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B.C. heat wave, wildfires top of mind as leaders convene for UN Climate Conference

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On the eve of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, observers in British Columbia point to local heat-fuelled catastrophes that claimed lives in the province this summer as proof the world needs to act now to slow the human-made climate crisis.

A late June heat wave that saw temperatures soar close to 50 C in parts of the province is blamed for hundreds of deaths.

One day after the town of Lytton set an all-time Canadian temperature record of 49.6 C, a fast moving wildfire roared through town, levelling everything in its path and claiming two lives.

The Lytton Creek Wildfire, as it was eventually named, burned for months and consumed 837 square kilometres.

"I think more and more people here in British Columbia are realizing that, and seeing that, and obviously being effected by that,” said Esmé Decker with Climate Justice UBC.

“And it's really important that we don't forget what has happened this (past) summer and is going to continue to happen."

More than 25,000 delegates from 200 countries will attend the 26th annual conference in Glasgow.

Although they have gathered for similar talks 25 times before, observers, climate activists, and even some COP delegates say this time it is the last, best hope to keep global temperature rise under 1.5 C, the number set out in the Paris Agreement.

"Guess what everybody? Governments can address climate change. And we need to make sure that they do,” said Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation.

She holds up the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of how quickly governments around the world can act in the face of catastrophe.

"Two years ago, I wouldn't have believed you if told me governments could come together, move billions of dollars, work across party lines, and actually effectively address an existential crisis. And we just did that,” she said, urging people to pressure elected officials for meaningful movement on the climate file.

The University of British Columbia is sending a delegation of eight students, faculty and staff to be observers at the conference.

“I think it is really important to remember that Canada is also heating twice as fast as the rest of the world,” said Juvarya Veltkamp, director of the Canada Climate Law Initiative at UBC. “So, we are experiencing these impacts and we can’t ignore the climate emergency anymore so we need this action urgently.” 

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