Perspective: Should CMOS be Communicating More to Canadians on Climate Change?

– By John Loder, Scientist Emeritus, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bedford Institute of Oceanography –

Our Society’s Bulletin and website indicate that CMOS “exists for the advancement of meteorology and oceanography in Canada”. Is this advancement primarily for the benefit of our members, such as improved communications internally or increased funding for our core disciplines? Or, should CMOS also have an emphasis on communicating sound scientific information to the Canadian public, especially on major issues involving our expertise and affecting present and future generations? If there are divisive disagreements amongst Canadians on a topic such as anthropogenic climate change, and these involve misrepresentation or neglect of the overwhelming scientific knowledge in our core disciplines, how proactive should CMOS be in communicating scientific knowledge to the public and governments?

The extent to which CMOS presently considers it a priority to communicate sound and relevant scientific information to the Canadian public on the seemingly urgent issue of anthropogenic climate change is unclear from a quick glimpse at our impressive website. On the other hand, in the latest Bulletin, our President has highlighted the urgent importance of action on this topic.

On the website, the first paragraph under About CMOS indicates that our Society’s “aim is to promote meteorology and oceanography in Canada” and “serve the interests of … scientists in Canada”. Communication to the public is not mentioned in this paragraph nor explicitly in the second paragraph, although the latter indicates that the “Society addresses a broad range of national and international meteorological and oceanographic concerns including …. weather extremes, global warming, … and their effects on all aspects of life in Canada …”.

In addition to the question of how proactive CMOS should be in communicating relevant science to the public on the potentially pre-eminent environmental issue of this century, there is also one of the extent to which CMOS should be involved in communications on the scientific soundness of various policy options.

After reading the position statements that CMOS has issued since 2002, which can be found further down on our website, it becomes apparent that CMOS has actually had a strong and commendable proactivity on the science of anthropogenic climate change and its implications for policy decisions. Some excerpts from these statements are listed in the Annex below. My question then becomes whether CMOS has been doing enough in recent years while the societal debate in Canada has been intensifying and becoming more polarized, and the apparent urgency for government and societal action to deal with the emerging global disaster has been increasing.

Our 2018 Position Statement on the IPCC Special Report focuses on the aspirational 1.5 and 2.0°C global warming limits, but does not address the much more likely scenarios of much greater and much more serious anthropogenic climate change and impacts on Canadians and people in other parts of the world where the impacts will be more severe.

The past CMOS statements on anthropogenic climate change provide a strong foundation for further CMOS communications on the science and for advocacy on potential mitigation options. It seems highly likely that the topic will be under continued public debate during the coming months and years, and that clear communication of the science would be extremely valuable to this. With our annual Congresses, public lectures, tour speakers, Centers, website, Bulletin and other communication options, our Society is in a position to make a potentially lasting contribution to present and future generations on this critical issue. One starting point might be a concise summary position statement on anthropogenic climate change, including the more likely and more dangerous probable changes (than for warming of only 1.5 or 2°C) if much more serious action is not taken. With the narrowing time window for greater societal and governmental action to reduce emissions and implement other mitigations in order to avoid potential catastrophic runaway climate change, it seems highly appropriate for CMOS to give urgent consideration to this matter.

Comments: John.Loder@dfo-mpo.gc.ca ou bulletin@cmos.ca

Annex: Excerpts from Past CMOS Position Statements related to Climate Change

  • The 2002 statement entitled Improved Knowledge Needed for Smarter Decisions asserts that “a common understanding of the science of climate change and variability is an essential basis for developing effective programs and policies on climate change, including addressing the commitments laid out in the Kyoto Protocol …”.
  • The 2003 statement on the Kyoto Protocol “takes the position that Canada’s, and indeed the world’s, success in dealing with climate change can only be achieved through an informed population. CMOS affirms its own commitment to the promotion and dissemination of well-founded knowledge on the science of climate change. The public must understand the reasons for and consequences of climate change before they can be expected to accept the need for proactive measures and to participate fully in their implementation.”
  • The 2007 statement entitled The state of science – Canada’s climate is changing dramatically notes that “Arguments by a few individuals that recent temperature trends may not be unprecedented within the past thousand years and can therefore be fully explained by natural variability … are seriously flawed. While some uncertainty is an inherent aspect of all science, related international research studies continue consistently to refute such conclusions.”
  • The 2009 Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance “recommends the introduction of financial incentives to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions rapidly. These measures will complement the present incentives to reduce emissions by 2020 and 2050, and will encourage other nations to rapidly limit their own emissions. … Though Canadian emissions represent only a small fraction of global emissions, it is important for a rich and developed nation such as Canada to lead by example”. The Brief further states: “We commend the federal government for its commitment to a ‘20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2020, and a 60 to 70% reduction from the 2006 level by 2050’, however, more immediate actions are required.”
  • The 2013-2014 Updated Statement on Human-Induced Climate Change states “Further CO2 emissions will lead to greater human-induced change in proportion to total cumulative emissions. Meaningful interventions to mitigate climate change require a reduction in emissions. To avoid societally, economically, and ecologically disruptive changes to the Earth’s climate, we will have little choice but to leave much of the unextracted fossil fuel carbon in the ground.”
  • The 2018 Updated Statement on Global Warming of 1.5°C states that “Limiting global warming requires staying within a carbon emissions budget. … In order to avoid exceeding the 1.5°C limit, net CO2 emissions must be cut by about half by 2030, reaching effectively zero (accounting for anthropogenic CO2 removals) around 2050. Furthermore, emissions of methane and black carbon need to be cut. Achieving these reductions – which is known as mitigation – requires rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy systems, land use, urban planning, infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industry. The scale of these systems transitions is unprecedented, and implies deep emissions reductions in all sectors.” Further, “The report suggests that Canada’s emission reduction targets are insufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C and will need to be strengthened if Canada is to do its fair share in reducing global carbon emissions”.

About the Author

Photo of John Loder, author of perspective piece on CMOS communicating beyond position statements

John is a Scientist Emeritus at BIO, after spending most of his career there as an oceanographic research scientist and manager. His scientific outputs can be found at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/John_Loder.

His past CMOS contributions have included being a member of the national executive and the chair of three national committees and Halifax Centre. His past recognitions have included the Tully Medal from CMOS and multiple Scientific Excellence recognitions within DFO.

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