Vancouver can expect more rain, higher temperatures and rising sea level: study



Vancouver may be famous for its rain and grey skies, but residents should brace themselves for more.

According to a new study from Metro Vancouver, the inter-municipal administrative body formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District, more rain, higher temperatures, new invasive insects and plants and higher sea levels can be expected by 2050.

The report, Caring for the Air, Metro Vancouver 2012, examines the air quality of the region, looks at reasons for changes in the environment, and predicts how climate change will impact on the district.

Regional scientists have predicted that the average annual temperature will be two to three degrees warmer by 2050. This won't result in more pleasant summers. What it will mean is more extreme conditions such as days over 30˚C, which could increase the number of cases of heat-related deaths and the frequency and severity of poor air quality events. The risk of forest fires will also increase, threatening homes and neighbourhoods close to B.C. forests.

The increase in temperature will allow invasive species of insects and plants to move further north. The mountain pine beetle is an example. It has proliferated due to warmer winters and has already killed 40 percent of B.C.'s pine forest. Under warmer conditions, gypsy moths could thrive, resulting in defoliation of fruit trees which will impact on the agricultural economy.

As temperatures rise, sea levels could also rise, from 0.4 to 1.3 metres over the next century, impacting sea level municipalities such as Delta and Richmond.

More rain is also expected. Regional scientists predict five to 10 percent more rain will fall annually, bringing additional frequent storms and heavy rain events such as the 2006 storm that toppled trees in Stanley Park. More rain will impact rivers, streams and storm water systems. Flooding is expected to increase.

The report does contain some good news.

Air quality in the Lower Fraser Valley generally continued to improve in 2011, which is in line with gradual improvements during the past two decades.

The region has not exceeded any of the regional district's objectives for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide or ground level ozone for 2011. In fact, carbon monoxide levels (mostly produced by motor vehicles) were well below Metro Vancouver's air quality objectives at all stations in 2011.

The air quality improvements were brought about by emission reductions across a variety of sectors, despite an increase in population and economic activity in the region during the same time. Metro Vancouver credits AirCare, B.C.'s vehicle emissions testing program for lowering carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in the region. The Metro Van board has approved the continued operation of AirCare until 2020.

Lower sulfur dioxide levels are a result of lower sulphur in cars and trucks, the shutdown of several refineries in the region and lower emissions from the cement industry. Emission reductions from the wood products sector, petroleum refining and vehicles have led to a decline in levels of fine particulate matter.

An area that Metro Vancouver officials are most concerned about is ground ozone. While ozone in the upper atmosphere is essential for our well being, it is a problem if found in the lower atmosphere, or 'troposphere'.

Ground-level ozone is found in the air we breathe and is one of the principal components of smog. Ground level ozone had been decreasing until the early 1990's, but are now showing 'either no change or a modest upward trend.' despite decreasing nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Metro Van has made it a priority to understand the reasons for this.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the Lower Fraser Valley are also projected to increase in the next two decades, primarily due to a combination of increasing population and economic activity. Although greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles are projected to decline thanks to B.C.'s proposed fuel economy standards, emissions from building heating and cooling are projected to continue increasing to 2030.

The Metro Vancouver report is part of on-going air quality management plan that now includes greenhouse gas emissions. Its first report was issued in 2004, the first major metropolitan city to develop an air quality management plan.

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