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‘Pretty consistent:’ Study says animal abundance in seas drops as climate warms

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Animal life in the world’s oceans will drop steadily and consistently as the climate warms, a Canadian-led study suggests.

“What we see is pretty consistent,” said Derek Tittensor, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax. 

“For every degree of warming, we project a five per cent decline in the abundance of animals. The warmer it gets, the more the decline.”

That means that the world’s oceans are on track to lose about 17 per cent of their productivity by 2100 if there are no significant reductions in greenhouse gases.

The study found the impact of climate change is so strong it almost doesn’t matter if commercial fisheries are included in the calculation. The results are nearly the same.

The research, published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, combined six marine ecosystem models with global ecosystem models and emissions projections. Tittensor said that produced a comprehensive projection for the oceans similar to what already exists for the continents.  

“There are winners and losers,” he said.

Arctic seas are expected to become more productive in a warmer world. Waters northeast of Greenland could have 50 per cent more animals by 2100, the study suggests.

But the great majority of the world’s oceans will be less abundant. If greater efforts aren’t made to rein in emissions, almost all mid-latitude and tropical seas will produce between 25 and 50 per cent less.

The report’s conclusions have been tested against actual data on fish stocks. The predicted results and the measured trends agreed.

Warmer waters reduce animal growth in several ways, Tittensor said.

For example, they increase metabolism, which forces fish to burn more energy just staying alive and leaves them less for growth. As well, warmer ocean water mixes less, which slows the cycling of sea floor nutrients needed by the tiny plants at the root of the ocean’s food web.  

The decline in sea life will be concentrated in larger fish, which tend to be the ones humans rely on for food.

“The species that we have a real interest in are likely to be those that are more susceptible,” said Tittensor.

United Nations figures suggest 10 per cent of the world’s people depend on fisheries for their livelihoods. They say 4.3 billion people rely on fish for at least 15 per cent of their animal protein.

“Five per cent might not seem like much of a decline,” Tittensor said.

“But we’re in a world that’s heading towards 10 billion people and the oceans are hugely important in terms like food security and making sure we can feed people.

“Any kind of climate impact is another stress upon the oceans over and above the other stresses they’re experiencing.”

Some of the changes are inevitable. Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere already guarantee a certain level of warming.

Tittensor said studies such as his will help managers plan for the changes.

“We can try and adapt to this effect.”

And, he added, we can always try to reduce it as much as possible by cutting carbon emissions.

“The future’s not fixed,” Tittensor said.

“We know the climate’s changing and we know that is going to have consequences. We can move toward reducing our greenhouse emissions.

“We have things we can do. We can tackle this.”

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

   

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


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Lighthizer agrees to do whatever it takes to get new NAFTA passed

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OTTAWA — U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer says he will work with Democrats to do whatever it takes to ratify the new North American free trade deal.

Lighthizer made the pledge in testimony today before the U.S. Senate finance committee as part of the Trump administration’s push to get the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ratified by a divided Congress.

Lighthizer’s appearance on Capitol Hill comes two days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets President Donald Trump at the White House to give impetus towards ratifying the deal.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the committee, says the new deal has “weak enforcement” provisions on raising labour standards in Mexico that he and his party want to fix.

Lighthizer says USMCA has stronger enforcement provisions than the old North American Free Trade Agreement, including improved labour rights in Mexico, but he’s open to making it stronger.

Lighthizer says he has had good discussions with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and suggests that getting a ratification bill introduced in the lower house of Congress — a necessary first step towards U.S. ratification of the pact — might be weeks away.

The Canadian Press

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Liberals’ balancing act between energy and the environment climaxes this week

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is teetering on a tightrope this week as it attempts to prove it can balance economic development with environmental protection during the final sitting of Parliament before the fall election.

Bill C-69, legislation overhauling national assessments for major resource and transportation projects, began its final ride Monday in the Senate. The upper chamber has to decide if it can accept the bill despite the government rejecting more than half the proposed amendments made by senators last week.

The Senate will also be asked this week to reconsider the government’s oil tanker moratorium off the coast of northern British Columbia, after the government accepted a Senate amendment requiring a mandatory five-year-review, but rejected another amendment that would have required an assessment after just 180 days.

On Tuesday, cabinet will meet to decide whether to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for the second time, after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the 2016 approval citing improper consultations with Indigenous communities and a lack of consideration for the impacts of additional oil tankers on marine life.

And all of this comes as the government Monday imposed a time limit on debate to push through its motion declaring climate change a national emergency requiring more cuts to carbon emissions than Canada has already committed to making.

That motion passed in the Commons late Monday with the support of Liberal, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green party MPs — part of a calculated pre-election effort to build political momentum behind the government’s environmental agenda.

The government came under attack from both left and right Monday, with Conservatives demanding the government reject C-69 and explain when construction will begin on Trans Mountain, at the same time as New Democrats were demanding the government reject the pipeline.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi appeared happy to be seen as coming up the middle by both trying to move Trans Mountain forward following the orders of the Federal Court of Appeal, while putting in place better protections for the environment and Indigenous rights under C-69.

“On the one hand we have Conservatives who do not get the environment,” he said. “On the other hand we have the New Democrats who do not get the economy. We are moving forward, building a strong economy, creating jobs for the middle class, and at the same time taking action on climate, ensuring that we are putting a price on pollution, ensuring that we are taking action by phasing out coal, and making sure that we meaningfully engage with Indigenous communities.”

Conservatives argue Bill C-69 will make Trans Mountain the last pipeline anyone proposes in Canada as it will scare away investors afraid to bother trying to build projects in the face of assessments they say are unfairly tipped against economic benefits and job creation.

The Liberals however argue C-69 is needed because the existing process created by the Conservatives in 2012, gutted environmental protections and is the reason the courts tore up the expansions approval in the first place.

A coalition of oil and gas industry groups, chambers of commerce and manufacturers associations are urging the Senate to kill the bill. Initially the Save Canadian Jobs coalition slogan was “Fix Bill C-69” but after the government rejected most of the fixes the Senate offered up, the coalition now says the Senate needs to “Stop Bill C-69.”

The Senate made more than 200 changes to the bill, and the government accepted 62 of them entirely, and 37 others in part. The rest were rejected, with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna saying many of them overstepped judicial discretion, limited public participation in the process and made it optional to take into account the impact on Indigenous rights or climate change.

Dennis Darby, the president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, agreed Monday that the existing system “is broken.”

However Darby, and the other members of the coalition, said the new legislation will scare off investors from proposing any new projects in Canada and is even worse than what is there now. In particular, the coalition is worried the Impact Assessment Act will make for extremely lengthy reviews and assessments that don’t count job creation heavily enough.

“It’s too easy for the benefits (of projects) to be lost in the sea of negativity,” said Darby. “Local voices can be drowned out by professional activists from abroad.”

But Alberta Sen. Grant Mitchell, who is sponsoring C-69 in the upper chamber, is urging senators to see the bill as a major improvement to the existing system. Mitchell, the government’s liaison in the Senate, said 99 amendments is the highest number of changes the government has accepted from the upper house to a single piece of legislation since those records began being kept in the 1940s.

“It’s not going to be lost on senators that this is significant and that this bill has been enhanced because of the work of the Senate,” said Mitchell.  “It’s historic.”

He said the rhetoric that the legislation is going to mean no new major oil projects will ever be approved in Canada is hogwash because under the legislation every single timeline is shorter than what exists now. He said economic impacts are mentioned 179 times in C-69, where they aren’t mentioned at all in the existing bill.

“This is one heck of a bill and I’m voting for it,” he said, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“I think this is the way we will get projects built.”

The Senate debate on C-69 began Monday and the vote is expected later this week.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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