By Cynthia Münster
The Hill TImes
Natural Resources Canada’s Report on Adapting to Climate Change is the first of its kind, a start in looking at how Canadians throughout the country and Canada’s industry and policy will have to adapt to the changes brought in by climate change.
It is, nevertheless, too muted and by concentrating on adaptation it may shift the focus off mitigation, which would be a mistake, says Matt Price, the project manager from Environmental Defence.
“It’s not enough, we are still debating the numbers on how to reduce emissions and we actually haven’t, we haven’t made enough progress on that. For example, the current federal plan still allows the tar sands to triple its emissions, so in the adaptation context, without good mitigation, this is the difference between, ‘Do you want to adapt to a bus crash or do you want to adapt to the bus driving off the cliff,’ and those are two very different questions. Right now … we are talking about driving off the cliff, instead of trying to slow the bus down. So that’s how these two issues relate and, politically, we think that the attention desperately needs to be on the mitigation side to actually have a strong plan,” said Mr. Price.
From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007, which cost Natural Resources Canada $1.5-million and was released last month, is a comprehensive outlook at adaptation through the work of 145 authors from government, universities, and NGOs.
“Adaptation is necessary because the impacts of climate change are already evident in every region of Canada,” said Mark Corey, assistant deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, Earth Sciences Sector, last week at the Senate Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Mr. Corey, along with Sharon Smith, a scientist with NRCan responsible for the report’s sections on permafrost and infrastructure in the chapter on Northern Canada and Don Lemmen the report’s lead scientific editorwere available for questions on the report during the Senate committee on April 15.
Robert Page, the TransAlta professor of Environmental Management and Sustainability at the University of Calgary’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, said this report is a start, a first step in looking at a climate change issue that has so far been overlooked.
“For many people in industry the issue of adaptation is even more important, even more pressing than the issue of mitigation. With mitigation, we are not going to make that great a change in terms of the global atmosphere. We have to do it, ethically, we must do it, there is no question about the fact that we are going to be doing mitigation. But the thing about adaptation: it’s the real crunch time because it’s of how do we deal in Calgary with declining water supplies? It’s really urgent issues like that, that people can focus in on in a much more concrete way and affect their lives or affect their industry in a concrete way, in a way in which mitigation does not yet, so it’s a very real and pressing issue for people,” said Prof. Page.
The report has sections on the different provinces and concentrates on how climate change will affect the environment, communities, people and economies.
“It’s a beginning. First of all, we need a lot more data and we need better climate modeling, so we get a sense of what is going to happen. We are still guessing at a lot of this and so the first step in terms of trying to move to an adaptation strategy is just trying to get our information base: our database and our modelling to a much higher level so we can begin to estimate what’s going to happen for the future. Once we can understand and can estimate better what’s going to happen in the future, we can then begin to respond to what those challenges will be,” said Prof. Page, who is also the acting chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
The authors and experts who wrote this report are well-known in their fields and include Ms. Smith, one of the scientists who wrote the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recognized by the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
“It’s incredibly respectable, it’s incredibly bullet-proof. At the same time, what that usually means in this issue is [that it’s] also old…. Being bullet-proof it means it’s quite conservative, for example, they model sea level rise at levels lower than the latest finds are showing it’s going to happen. So that way they are a bit behind the curve but these days it’s almost true that everything that gets published is a bit out of date because the science is moving so quickly,” said Mr. Price.
“From our perspective, when you put things into such conservative terms it doesn’t really, it doesn’t elevate the debate to the place it needs to be to actually change behaviour, because it’s so muted that it doesn’t convey the fact that this is a crisis and that we really need to shift gears really quite fast.”
During the committee hearing Alberta Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell wondered out loud how it was possible that this report was commissioned while “at the same time, they were denying [climate change] was occurring and denying taking any steps. Worse yet, they were canceling steps already in place to mitigate the damages.”
“I am reminded of the adage we have often heard, that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, if you were the left hand doing this remarkable study on the impact of global warming and the prime minister, Minister Ambrose and perhaps Minister Baird were the right hand,” said Sen. Mitchell.
The Hill Times
Meet the officials behind Natural Resources Canada”s climate report
By Cynthia Münster