It’s a magical place situated in Canada’s north: Churchill, Man., was recently named one of the World’s Great Places by Time magazine.
But Churchill is on thin ice, as is humanity, according to a report released by the UN earlier this week that says time is running out to prevent the most damaging impacts of the world’s climate crisis.
“It is stark, there’s no doubt about it. It’s showing fairly clearly what the impacts of climate change have been so far on humanity and the planet,” Climate Change Connection project director Curt Hull told Global News on Friday.
“And it shows how necessary urgent action is in order to prevent much more severe consequences going into the future, and potentially to prevent a changing climate that we will not be able to have enough influence on to keep it running away from us.”
The impacts of climate change are perhaps most evident in northern regions, like Churchill, Hull said.
“The warming in the northern latitudes is much higher than the warming that’s occurring at the equator,” he explained.
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“Canada as a whole is warming at about twice the rate of the global average, and some parts of the far north, three times. So the impacts on the northern parts of Manitoba and Canada are higher than in other parts of the world.”
C.J. Mundy, an associate professor of biological oceanography at the University of Manitoba, says climate change is on full display in Churchill in a few ways, including the loss of sea ice.
“That might open up two avenues. One is it might increase the shipping season for Churchill. But it also impacts the wildlife. The important wildlife for Churchill tourism has been polar bears, and so with less sea ice the polar bears are having a harder time because they eat on the sea ice,” he said.
“It is a bleak outlook in terms of the projections for what’s going to happen to the sea ice cover and the impact on the polar bears. The climate change impact is just not the sea ice, there’s also the permafrost and flooding,” he added, noting the serious flooding in 2017 washed out the rail line to Churchill.
Hull said “any community that is built on permafrost is literally losing its foundation.”
“The railway up to Churchill has also been shaky but it’s getting to be really impacted.”
Hull also says there has also been a major impact on remote northern communities that rely on winter ice roads for year-round supplies.
“Any community that is dependent on a winter road is in a very risky situation,” Hull said.
“There are four communities in Manitoba that are diesel-dependent winter road communities, there’s a number that are winter road-dependent, but there are four communities that get all of their energy for heating and running their electricity plants from diesel that has to be trucked up on the winter roads.”
“And as climate change takes hold, they’ve already seen the duration of the winter roads shortening and their reliability becoming more and more sketchy.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is also calling for slashing carbon pollution and fossil fuel use by nearly two-thirds by 2035, and the United Nations chief is calling for an end to new fossil fuel exploration and rich countries quitting coal, oil and gas by 2040.
Mundy says it’s a goal that boils down to politics.
“We have to change our emissions or essentially sequester or take up carbon dioxide by mid-century to change this trajectory that we’re on. It seems the only way to do that is political and public will,” Mundy said.
“Political will, which essentially is public will, because we vote in our politicians. There is hope, there is the potential to do it. There is the technology there, but it really involves political will to make that happen, and of course, that means economy, our way of life and our comfort levels are probably not going to let that happen.”