Monday, December 7, 2009

United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

Delegates from 192 countries, including the leaders of Nunuvut, the Yukon and the NWT, started meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen today.  They are trying to craft a new deal to manage greenhouse gas emissions when the Kyoto Accord expires in 2012.  They will also develop funding mechanisms to help the poor and developing countries most vulnerable to climate change impact  to deal with rising sea levels, floods and drought.

People worldwide are beginningto take climate change seriously. In a surprise move, 56 newspapers from around the world ran the same editorial asking leaders to  limit the rise in temperature to two degrees centigrade to stop climate change from ravaging the planet.

A recent report from British Columbia showed that global warming is moving at a faster rate than expected in Northern Canada.  Air temperatures in the Arctic are rising  faster than in the rest of the world, and the summer sea-ice is expected to disappear within a decade, rather than by the end of the century as initially predicted. 

With carbon dioxide emissions 30 per cent higher than they were 17 years ago, one-and-a-half times as high as they were before the industrial revolution, glaciers retreating at an alarming rate, and sea-levels rising by 3-3.5 mm per year, it's obvious changes are needed, even though they may have a negative economic impact.  Climate change itself has already had such an impact in British Columbia where thousands of hectares of forest have been decimated by the mountain pine beetle, rendering these areas more susceptible to fire and flood as well as severely affecting the health of the forest industry.

Human health is also at risk from global warming.  In BC these will arise from a number of pathways.  A few of these are given below.
  1. Resource-dependent communities (such as those reliant on forestry or fishing) are vulnerable to environmental and economic adversity arising from changes in their resource as a result of climate change.  They are also likely to be exposed an increased incidence of fire and floods.
  2. The increase in forest fires, already noted in Western Canada, together with an increase in ozone from pollution as temperatures rise will lead to more respiratory ailments.  Rising temperatures will increase heat stress for urban dwellers, particularly those who are old or who have chronic diseases.
  3. As temperatures rise, insects, animals and plants that carry disease will move into new areas or increase in number.  West Nile Virus, and possibly maleria, may become established in BC, while Hanta virus (from mice and rats) and the tick-borne Lyme disease are expected to expand northwards as winters get milder. 
  4. As floods become more frequent, water-borne diseases and contamination of water will also increase.
These are just a few of the ways that climate change may impact health.  For more information, read the 2008 report Climate Change and Health in British Columbia.

No comments: