Climate change ‘speeding up,’ UN warns as Canada braces for early wildfires

Click to play video: 'WMO head declares ‘red alert’ over state of the climate'
WMO head declares ‘red alert’ over state of the climate
WATCH - WMO head declares ‘red alert’ over state of the climate – Mar 19, 2024

Climate change is “speeding up,” the head of the United Nations says as B.C. and Alberta prepare for an early start to wildfire season.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres made those comments Tuesday in reaction to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report that found 2023 broke every single climate indicator record the organization has.

“Sirens are blaring across all major indicators. … Some records aren’t just chart-topping, they’re chart-busting,” he said.

“And changes are speeding up.”

Click to play video: 'Indicators point to another warm year in 2024 after warmest January on record: WMO'
Indicators point to another warm year in 2024 after warmest January on record: WMO

The WMO, which is the UN’s weather agency, said in its annual State of the Global Climate report on Tuesday, that average temperatures hit the highest level in 174 years of record-keeping. Last year, the average hit 1.45 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

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Ocean temperatures also reached the warmest in 65 years of data, with more than 90 per cent of seas having experienced heatwave conditions during the year. That fact harms food systems, the WMO said.

Climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, coupled with the emergence of the natural El Nino climate pattern, pushed the world into record territory in 2023.

Scientists have warned that 2024 could be even worse, with El Nino fueling temperatures in the first few months of the year.

Click to play video: 'Okanagan crews battle two early season wildfires amid dry conditions'
Okanagan crews battle two early season wildfires amid dry conditions

In British Columbia on Monday, the provincial government warned residents it will likely be an early start to the 2024 wildfire season given the current drought conditions across B.C.

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“The climate crisis is here, and we are feeling the impact of climate change,” said Bowinn Ma, Emergency Management Minister.

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“As the impact of the climate crisis intensifies, we have learned that we need to be ready to support people who are impacted.”

B.C.’s warning echoes that of neighbouring Alberta; last week, officials there said they’re preparing to be ready for “the worst that can happen” ahead of this year’s wildfire season.

Click to play video: 'Alberta preparing for the worst ahead of 2024 wildfire season'
Alberta preparing for the worst ahead of 2024 wildfire season

Alberta declared an early start to wildfire season this year, on Feb. 20, 10 days earlier than the usual start date of March 1.

The warnings from the two provinces come after the worst wildfire season ever in Canadian history.

Roughly 18.5 million hectares of Canadian land burned in 2023, smashing the previous record of 7.6 million hectares scorched in 1989.

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“The climate crisis is the defining challenge that humanity faces,” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo in the report.

“Heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and intense tropical cyclones wreaked havoc on every continent and caused huge socio-economic losses. There were particularly devastating consequences for vulnerable populations who suffer disproportionate impacts.”

Click to play video: 'Canada warming 2 times faster than rest of world, Sajjan warns'
Canada warming 2 times faster than rest of world, Sajjan warns

The report also showed the global set of reference glaciers suffered the largest loss of ice on record since 1950, driven by extreme melt in both western North America and Europe. Above-average summer temperatures and record wildfire activity in western Canada contributed to the extreme melt, it added.

The report also showed a big plunge in Antarctic Sea ice, with the peak level measured at one million square kilometres below the previous record — an area roughly equivalent to the size of Egypt.

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That trend has contributed to a more than doubling of the rate of sea-level rise over the past decade compared with the 1993-2002 period, it said.

Ocean heat was concentrated in the North Atlantic with temperatures an average three degrees Celsius above average in late 2023, the report said.

Warmer ocean temperatures affect delicate marine ecosystems and many fish species have fled north from this area seeking cooler temperatures.

— with files from Reuters

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