2.2 Adapting to climate change within Canada

One of the binding commitments of nations signing on to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was to prepare adaptation strategies to cope with that level of climatic disruption that is no longer avoidable. If anything, this commitment has been ignored by Canada even more than the obligation to reduce emissions. Sectors requiring immediate attention include agriculture, forestry, fishing, and tourism. Protecting vulnerable areas and population also need to be addressed. Climatic impacts have already cost the Canadian economy billions of dollars.

The Green Party believes that the federal government must show leadership in developing an adaptation strategy in collaboration with the provincial/territorial governments, municipalities, and First Nations governments that aims to mitigate and reduce the impacts of climate change. Even with significant global GHG reductions to stabilize the climate, it will take decades, perhaps centuries, to arrest climate change.

In 2007, the federal government allocated $85.9 million to adaptation programs in four federal agencies, as part of its so-called Clean Air Agenda. In 2011, that was raised to $149.9 million over five years. That adaptation funding will expire in 2016 without having scratched the surface of the work that must be done.

We must improve municipal infrastructure, especially water treatment facilities, to meet a changing water regime. We are already experiencing increased deluge precipitation events during which current systems allow raw sewage to bypass treatment. We must start curtailing developments in areas of high vulnerability (for example, floodplains, low-elevation coastal areas, steep hillsides, regions of permafrost, and places adjacent to forests at increased risk of fires). We must undertake greater flood control measures like raising dykes in areas made more prone to flooding because of climate change.

The most urgent community crises are in the Canadian Arctic where peoples of the North face losing their hunting culture and relocation of their communities due to the melting of permafrost and Arctic ice. Meanwhile in the interior of British Columbia, an area of forest twice the size of Sweden has been killed by a climate-caused pine beetle epidemic. The pine beetle epidemic is an economic disaster for many forest dependent communities. Eighty percent of this vast region’s forests are affected.

We need to pay particular attention to adaptation opportunities in restoring wetlands. According to Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), Saskatchewan and Manitoba alone have lost 350 000 ha of wetland over the last 40-60 years. Wetland loss may have amplified recent 300-year flood events on the prairies. As prairie potholes are drained, their formerly local, internal drainages are diverted to the regional drainage into rivers and creeks.

We must act to reduce emissions and we must prepare for the ‘new normal’ of a destabilized climate. These are not, as often presented, mutually exclusive goals. We need both and we needed them yesterday.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Establish special task forces involving all stakeholders, all levels of government and scientific experts to prepare, over the next two years, area-specific climate change adaptation strategies. The first of such task forces shall be set up in places particularly vulnerable to climate shift and disruptions, the Canadian Arctic, coastal zones, the Prairies, and the Interior of British Columbia;
  • Restore and enhance funding to adaptation planning and measures across Canada;
  • Establish a Climate Change Adaptation Fund to assist those areas hard hit by ‘natural’ disasters linked to climate change;
  • Work with provinces to restore riparian ecosystems. Restore critical wetlands, especially where they might serve to dampen flood levels. The U.S. has invested billions in restoring riparian buffers, while we have done little. Federal programs could be delivered through existing government agencies, such as the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) and ENGOs like Ducks Unlimited;
  • Work with landowners (provide incentives/tax breaks) to restore and/or forego drainage on prairie potholes and wetlands that currently receive much of spring meltwater. There are some excellent models in existing provincial programs; for example, the Wetland Restoration Incentive Program (WRIP) initiated in 2008/09 as a partnership between Manitoba, DUC, and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC).