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Scientific study on climate-fueled BC heat wave highlights urgent need for action and accountability

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səl̓ilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Territories/VANCOUVER – West Coast Environmental Law’s staff climate lawyer and climate scientist are responding to a new study released today demonstrating that the recent 40-50°C temperatures suffered across BC were almost certainly the result of climate change.

The study, released today by the World Weather Attribution Group, concluded that the heat wave was 150 times more likely because of human-caused climate change, and that temperatures during the heat wave were at least 2°C higher than they would have been without climate change. The researchers conclude that by 2050 this type of heat wave, formerly a one in one-thousand-year event, could occur every five to ten years.

“Hundreds of people have died in BC because of the heat wave, and we now know that this is not an act of God, but an ‘act’ of our fossil fuel economy,” said Staff Lawyer, Andrew Gage. “We need to start the urgent and crucial work needed to keep our communities safe not just from heat waves, but from wildfires, flooding, sea level rise and other fossil fuel pollution induced climate impacts.”

Gage noted that the BC government, in a 2019 Preliminary Climate Risk Assessment, documented that heat waves with the potential to kill hundreds represented one of the highest risks from climate change to the province (after severe wildfires and seasonal water shortages). But BC’s draft Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy (which the government is currently consulting British Columbians on), contains few concrete actions to protect British Columbians from extreme heat.

“Increasingly climate scientists are able to link heat waves and other extreme weather events to the high levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, mostly caused by the burning of fossil fuels,” explained Climate Scientist, Dr. Silvie Harder. “With models forecasting that our planet will continue to heat for decades to come, and formerly one in a thousand-year events coming every few years, we must demand urgent action from our governments to keep our communities safe. Events like these are stark warnings of what is to come if we do not act now to slow global heating.”

West Coast Environmental Law has long asked all levels of government to ensure that global fossil fuel companies share the costs of climate change – such as the costs of reducing wildfire risks, or adapting urban spaces to protect residents from extreme heat – rather than passing all the costs on to taxpayers.

“This heat wave was powered by fossil fuels sold by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and other global oil and gas giants,” said Gage. “If their CEOs and shareholders continue to make profits while British Columbians pay the price, then they will have every incentive to keep lobbying against climate action.”

Governments and industry alike need to take responsibility for the climate crisis and take immediate steps to protect British Columbians from the very real impacts of climate change.

Further information on the World Weather Attribution Group Study can be found at: https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/western-north-american-extreme-heat-virtually-impossible-without-human-caused-climate-change/

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For more information, please contact:

Andrew Gage | Staff Lawyer
250-412-9784, agage@wcel.org

Dr. Silvie Harder | Climate Scientist
514-652-5987, sharder@wcel.org