By Connie Vitello
This week the world’s leading authority on global climate change issued a “code red.” This comes as no surprise to Canadians who are increasingly experiencing extreme weather. The heatwave and wildfires in Western Canada have been devastating, the thawing permafrost is challenging traditional ways of life in the North, farmers across the country continue to lose crops to both drought and flooding, and coastal communities are facing stronger storm surges and coastal erosion.
These extreme weather experiences, underscored by this weighty report, can cause even the most stalwart climate change skeptic go into crisis mode. Our worst fears have been confirmed: some of the climate impacts are already irreversible and many depend on how swiftly we take action. Those involved in the environment sector are mobilizing in various ways while others are still trying to make sense of the data. Either way, it’s more important than ever to communicate clearly and proactively about climate science and climate action strategies.
Code red report
The report that’s making waves across the world was produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the United Nations (UN) body that assesses the science of climate change. This sixth report on the state of the world’s climate took approximately eight years to produce and is the result of 234 authors from 66 countries reviewing more than 14,000 peer-reviewed research articles on climate change. By all accounts, it’s the most comprehensive assessment of the climate emergency published to date.
The report contextualizes the extreme weather globally as part of the larger climate crisis and warns that global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least 2050.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the report a “Code Red” for human civilization as we know it. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
Even if we significantly curb emissions in the coming decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100. The icebergs melting in the Canadian Arctic were captured by drone. (Credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash.)
According to the authors, some of the changes due to past and future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia — especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.
Other key points raised in the IPCC report include the following:
- Human actions have warmed the climate system;
- With further global warming, every region is projected to experience changes, with extremes, such as heavy precipitation, becoming greater in frequency and intensity;
- Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered;
- Unless there are deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG emissions in the coming decades, 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century; and
- The effects of strong, rapid, and sustained emission reductions in terms of global surface temperature trends will begin to emerge after approximately 20 years.
Canadian climate organizations are galvanizing. Eddy Pérez, international climate diplomacy manager at Climate Action Network – Réseau action climat Canada, states: “This report has significant implications for Canada, where temperature changes are expected to be significantly higher than the global average. As one of the world’s top emitters and a major exporter of fossil fuels, we have both the responsibility and the power to make a difference. It’s clearer than ever that we must cut emissions in half this decade, rapidly decarbonize all sectors of the economy, and phase out fossil fuels.”
But how exactly should these decarbonizing strategies be communicated for optimal efficacy?
Eric Yaverbaum is a communications and public relations expert with over 40 years in the industry, having worked with a wide range of top clients. He is also a bestselling author who literally wrote the book on public relations – the bestseller Public Relations for Dummies – as well as other titles. He will be recounting his lifelong ability to look towards the bright side for his upcoming book The Audacity of Silver Linings, set to release in 2022.
Yaverbaum is passionate about progressive politics, environmental issues, and climate science, topics he’s been working to raise awareness about in an effective way for years. “The thing is that while all of the doom and gloom around climate change has helped to raise awareness, it has also made people feel hopeless and like there is nothing that can be done—which isn’t true!”
Eric Yaverbaum, communications and public relations expert with a passion for meaningful climate action.
“The messaging related to climate change going forward needs to communicate how urgent action is needed while still emphasizing that there are actions that can still be taken to save our planet and clearly stating what those actions are,” emphasizes Yaverbaum.
How is he feeling in the face of this latest climate change science? “The UN report is very clear that we’re at a crisis point, but we still have a chance to undo the damage that has been done by humans and we need to actively change the course that we’re on, now.”
“We have all experienced the increasing rate of extreme weather events from hurricanes to forest fires as well as colder winters and hotter summers, and I think it’s clear that not enough has been done by governments around the world to make the necessary difference, not even close.”
So what are some specific strategies for best tackling climate crisis communication and climate action? Yaverbaum believes that the best way to get people to care about any issue, including climate change, is by tapping into emotions and making meaningful connections.
“While some might argue that this has already been done for climate change, it’s vital to appeal to the right emotions. All of the doom and gloom about climate change has definitely sparked a reaction, but what has been missing is hope. And without hope, what you inspire is apathy, not action. So yes, things are dire. And yes, they will continue to worsen. However, according to the UN’s report, it’s not too late and that is what needs to be the focus. We can still make a difference and reverse climate change before it is too late.”
Yaverbaum advises the following: keep communication about climate change simple; be clear and straightforward about the changes that need to be made and how we need to go about making them as a society and as a world; and, focus on the facts and be concise.
“And above all, lead with hope. Remember what brings us together: we’re all humans and this is our only home. Remain focused on hope and the fact that we can still reverse climate change, but we’re all going to have to work together. Starting now.”
It seems Rick Smith, president of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, is also embracing a hopeful approach to the IPCC report call to action. “So often, with climate change, the public discussion takes on a tone that verges on nihilism. But the future is still ours to write.”
Smith specifies no less than five reasons to feel some hope after reading the IPCC’s report:
- The worst impacts of climate change can be avoided. Projections in the IPCC report show with a high degree of certainty that if we hit net zero emissions globally by 2050, we could still limit warming to 1.5°C, thus avoiding catastrophic tipping points.
- Global warming is reversible—if we act fast. In the best-case scenario, the global temperature would rise an estimated 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels between today and 2040, would top out around 1.6 degrees and then begin to fall toward the end of the century.
- Global progress towards reducing emissions is already happening. Over the past 10 years, clean energy has become cheaper, while climate policies in Canada and abroad have become stronger.
- Carbon doesn’t stick around forever. Between 65 per cent and 80 per cent of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20 to 200 years.
- Rapidly reducing GHG emissions can be a win-win-win. Doing Canada’s part to keep warming to 1.5 is not just achievable, it will be beneficial to future health and prosperity.
Climate action in Canada
The IPCC report has international implications that will take effect via a variety of governance models. In Canada, scientists and policymakers have made a clear link between climate change and more frequent and powerful weather events.
“Canada is warming at nearly twice the global rate. Parts of western and northern Canada are warming at three times the global average,” stated federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson.
“The Government will continue to work with Canadians to drive down emissions, take the actions needed to prevent harm from climate change, and create economic prosperity in all regions of the country.”
Canada has joined more than 120 countries—including all G7 countries—to commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. And the recently passed Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act turned Canada’s net-zero goal into law. Reaching net-zero emissions is what the IPCC report reiterates the world must achieve in order to minimize global warming.
Even before this report, the Wilkinson has been vocal about his plans to combat climate change. In December 2020, as part of its strengthened climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, the Government of Canada committed to developing Canada’s first National Adaptation Strategy.
On August 11, a follow-up report on this national adoption strategy was released: Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change in Canada: an update on the National Adaptation Strategy. The strategy builds on the first round of conversations with provinces and territories, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, Indigenous representatives, and youth organizations to identify the strategy’s objectives and principles.
The feds are also launching adaptation advisory tables led by environmental organizations, adaptation experts, Indigenous Peoples, and other key partners, including youth, from across the country. These partners will have the mandate to create a framework for concrete adaptation action, with aspirational goals and advice on how to face climate change.
Wilkinson has committed Canada to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 ‑ 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
However, leading environmental organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation, are calling for bolder action. “This report describes the extreme weather emergency we are facing and is a call for immediate, unprecedented action,” said Ian Bruce, acting executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation.
The Foundation is calling on Canadians to support a strengthened 2030 emissions target of 60 per cent reduction from 2005 levels. They are encouraging the implementation of an ambitious, achievable, science-based climate plan that advances intergenerational justice for Indigenous Peoples.
The Foundation is also encouraging Canadians to get “Charged Up” by taking climate action locally and supporting the implementation of more renewable energy in their communities. The Charged Up initiative is helping build the climate and clean energy transition movement, and is actively expanding its network of inclusive champions.
The code red climate emergency is here, but so are the solutions to survive it. Canadians need to communicate clearly and take action sooner than later.
The IPCC report will be a key influence for intergovernmental negotiations at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.
Connie Vitello is Editor of Environment Journal.
Featured image of wildfires from Government of British Columbia.