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Overview of Climate Change

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level."

-United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report

Climate change has emerged as what many believe to be the biggest global environmental threat for this century. All British Columbians have a stake in how climate change will affect us and the world at large. The Province is making the problem of global warming and climate change a top priority.

The Green House Effect

We've all seen signs that our climate is changing - from devastating storms, to longer summer droughts, to the warmer winters linked to the mountain pine beetle epidemic threatening Interior forests. In November 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - representing the most respected climate experts worldwide - issued a report with the most decisive evidence yet to support three key conclusions:

  • The Earth's climate is changing
  • The change is being caused by human activities, and
  • Its effects will worsen if no action is taken.

"Global Warming" vs "Climate Change"

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, global warming is only one dimension of climate change. Warming of the atmosphere affects other aspects of the climate system, such as the temperature of surface air, land and water, the water content of clouds, snow and ice, wind currents, and physical processes like precipitation and evaporation. It also affects the ocean system, including temperature, density, currents and sea level. Climate change manifests differently from one part of the world to another, with some regions, including northeastern Canada, actually experiencing cooling.

Likewise, many people think of climate change as a gradual rise in average annual temperature. However, it also includes changes in average precipitation and cloud cover and in the frequency and/or severity of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, high-intensity rainfalls, and related flooding and coastal storm surges. Global atmospheric warming could also, in future, trigger severe and abrupt shifts in regional climate.

"Climate" vs "Weather"

According to Environment Canada ...Climate is not the same as weather, but rather, it is the average weather pattern (usually taken over a 30-year time period) for a particular region and time period. Weather describes the short-term state of the atmosphere. Climatic elements include precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, phenomena such as fog, frost, and hailstorms, and other measures of the weather.  People have been typically interested in the climate of a local area or region, but are becoming ever more concerned about the global climate.