Alberta Delays Report Showing Warming, Climate Impacts Above Global Average
The Alberta government dragged its feet for six months before releasing a report it previously commissioned from climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe and Anne Stoner that shows the province warming faster than the rest of the planet due to human activity, with “profound impacts on the province’s economy, infrastructure, and public health,” Global News reports.
For every degree of global mean temperature rise, the report says Alberta will experience average increases of 2.0°C in winter, 1.5°C in summer, about 3.0°C on the coldest day of the year, and about 2.0°C on the warmest day, write Global reporters Mike de Souza and Heather Yourex-West. The frost-free season will lengthen by two weeks, and the growing season by two to four weeks, with greater changes in more southerly locations, September-to-April precipitation will increase 5.0 to 10%, with more of it falling as rain rather than snow. Very wet days will increase by 50%, and precipitation on the wettest day of the year by 20%.
“Projected changes will profoundly impact Alberta’s natural environment, and have the potential to affect the province’s agriculture, infrastructure, and natural resources, as well as the health and welfare of its inhabitants,” the report stated.
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While there’s some uncertainty in natural climate variability, Hayhoe said the greater uncertainty has to do with what humanity will do curb its climate impacts. “We are the ones who are driving this change for the first time in the history of the planet,” she told Global. “It isn’t volcanoes. It isn’t natural cycles. It isn’t the sun. It is us. And our energy choices will determine our future. So the further and further we go out into the future, the more we see decade by decade, the 2050s, the 2070s, 2100, the more we see the influence of the choices that we make today.”
She added that “if we wait until we see those impacts, it’s going to be too late to make the choice. Just like if we are being loaded onto the ambulance, being taken to the hospital for a heart attack, it’s too late to say, ‘oh, I’ll join a gym and I’ll eat healthy.’ We have to make those decisions earlier in the same way.”
Hayhoe’s and Stoner’s findings “are similar to projections for other parts of Canada that are warming faster than the rest of the world,” Global notes. “Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government released the report more than six months after it received the final draft, leading some critics, such as former NDP environment minister Shannon Phillips who had commissioned the report, to suggest her successor tried to bury it.”
After the government refused at least two freedom of information requests for the report, including one from Global, a spokesperson said there was nothing unusual in the way the release was handled—the Environment and Parks Department was just waiting for some backup data. Hayhoe acknowledged the data was delayed, and the government eventually went ahead and published the report without it.
The other access to information filing came from the Alberta Federation of Labour, but President Gil McGowan said the government refused the request, since it planned to publish the report within 90 days.
“As a province, we should be preparing for change,” he told Global. “But instead, we have a government that’s playing games like this, burying reports, doing as little as possible…as opposed to making robust plans for change.”
He expressed concern the Kenney government hadn’t understood the economic implications of the report, after Finance Minister Travis Toews said Alberta could only think about diversifying its revenue base out of fossil fuels after it balances its budget.
“There is an economic freight train bearing down on us, with the words, ‘climate transition’ emblazoned on the side,” McGowan said. “If they take money from the public sector, from the public purse, and use it to prop up oil and gas projects that have been rejected by global investors, that’s money that’s being taken away from education, health care, infrastructure, all those things that are already being underfunded. This is a recipe, from our perspective in the labour movement, for economic disaster.”
Former environment and parks minister Shannon Phillips, now the NDP opposition’s finance critic, said she couldn’t get a copy of the report before the April 2019 provincial election, even though her department had the draft in hand.
“I asked for this report to be prepared, and it was supposed to be delivered to me and it never was. And now we see just a sort of comedy of errors in terms of its release,” she told Global. “It certainly seems that people don’t want to talk about this within the Government of Alberta.”
She added that she commissioned the report during her term as minister because she “felt that the province had more work to do to prepare for what was coming,” de Souza and Yourex-West write.
“I think it is fair to say, when I reflect back on those four years in government, that there were fundamental blind spots in government and within the public service around infrastructure planning,” she told Global. “And I think that’s not something that you’re going to fix over four years. In the end, it’s because climate change is new, because there’s so much to think of, because there are so many different factors that go into planning and modelling.”