Ontario needs to get ready for climate change: Gord Miller

Toronto – In his report Ready for Change?: An assessment of Ontario’s climate change adaptation strategy released last week at Queen’s Park, Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller said the Ontario government is off to an encouraging start in preparing the province for the impacts of climate change.

This is good news, says Miller, given the slow progress on other climate change issues. “The government is facing challenges in developing plans to further reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, but is doing a lot better with its strategy to adapt to climate change,” he adds. “We need actions to both reduce emissions and adapt to the changes–they are complementary.”

While endorsing the government’s plan, Climate Ready, Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan, 2011-2014, the Environmental Commissioner pointed out there are gaps in its strategy to limit the damage that will be caused by fiercer and more frequent ice storms, heavy rains and heat waves.

Miller explains the importance of climate change adaptation and introduces his special report Ready For Change:

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Commissioner’s report says the government must improve its strategic plan by prioritizing the actions that are needed, setting specific targets and timelines, identifying dedicated funding, and outlining the responsibilities of key government ministries.

“For example, despite the importance of our energy distribution and transmission system,” says Miller, “the Climate Ready plan released in 2011 does not identify any actions to be taken by the Ministry of Energy. This concerns me because scientists are predicting an increase in devastating ice storms, like the one that toppled power lines and transmission towers and caused blackouts in 1998. And the long-term decline in Great Lakes water levels could reduce electricity generation capacity by more than 1,100 megawatts.”

“Climate change is one of the defining issues of our age,” insists the Environmental Commissioner, “and it’s already having an impact on our lives.” The following provides a quick summary of the issues we face due to climate change:

  • It threatens thousands of tourism and recreation jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the tourism industry. The ice-fishing season on Lake Simcoe has been getting shorter for the past two decades; the lake still hasn’t completely frozen over this year.  Skiing and snowmobile touring have also been harmed by warmer temperatures.
  • First Nations communities in the north, such as Attawapiskat, are worried about the continued safety of winter ice roads that bring in needed supplies. Northern Ontario faces more rapid and extensive changes to its climate than the rest of the province.
  • In July of 2009, Hamilton got 109 mm of rain in two hours, one of the biggest bursts of rain on record in Canada. Insurance losses were between $200 and $300 million. Following unprecedented rainfall in Peterborough in 2004, floods swept through the downtown, causing more than $112 million in damage.

Miller says the province must take the lead in helping local communities and municipalities adapt to climate change. “I was pleased that Ontario funded a Community Adaptation Initiative and, with the federal government, a Regional Adaptation Collaborative. Unfortunately money for both programs runs out this month.”

“I understand the Ontario government faces fiscal challenges right now,” says the Environmental Commissioner. “But the costs of adjusting to climate change in the future will only continue to increase if we don’t take action now. The government itself has indicated that the cost of extreme weather events could rise to $5.66 billion per year by mid-century.”

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