Climate Change

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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 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 145 percent between 1970 and 2014 and, even after taking account of countries’ mitigation commitments in the 2015 Paris Agreement, more action is needed to reduce global emissions to avoid dangerous climate change and the impacts associated it

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. In Newfoundland and Labrador, northern areas are experiencing the most significant impacts, including reduced sea ice, unstable and thawing permafrost, and changes in wildlife and vegetation. In addition, as a coastal province with over 90% of the population living near the Atlantic Ocean, climate change is resulting in sea-level rise, more storm surges and coastal erosion, and more frequent major weather events such as storms and flooding. With changes in precipitation and rising temperature that may result in variations to patterns of diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and animals, there are also impacts on forestry, agriculture, the fishery and human health.

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

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.
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