April 24, 2006

Canadian climate experts press PM for action on national climate change strategy

Ninety of Canada's leading climate scientists and oceanographers have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging his government to develop a national strategy on climate change.

An open letter from the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) also calls on the new government to develop strategies for adapting to the inevitable changes that will affect all Canadians. The group, which represents many internationally recognized researchers from Canada's university and federal research communities, stands ready to provide the government a scientific briefing and further support, clarification and information at any time, says the letter.

The CFCAS endorses the most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in 2001 concluded that "there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

This assessment, says the CFCAS, has been supported by the Royal Society of Canada and the national academies of science in all G-8 countries as well as in China, India and Brazil. Since the 2001 assessment, continuing, peer-reviewed research by recognized Canadian and international researchers has pointed to "increasingly unambiguous evidence of changing climate in Canada and around the world."

Speaking on behalf of the CFCAS, Dr Gordon McBean stated, "There is an increasing urgency to act on the threat of climate change."

The assessments and continuing research, says the letter, further indicate that "there will be increasing impacts of climate change on Canada's natural ecosystems and on our socio-economic activities."

Advances in climate science, it adds, have provided more evidence supporting the need for action and development of a strategy for adaptation to projected changes.

"Canada needs a national climate change strategy with continued investments in research to track the rate and nature of changes, understand what is happening, to refine projections of changes induced by anthropogenic release of greenhouse gases and to analyse opportunities and threats presented by these changes," states the CFCAS.

The letter is supported by documentation citing examples of warming such as the rapid rise in Arctic temperatures and rising global sea levels over the past century, as well as projections for future warmer mean temperatures.

The background information also outlines the current and potential impacts of climate change on Canada's socio-economic activities and ecosystems, including: inadequate water for agriculture and hydroelectric power generation; warmer temperatures allowing the spread of insects through Canada's forests and making them more vulnerable to forest fires; increased severity of extreme weather events; thawing of permafrost, affecting northern communities and wildlife and releasing even more greenhouse gases; and threats to Arctic sovereignty, ecology and resources due to increased shipping in the North.

The researchers point out that the rigorous international IPCC process for assessment of climate science is the appropriate mechanism for examining what is and is not known in this area. The next (fourth) IPCC assessment report is scheduled for completion in 2007, and many Canadian climate scientists are participating in its preparation, the letter adds.

"Several key research questions must be answered in order to understand adequately how the climate will warm and what this means for our way of life and our economy," said Dr McBean, adding, "Solid impartial science is essential for development of sound policies."

The letter has been copied to federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, as well as to Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources and Loyola Hearn, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

In addition to Dr McBean, who heads the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at the University of Western Ontario, some of the 90 Canadian climate science leaders from the academic, public and private sectors who signed the letter include:

Dr James Bruce, a former senior official with Environment Canada and Canadian policy representative with the Soil and Water Conservation Society;

Dr Ian Burton, former head of the University of Toronto's Institute for Environmental Studies and scientist emeritus for the Meterological Service of Canada;

Dr Stephen Calvert, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences;

Dr John Cullen, Killam chair of ocean studies at Dalhousie University;

Halifax consultant Dr Desmond O'Neill;

Dr Louis Fortier of Laval University, holder of the Canada research chair on the response of marine arctic ecosystems to climate change;

Dr David Schindler, University of Alberta professor of ecology and holder of the Killam memorial chair;

Dr John Smol, Queen's University professor and holder of the Canada research chair in environmental change;

Dr John Stone, adjunct professor of geography and environmental studies at Carleton University and vice-chair of the IPCC Working Group II;

Dr Barry Goodison, senior scientist in Environment Canada's atmospheric science and technology directorate and head of the World Climate Research Program Climate and Cryosphere project;

Dr Peter Victor, professor and former head of York University's faculty of environmental studies; and

Dr David Layzell, CEO and research director of the BIOCAP Canada Foundation.

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