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About the Issues

Climate Change

Climate is generally defined as the average weather that a location experiences from daily and seasonal temperatures to wind patterns and precipitation. Communities, regions and countries can experience different climates - differences which can be caused by factors ranging from geography and ocean currents to the direction of prevailing winds.

The Earth's climate has changed naturally over the course of its history. However, the ongoing discussion about climate change is focused much less on natural trends than on changes that are very likely caused by human activity.

Many human activities, from burning gasoline in our vehicles to contributing waste to landfills, can release significant volumes of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. With economic and population growth over the past several decades, the levels of GHGs in the atmosphere have reached levels not seen for thousands of years. Global GHGs increased by 70 percent between 1970 and 2004, and these trends are expected to continue for the immediate future.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the word's authoritative voice on climate change - warns that the Earth's climate is warming and human activities are the most likely cause. The IPCC advises that greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the near future and decline significantly by 2050 if the world is to avoid the worst potential impacts of climate change.

The impacts of climate change can be significant on communities, individuals and the environment. Warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation can impact natural ecosystems, public health, water availability and food production. For Newfoundland and Labrador, as a coastal province with over 90% of the population living near the Atlantic ocean, climate change could result in sea-level rise and coastal erosion, more frequent major weather events such as storms and flooding, and impacts on forestry, agriculture and the fishery.

This challenge can also present opportunities, however, particularly for locations such as Newfoundland and Labrador with vast clean and renewable energy sources such as the Lower Churchill, globally recognized expertise in ocean and environmental technologies, and world-class climate change experts at our academic institutions.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador recognizes the seriousness of climate change and the potential impacts and opportunities it presents. In August 2011, the Provincial Government released Charting Our Course: Climate Change Action Plan 2011. This new plan will guide the province's actions on climate change for the next five years. The new action plan and a short summary document can be found here.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency refers to using less energy to provide the same or better level of service. In the residential sector, increasing the amount of insulation in homes can allow households to reduce their energy consumption and thereby save money while maintaining the same level of comfort. In the industrial sector, new technology investments and processes may mean that a company can use less energy to generate the same or greater levels of production. In the transportation sector, aerodynamic devices on trucks can reduce fuel consumption and thereby improve business competitiveness.

Energy efficiency differs from energy conservation. Conservation measures, broadly speaking, seek to alert the behavior of individuals, companies and governments by encouraging them to reduce energy consumption. Conservation could include measures as simple as switching off lights when leaving a room, turning off televisions or computers when not in use, or lowering thermostat settings at night. For simplicity, the term energy efficiency is used on this website as inclusive of both conservation and efficiency.

Taking action on energy efficiency offers Newfoundland Labrador a broad spectrum of benefits, including:

  • Lowering household energy bills - Energy efficiency is the easiest, most affordable and most effective way for families to use energy more widely and save money on both household and transportation expenses.
  • Improving business competitiveness - Energy costs affect a business's bottom line. Businesses that control their energy consumption enjoy lower heating, electricity and transportation costs. As a result, companies can use less energy to generate the same or greater levels of production.
  • Increasing consumer welfare - Energy efficiency can help achieve social as well as economic and energy goals. Lower income households tend to spend a higher share of their income on energy costs and may not be able to afford to heat their homes to an adequate level of comfort in winter. Inadequately heated homes can make occupants more susceptible to a range of health problems.
  • Reducing local air pollutants - Energy conservation and efficiency can reduce the amount of local air pollutants emitted. These pollutants, which include particulate matter and other chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, can be harmful to human health and are distinct from greenhouse gas emissions, which is the principle cause of climate change.
  • Tackling climate change - Climate change is caused by the release of increasing quantities of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere from human activities. The largest source of these greenhouse gas emissions is from burning fossil fuels, such as oil and gasoline, to generate heat and electricity for our buildings and fuel for our vehicles. Energy efficiency can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Despite the strong economic, social and environmental rationale for conservation and energy efficiency, households, companies and other organizations are often not realizing the full benefits due to a number of barriers to action, including:

  • Low awareness of the opportunities and potential benefits
  • Lack of knowledge about what to do and how
  • Budget constraints that make it difficult to cover the upfront costs of the upgrades
  • Lack of availability of, or confidence in, new technologies
  • Long payback periods, namely, the length of time it takes for the energy and cost savings derived from making energy efficiency improvements to amount to the costs of the initial investment
  • Split incentives, for example, a building owner may have little incentive to invest in energy efficiency improvements where the tenants pay the energy bill.

To raise awareness of the importance of energy efficiency and conservation, and to help overcome some of the barriers to action, the Provincial Government released Moving Forward: Energy Efficiency Action Plan in August 2011. The action plan commits government to supporting a major shift in the uptake of energy efficiency. The full plan along with a short summary document can be found here.

One of the key commitments in this plan is to develop a public awareness campaign on climate change and energy efficiency to promote a better understanding of the issues, including the actions that people can take. The Turn Back The Tide campaign was launched in September 2012. At the heart of the campaign is a website that was designed to provide a ‘one-stop shop' for information, tips and resources. The site is targeted at homeowners, businesses, and communities. To learn more, please visit www.turnbackthetide.ca opens new window.

 
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