difficult question: how to transition away from fossil fuels? We call for federal political leadership that steadily and strategically adopts innovative low-carbon tools to drive future economic growth. This requires engaging with a broad range of stakeholders from the oil and gas industry, unions, Indigenous peoples, environmental NGOs, the clean technology sector, and academia. We must discuss how to redirect subsidies of $3.3 billion away from the fossil fuel industry. Those funds should promote transitions to low-carbon energy and ensure that workers from the oil and gas industry can transition their skills in other sectors.

Ambitious Canadian climate leadership is necessary more than ever. Only by working together and building commitment across all sectors will Canada live up the expectations created by joining the COP21 High Ambition Coalition in 2015. Our federal government has not developed a complete climate action plan. But two further steps forward have occurred since the close of the COP22 Marrakech Meeting. On November 19, Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced details of support for Canadian and Global actions towards cleaner, more sustainable growth in Canada and internationally. As we pen this article, on November 21, Minister McKenna announced that Canada will phase out all coal fired electricity by 2030.

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Comments 1 to 2:

  1. The phasing out of coal burning in Canada by 2030 is a great ambition. However, there is more to understand about this planned action.

    In Alberta that action will cost current and future Albertan's $1.1 Billion (CBC Article). The cost to current and future generations is the result of approvals of new coal burners in Alberta that previous governments made during the past 25 or more years when the unacceptability of such approvals was clearly understood (but obviously not accepted as a basis for decision making) by Alberta and Canadian Leaderhip in Business and Politics.

    That cost was a benefit recieved by previous generations of Albertan's who did not care to limit how they benefited. And none of that undeserved benefit (lower cost electricity) is able to be taken away from those people (that is what makes it so tempting for any current generation, or individuals and corporations, to try to get away with less acceptable ways of benefiting).

    Also, the Alberta plan is to increase Natural Gas burning. In addition to the increased fugitive emission of methane from expanded natural gas operations, the natural gas burning will need to be terminated by 2050.

    That creation of new natural gas burners will likely lead to future costs for future Albertans. Any gas burner built today would only operate for 33 years, less than investors would claim they are owed the opportunity to profit from. And future Albertan's will face that cost while their predecessors benefit by getting less expensive electricity.

    The more responsible way for already well developed regions of the world to generate electricity are well understood and have always been able to be built. They just "cost a current generation more tghan the y can get away with in a system tghat determines acceptability by popularity and profitability".

    That clear flaw of economic and political systems needs to become common sense understanding among the entire population, contrary to the many desired interests in pursuit of unjustifiably profitable activities that could easily have unjustified popular support Trumped-up for them.

    And a big push-back on these plans (they can be terminated as easily and quickly as the Trumped-up about-face of America) is claims that if Trumped-up America doesn't responsibly increase the fossil fuel burning costs or reduce the related profits of its citizens and corporations then it is competitively disadvantageous for Canada (or any other nation) to act more responsibly.

    Success of irresponsible leadership in business and politics is clearly one of the most tragic developments ever created by humans, clearly contrary to the advancement of humanity in so many ways.

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  2. Looking at the accumulating Hiroshima heat energy box on the right side of this web page, it appears that physics will determine our fate, while the compromises and false promises of politicians and negotiators will matter little. An economic response to the nonlinear rise in climate destabilisation is absurd, when viewed through this lens.

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