“The Ontario government needs to climate proof the province,” said Gord Miller, environmental commissioner of Ontario, at Queen’s Park this morning.
“Higher temperatures, along with an increase in the frequency and severity of intense weather events such as ice storms, heavy rains, heat waves, droughts and wind storms, are all projected for Ontario,” said Miller. Research co-ordinated by the Applied Research and Development Branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources shows that the ecological repercussions and impacts on Ontario’s biodiversity will be “significant and irreversible.”
How will Ontario handle these coming changes?
Miller’s report, Ready for Change? An Assessment of Ontario’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, released today, points out gaps in the Province’s strategy to limit the damage that will be caused by fiercer and more frequent ice storms, heavy rains, and heat waves.
While Miller was careful to note that mitigation efforts that reduce greenhouse gas releases constitute the first line of defense against these impacts, he worries the Province isn’t fully prepared to deal with the damage that’s already been done.
Last April, the Ministry of the Environment released a response to the need for action on climate change adaptation called Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan, 2011-2014. “Since the release of Climate Ready, I have been encouraged to learn that progress has been made on a number of the action items identified within the strategy,” said Miller.
While Miller feels the report is fairly comprehensive, it has some weaknesses. According to Miller:
It identifies decisive actions to address adaptation needs in Ontario, but fails to clearly indicate how these will be prioritized for implementation over the four-year timeframe of the strategy.
The strategy correctly identifies that adaptation initiatives are required across the mandates of many government ministries but it doesn’t outline specific responsibilities for key ministries like Energy, Economic Development, and Innovation, or Northern Development and Mines.
The strategy contains few quantitative or qualitative targets or specific timelines for delivery.
The Ministry of the Environment did not post this obviously significant environment policy document on the EBR Registry as a proposal, as is required by law, thereby denying the public the right to comment on its suitability and adequacy.
Miller’s report lays out how he will evaluate the government’s progress in implementing this adaptation plan over the next few months. He’s looking to see if government improves 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,” said 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.”
Miller said the Province also needs to help local communities and municipalities adapt to climate change.
In July of 2009, Hamilton got 109 millimetres 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.
Northern Ontario will face even more rapid and extensive changes to its climate than the rest of the province, said Miller. “First Nations communities in the north, such as Attawapiskat, are worried about the continued safety of winter ice roads that bring in needed supplies.”
While he was pleased that Ontario funded a Community Adaptation Initiative and, with the federal government, a Regional Adaptation Collaborative, he noted that money for both programs runs out this month.
“I understand the Ontario government faces fiscal challenges right now,” said Miller. “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.”
“As the Stern Report economic analysis established, what we don’t spend on adaptation now will cost us much more in the future,” he said.