Although the global havoc wreaked by the coronavirus appeared to take precedence over all else in 2020, the issue of climate change didn’t just disappear, even if it did take a backseat.
Despite a dip in greenhouse gas emissions due to the pandemic, the Earth is still on course to warm up by more than 3 C by the end of the century, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s recent annual assessment of emissions levels.
While that may not seem like a lot, consider that the planet has already experienced more frequent draughts, wildfires, and extreme storms since warming a little more than 1 C since pre-industrial times.
This volatile weather and warming temperatures put the habitats and lifestyles of many species, particularly those in Canada’s North, in a vulnerable position.
Emily Giles, a senior species specialist for World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF), explained that there are direct and indirect impacts of climate change on certain species.
“An example is, say, something like the southern resident killer whales, which are the orcas on the West Coast, they’re impacted because they only eat Chinook salmon and salmon are heavily impacted by climate change. So then, therefore, so are the killer whales,” she told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Dec. 2.
In an effort to draw attention to some of the species in Canada that are already feeling the effects of climate change or that are expected to in the future, CTVNews.ca consulted the WWF and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which annually classifies wildlife species at risk of extinction.
Arne Mooers, a biodiversity professor at Simon Fraser University and COSEWIC member, explained why it’s important to pay attention to the species on this list and what happens to them.
“These guys are canaries in the coal mine,” he warned. “We should worry about them, but they’re telling us that we should be worried about us.”
VANCOUVER ISLAND MARMOT
As Canada’s most endangered mammal, the Vancouver Island marmot was an obvious candidate for the list, according to COSEWIC.
The Vancouver Island Marmot is a rodent endemic to Vancouver Island, meaning they’re found nowhere else on Earth.
According to estimates, there are only approximately 200 Vancouver Island Marmots left with many of them raised in captivity before being released into the wild. They live in colonies in the mountains on the island, but wolves, cougars and a loss of habitat have caused their numbers to dwindle over the years.
Climate change has resulted in the growth of coniferous trees up the slopes of the mountains the marmots live on, which has caused their habitats to shrink, because too many trees can restrict the rodent’s ability to see predators approaching and changes their food sources. They also require enough snow to burrow in when they hibernate over the winter months, which may be more difficult with warmer temperatures.
According to a 2019 COSEWIC assessment and status report, “under a ‘worst-case’ scenario, up to 97 per cent of the suitable marmot habitat on Vancouver Island may disappear by 2080” as a result of climate change.
Two populations of Arctic caribou found in the Canadian Far North, the Peary caribou and the Dolphin and Union herd, are vulnerable to the warming effects of climate change due to their dependence on sea ice for migration.
Emily Giles from WWF said these caribou are known for their “epic” long-distance migrations. The Peary herd, found in the high Arctic Archipelago and Ellesmere Island, depend on the sea ice to travel in search of limited forage between the high Arctic islands.
The Dolphin and Union herd cross between Victoria Island, where they give birth and rear their young, and their wintering habitat on mainland Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
“The absence of sea ice, we’re not there yet, but the absence of sea ice would be disastrous for those groups and completely disrupt their migration,” she explained.
Giles added that, more generally, the disappearance of sea ice has cleared the way for more industrial development, which has been detrimental to the Arctic species living there that are sensitive to this kind of disturbance.
“They’ve evolved over thousands of years to live with ice and so as it changes, they’re not able to adapt quickly enough to the changes that we’re seeing in the Arctic,” she said.
While several species of Pacific salmon are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Giles wanted to highlight the Chinook salmon in particular.
They live in the colder upper reaches of the Pacific Ocean and breed in freshwater rivers and streams in the Pacific Northwest. The Chinook salmon are vital because they enrich terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems with essential marine-based nutrients when they complete their lifecycle. They’re also an important food source for species such as the Steller sea lion and the southern resident killer whale.
“It’s the only kind of salmon that the southern resident killer whale will eat,” Giles said.
According to the WWF, warming water temperatures are greatly impacting the salmon’s ability to migrate to certain areas for spawning and for food.
“They’re right now considered to be living at the upper range of their heat tolerance so even just a shift of one or two degrees and water temperature can have a big impact for them,” she said. “The fish might not migrate from one area to another if the water’s too warm in a certain spot.”
The collared pika, an adorable rabbit-like herbivore that is approximately the weight of a baseball, was mentioned by both the WWF and COSEWIC as a species of special concern due to climate change.
Residing in the rocky mountainous areas of northern British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Alaska, the collared pika is vulnerable because it’s not as adaptable as other species if its habitat changes or is lost.
“Already some populations of collared pika have been extirpated from parts of their historic range, after changes in moisture and weather caused by climate change made conditions inhabitable,” according to the WWF.
Warmer winters resulting in less mountain-top snow, which the pikas use as insulation for their nests, have also put them in danger because they’re left exposed to extreme temperatures.
SPINY SOFTSHELL TURTLE
Giles wanted to include the Spiny Softshell turtle, which is the only type of turtle with a soft shell in Canada, to the list of species threatened by climate change because she suspects many Canadians aren’t aware of it.
“It’s a very unique, bizarre-looking turtle,” she said. “It’s got this pointy snout and this, it kind of looks like a pancake, this flat shell that’s soft.”
The turtle lives in rivers and lakes in Ontario and Quebec, but its habitat has been affected by higher temperatures, droughts, and flooding from extreme weather resulting from climate change.
“We’re just getting a lot of that extreme weather and that is thought to be impacting the turtles as they nest on the banks of rivers,” Giles said. “It’s quite in trouble. It’s considered endangered, which is the last level it can be before it goes extinct.”
The narwhal, or as Giles called it “the unicorn of the sea” thanks to its distinct spiralled tusk, is particularly sensitive to the effects of melting ice in the Arctic. That’s because the whale uses the ice to feed and protect itself from potential predators.
“The shrinking Arctic ice is actually opening up new ways for orca whales to come north. Orcas are a new predator for narwhal, they’ve never come into contact with them before so the orcas are taking advantage of this, they’re very smart, and they’re actually able to hunt narwhal.”
According to the WWF, narwhals are moving closer to shorelines where food is scarce because of this new presence of killer whales.
What’s more, Giles said studies have shown that narwhals are the most vulnerable of all Arctic marine mammals to the threats posed by climate change.
The little shorebird known as the piping plover is an endangered species that has felt the effects of climate change on its favoured habitat – sunny, sandy beaches.
Found in the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, the small bird nests on wide sandy beaches with little vegetation.
“It’s a beautiful little bird, very, very cute, and it just happens to like the same kind of beaches that we love as humans,” Giles said.
According to COSEWIC, an increase in severe storms and rising sea levels from climate change have reduced the amount of available habitat for the birds’ coastal breeding and wintering grounds. In the Prairies, drier conditions and severe storms have threatened the piping plovers’ habitat.
Despite some recent successes in conservation efforts, Giles said the piping plover has a limited distribution in Canada and remains endangered.
Warming temperatures and shrinking sea ice has put Atlantic walruses, which are found in the high Arctic and central-low Arctic, in danger.
When the large flippered marine mammal isn’t in the ocean, they live in small groups on sea ice, which are called haul-outs. If there is less sea ice for them to live on, the walruses are forced to haul out on land where the food availability is limited.
They’re also more likely to gather in larger groups on land where they’re at risk of stampedes, such as the heartbreaking one presented in Netflix’s docuseries “Our Planet.” “With all of these walruses congregating in these haul-outs, when there’s a distant boat or aircraft passing by them, they can actually become disoriented and panic and cause stampedes,” Giles explained.
Giles added that the warming Arctic has also resulted in an increase in industrial development, such as shipping and oil and gas exploration, which disturbs the walruses’ habitat.
“With ice opening and new routes opening up for ships and oil tankers, resulting in noise pollution, and this encroachment is really expected to be to be detrimental for their breeding and feeding,” she said.
BERINGIAN PLANTS – HAIRY BRAYA MUSTARD
According to COSEWIC, there are a couple of northern plant species that are part of the ancient Beringia ecosystem, which wasn’t covered by ice during the last ice age, that are currently threatened by climate change.
One of those plants, the hairy braya, which is a rare perennial flowering plant in the mustard family, is only found on one peninsula in the Northwest Territories and nowhere else in the world.
With rising temperatures, the permafrost the plant lives on is melting away beneath it, putting it at risk.
According to COSEWIC, the hairy braya is listed as endangered due to a loss of habitat from permafrost melting, rapid coastal erosion, and salt spray from storm surges.
“These events appear to be increasing in frequency and severity as a consequence of a significant reduction in sea ice cover on the Beaufort Sea and changes in weather patterns,” according to COSEWIC.
“These indirect impacts of climate change are expected to continue into the foreseeable future.”
NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE
Giles wanted to include the North Atlantic right whale on the list of threatened species because it is critically endangered with only about 400 left in the world.
According to the WWF, the large whales spend summer and fall in Canadian waters along the eastern seaboard and migrate to southern waters off the United States during the winter. Until recently, the whales frequented the same areas, which allowed measures to be put in place to protect them from becoming entangled in fishing gear or struck by vessels.
However, warming ocean temperatures have resulted in the whales’ food source, a tiny invertebrate called a copepod, moving north to colder waters where the North Atlantic right whale has followed them and where there are no protections in place.
“It’s a sad story because the North Atlantic right whale shifted from an area where it was protected to an area where it wasn’t protected,” Giles said.
Similar to the Southern Resident killer whales in the Pacific, Giles said conservationists have been watching populations of the North Atlantic right whale decrease continuously.
“We’re celebrating every single birth as it occurs and tracking every death because when you get a population that’s in trouble like this one and that’s already so small, every single birth and death really matters,” she said.
Canada's top judge is now acting Governor General, but expert urges speedy replacement – CTV News
Julie Payette’s resignation amid allegations of workplace harassment means that the chief justice of the Supreme Court will now assume the governor general’s powers, but a Crown expert says this temporary appointment should be as brief as possible as it presents potential conflicts.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted Payette’s resignation on Thursday following reports of a workplace harassment investigation that sources described to CTV News as “damaging.”
Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner will fulfill the role of administrator on an interim basis until Trudeau recommends a new governor general to the Queen, something Trudeau says he will do “in due course.”
Philippe Lagasse, a Carleton University expert on the Westminster system and the Crown, described Payette’s resignation as “a bit sad, really,” and stressed the importance of limiting the amount of time Wagner stays in this role.
“I have to say, as somebody who is concerned about how offices appear in public, it’s really not ideal to have the chief justice of the Supreme Court act as an administrator for any long period of time,” Lagasse told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday.
The reason: the Governor General is in charge of turning bills into law through royal assent. Having an active Supreme Court judge in this role could be potentially problematic down the road, Lagasse said.
“We can think in our constitutional metaphysics that they’re wearing a different hat when they’re providing royal assent, you can imagine that it could create discomfort on the part of the judge who wants to be seem completely and utterly impartial if ever that legislation appears before them in a constitutional or legal challenge,” he said.
Asked about the timeline to replace Payette, intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said “obviously it’s not a question of months.”
“The constitutional role can be fulfilled as of tonight by Chief Justice Wagner and until a successor is sworn in,” LeBlanc told CTV’s Power Play.
“We obviously haven’t turned our attention to the details of how that successor would be recommended to Her Majesty, but we’ll have more to say about that in the coming days. But it’s not a circumstance that can go on for months and months.”
The Governor General holds the second-highest office in Canada after the Queen, with the role out-ranking even the prime minister. That’s because the Governor General can be called on to make decisions related to the formation of government, such as to prorogue Parliament or dissolve Parliament on the advice of a prime minister to trigger an election.
The Governor General also plays a key role in minority governments, as is the current case. If a minority government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, the prime minister would then have to request Parliament be dissolved. The Governor General then has the discretion whether to agree to that, and call an election, or allow another party in the House to attempt to form a government that would have the confidence of the House.
For example, in 2008, Stephen Harper asked then-Governor General Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote that he was expected to lose, which she allowed.
Everything considered, Lagasse said it’s in the country’s best interests to appoint a new Governor General pronto.
“To the extent possible, we should have a full-on governor general appointed as soon as possible, given the possibility of an election on the horizon,” he said.
“And ultimately, I would imagine the chief justice is not really keen on the idea of having to make some of these decisions and make some of the calls, particularly if another election returns another hung Parliament, and if there’s controversy around a dissolution of Parliament in the middle of a pandemic. These are all things that I imagine the chief justice doesn’t want to be particularly involved with either.”
CTV royal commentator Richard Berthelsen said that the Governor General plays a critical constitutional role in Canada as a representative of the Queen, but is also seen as a moral leader.
“So this really was a day that, in a lot of ways, had to happen. It’s sad that it has happened, but the report has left everyone with no alternative,” Berthelsen told CTV News Channel.
With files from CTV’s Rachel Aiello in Ottawa and The Canadian Press
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca
Coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, though the top U.S. infectious disease expert cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.
At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.
The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.
Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.
Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.
“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”
The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.
Biden sets COVID-19 plan into motion
Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the previous Trump administration, standing by his side earlier Thursday as Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.
WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:
Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.
Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.
The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.
The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.
The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.
As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.
Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization.
The new president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus.
The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
– From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.
In Ontario, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall as the province reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, along with 46 more deaths.
While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.
WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says:
Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.
The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.
At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.
WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:
Alberta, like Ontario, has seen its long-term care homes particularly hit hard during the pandemic.
To date, 988 of the province’s 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.
CapitalCare Lynnwood in west Edmonton is the site of Alberta’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 55 lives lost. A total of 262 cases have been linked to the outbreak, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.
WATCH | Other COVID-19 vaccines awaiting approval could mean more choice:
New Brunswick continues to see a spike in COVID-19 infections, reporting 32 new cases on Thursday as officials declared an outbreak at another Edmundston care home.
At a COVID-19 briefing, the province’s chief medical officer of health said the situation in the Edmundston region remains “gravely concerning.”
There are now 113 cases in that area, “the largest number of any zone in the province,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Premier Blaine Higgs said that a complete lockdown of the Edmundston region has been discussed and looks “likely” to happen in the days ahead.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
– From CBC News, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 97.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.8 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.
Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.
In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.
The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.
In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.
Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.
In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.
Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.
Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.
In Europe, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.
The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET
Trudeau spoke with Pfizer CEO amid concerns of vaccine delays – CTV News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global on Thursday and was assured that, despite an ongoing delay in vaccine deliveries, the company will follow through on millions of vaccine shipments due in March.
News of Trudeau’s conversation with CEO Dr. Albert Bourla comes as officials overseeing the vaccine rollout release new projections as they work to assure Canadians that the current shipment slowdown won’t hamper the country’s long-term schedule.
“Today, I spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global, Dr. Bourla, about the timely delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Canada,” Trudeau tweeted Thursday. “He assured me that we’ll receive 4 million doses by the end of March. We’ll keep working together to ensure Canadians can get a vaccine as soon as possible.”
Officials overseeing the vaccine rollout say Canada remains on schedule, although the country will see a short-term drop in supply in the coming weeks.
Projections released Thursday by federal health officials suggest that Canada will be able to vaccinate 3 million people by the end of March, accounting for eight per cent of the entire population. Even if Canada doesn’t approve any more vaccines by the fall, estimates suggest that doses from Pfizer and Moderna will cover 13 million Canadians, or 34 per cent, by June and 36 million, or 95 per cent, by September 30.
While the long-term plan remains on track, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout, said Canada is only getting about one-third of the expected deliveries between this week and Feb. 7. Canada is set to receive no new deliveries of doses next week and 79,000 Pfizer doses in the first week of February.
This delay will impact Canada’s short-term vaccine supply, but Fortin said future shipments are expected to make up for the shortage.
“To that end, we expect a rapid scale-up of deliveries in the upcoming weeks following this current supply disruption,” Fortin said at a press conference.
Pfizer advised Canada last week that upgrades to its plant in Belgium would temporarily slow production and reduce doses delivered to every country except the United States, which has its own production facility. Canada can expect to see its deliveries cut in half over four weeks, the company initially said, with the factory returning to full production on Feb. 15.
The next shipment of Moderna vaccines is due in the first week of February and will include an estimated 230,400 doses. Overall, Canada expects to receive 6 million doses of both vaccines by the end of March.
Canada’s vaccine rollout could happen faster if more vaccines are approved. The projections suggest that, based on all vaccines Canada has procured but have yet to be approved, as many as 23 million Canadians could be vaccinated between April and June, accounting for 61 per cent of the population. Canada could have enough doses for up to 73 million people between July on September. In such a scenario, there would be more than enough vaccines for everyone who wants one.
Fortin described those estimates as “planning data” meant to give provinces and territories an idea of what to expect if everything goes better than expected.
“The last thing we want to do is put jurisdictions in a place where we have additional doses coming and we hadn’t factored that in early to our planning,” he said.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said that, while the government’s overall timeline for vaccines hasn’t changed, there is always the possibility of unexpected supply issues or new vaccine approvals.
In the meantime, the best thing Canadians can do while they wait for the vaccine is to follow public health guidelines, Dr. Njoo said.
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