image for message from CMOS president Paul Kushner on global warming shows a pocket watch half buried in sand

Message from the CMOS President for December 2018: Anthropogenic climate change and environmental sustainability

– By Paul Kushner, Professor, Department of Physics, University of Toronto and CMOS President –

To complete our review of the stewardship themes I identified at the time of the Halifax congress, it’s time to highlight environmental stewardship and sustainability, particularly in the area of anthropogenic climate change. The last two months have witnessed the increasingly urgent messages of climate science and the risk humanity faces in the absence of climate action, in the lead up to the COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland.

Photo shows a smiling Paul Kushner, caucasian male, clean shaven, 40's, dark hair and glasses, sitting adjacent to a computer screen. For his December message on global warming.

The scientific backdrop for this meeting was provided by the October 2018 Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change entitled Global Warming of 1.5°, which concluded:

  • That human activities have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, and that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C, or another 50% of global warming, in the coming one to three decades.
  • That Northern nations like Canada experience warming greater than the global mean, including two to three times higher in the Arctic.
  • That human-induced warming has already caused detectable impacts on ecosystems, on human systems, and on human well being. These impacts include hot extremes in most inhabited regions, and increased frequency and intensity of both heavy rainfall events and drought in several regions.

The report also outlines the benefits of avoiding the limit of 2.0°C of global warming (double the current level of warming we have experienced): reducing risks of droughts and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise, species loss and extinction; and moderating negative impacts on agriculture and health. To stay under this limit requires ambitious and rapid transformations in many domains, from energy systems, to land use, regional planning, infrastructure, transportation, and industry, all in the support of deep carbon emissions reductions.

To start our modest response in face of these enormous challenges, in November, CMOS’s Scientific Committee and Council endorsed the Global Warming of 1.5° Report. I encourage you to read the text of the endorsement, which highlights the Canadian perspective on the Special Report and recognizes Canadian contributions to it. As I stated at the November Council meeting, I believe that such endorsements are of concrete value. The primary role of CMOS should be to advocate for and support the kind of high quality, peer reviewed science represented by this report. Such support can never be taken for granted, as we witnessed in the controversy regarding international endorsement of the report at COP24.

Of course, the challenges we face cannot be limited to statements of support but must also be accompanied by action. That’s why we are seeking to account for and reduce CMOS’s environmental impact, within sustainability frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative. This also gives us a chance to improve our practice as a professional society. For example, at the December 2018 meeting of Council, we decided for the first time to allow members to attend and vote on CMOS business via electronic (WebEx) access to the CMOS Annual General Meeting, starting at the IUGG General Assembly in 2019. This will allow our membership to participate in CMOS’s business without undertaking unnecessary travel. Please let us know (myself, at president@cmos.ca; our Executive Director, Gordon Griffith, at exec-dir@cmos.ca; or Sarah Knight, CMOS Bulletin editor, at bulletin@cmos.ca) your thoughts and your interest in helping with our effort to reduce CMOS’s environmental impact.

As we face tough and challenging news, let us not lose perspective on what we have to be grateful for in the CMOS community. I wish all of you all the best for the New Year.

anthropogenic climate change, CMOS, global warming, IPCC, Paul Kushner

For previous issues go to the Archives page on the main CMOS site.

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