Climate Case Studies

The effects of climate change can look quite different depending on where in the world you are.  To get a better sense of this, the next section will take a look at case studies in two very different places – both facing changes due to climate change but in different ways.

Western Africa:

The Sahel region of Western Africa, a region straddling a number of African borders, is likely to be one of the regions most affected by climate change in the coming decades. Even today, previously huge lakes such as Lake Chad have dried up due to drought and changes in weather patterns, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes in an attempt to escape famine, drought, violence, and disease. Many of them have fled north, often in an attempt to get to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.[1] You may have already heard about the huge influx of migrants to Europe fleeing war in Syria, however a large number of other migrants (or climate refugees), are people like this, fleeing inhospitable living environments due to climate change.

A lot of the pressure to flee comes from increasingly bad harvests brought on by drought, increasing heat, and pressures on water and land use. Eventually, subsistence farming which was quite common in the Sahel region will no longer be viable and people will not be able to earn a living or sustain their families as they used to.[2]

In Niger, for example, we can see the effects of global warming quite directly. Between 1975 and 2012, the temperature in the area had already risen 0.6 degrees Celsius.[3] If this seems like a small increase, remember the difference between climate and weather: weather looks at a snapshot in time while climate considers the long-term average temperature.

In the Sahel region, climate change has led to both a rise in the average temperature and an increase in erratic weather events such as long droughts or serious floods. These changes have forced people from their homes in search of jobs, food and water and are becoming an ever-increasing crisis.

Check out more stories on this area of the world here, here, and here.
Can you think of how an increase of 0.6 degrees Celsius would affect the area where you live? If you need help with this question, think back to the Climate Atlas of Canada.

The Arctic:

On the other side of the world, a very different climate is facing a similar threat. Northern Canada, particularly the territories, but even impacting Alberta’s far north and all the way up to the Arctic Circle, is facing dramatic changes. The Arctic may still seem to be one of the coldest places on earth but, in fact, it has warmed more than any other place on earth.[4] This has led to shorter winters and changes to sea ice, snow cover, and permafrost.[5]

Although these changes are first a major problem for the people, plants, and animals that live in this area, they are also a problem for the rest of the world because the Arctic plays a large role in keeping the world’s temperature cool.[6] Currently, large areas of white ice reflect heat back into the atmosphere, keeping the surface of the earth cool. If this ice were to melt, leaving dark sea water in its place, the darkness of this water would absorb heat rather than reflecting it back, and would contribute to a warming ocean.[7] Climate scientists predict that this warming and the subsequent melting of Arctic sea ice could lead to increased acidification of the oceans which would impact on the development of coral reefs and shells; the number of forest fires; storm damage affecting the infrastructure of coastal communities; rising sea levels; and potentially an effect on the Gulf Stream – which is a stream of ocean currents that brings warmer water and weather to Europe, among other things.[8]

These changes are also affecting traditional ways of life for many Indigenous and Inuit groups who rely heavily on the ice, water, and landscape for hunting, trapping, and cultural activities.[9] These are activities that have been practiced for centuries in the area and that began long before Europeans arrived in North America. Climate change has made previously safe areas too dangerous to live in or travel on due to changes in ice and snow, and changes to the landscape are affecting all aspects of the traditional lives of those living near the Arctic circle.[10]

What else have you heard about the melting ice in the Arctic? What other impacts do you imagine melting sea ice will have in Alberta and Canada and around the world?

As you can tell from these examples, climate change is happening faster than our laws were designed for and faster than our laws can adapt. We need to start moving much more quickly if we are going to successfully maintain our current way of life. Halting or even slowing the dangerous effects of climate change will require hard-line limits on emissions as well as incentives to increase renewable energy use.

For a look at some of the options for renewable energy in our future, check out our Energy section here.
Otherwise,  keep looking into ways that you can help slow down climate change or encourage your local lawmakers to do so for you.
Come back and tell us what you actions you take to make a difference!

<< Climate Litigation

Section Review >>

[1] Somini Sengupta, “Heat, Hunger and War Force Africans Onto a ‘Road on Fire’” The New York Times online: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/15/world/africa/agadez-climate-change.html.

[2] Lahouari Bounoua, “Climate change is hitting African farmers the hardest of all” (12 May 2015) The Conversation online: http://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-hitting-african-farmers-the-hardest-of-all-40845.

[3] United States Agency for International Development, “A Climate Trend Analysis of Niger” (June 2012) USGS online: https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3080/fs2012-3080.pdf.

[4] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Arctic Program, “Arctic Report Card: Update for 2017” United States Government online: https://arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card/Report-Card-2017; Marine Mammal Commission, “Climate Change and the Arctic” online: https://www.mmc.gov/priority-topics/arctic/climate-change/.

[5] Jonathan Watts, “Arctic warming: scientists alarmed by ‘crazy’ temperature rises’ (27 February 2018) The Guardian online: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/27/arctic-warming-scientists-alarmed-by-crazy-temperature-rises.

[6] National Snow & Ice Data Center, “Climate Change in the Arctic” online: https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/arctic-meteorology/climate_change.html.

[7] National Snow & Ice Data Center, “Climate Change in the Arctic”.

[8] World Wildlife Fund, “Arctic Climate Change” online: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/arctic/what_we_do/climate/.

[9] Nunavut Climate Change Centre, “Climate Change Impacts” online: https://www.climatechangenunavut.ca/en/understanding-climate-change/climate-change-impact; Nicole Mortillaro, “The faces of climate change: How a rapidly warming Arctic is destroying a way of life” (3 June 2017) CBC News online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/faces-of-north-climate-change-1.4120055.

[10] Nunavut Climate Change Centre, “Climate Change Impacts”.

 

 

 

Climate Change & the Law

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections

Newsletter

Join our new AlbertaEnviroLaws Facebook group to ask questions, participate in discussions and other online engagement. Please share this widely so that the high school teachers and students in your circles hear about this great new resource for supplemental online learning. AlbertaEnviroLaws Facebook Group