February 5, 2007

Adaptation the missing element in climate change debate, says Conference Board

Canadians at all levels are missing an important part of the debate on climate change: adapting to the effects of a changing climate. Unlike the rhetoric on broad strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions--where there has been a lot of talk, but little action--there has been very little talk and almost no action on developing climate change adaptation strategies, says the Conference Board of Canada.

In a new briefing report, "Operationalizing Adaptation to Climate Change," the Conference Board provides examples of adaptation issues that will have to be addressed, such as whether port infrastructure will have to be rebuilt to accommodate higher sea levels, whether roads and bridges will have to be re-engineered to higher standards to withstand greater temperature variations and more frequent and severe flooding, and how commercial and social links to the far north will be maintained as the permafrost thaws and the ice road season is shortened. Even more fundamental is the question of who will be responsible for developing adaptation measures and strategies, says the reprort.

"Whatever actions are taken to curb GHG emissions, climate change will happen, and it will affect the well-being of Canadians," says Gilles Rhéaume, the Conference Board's vice-president, public policy. "Lower water levels in the Great Lakes could lead to water scarcity, changing crop conditions will affect Prairie farmers, and all three coasts will have to contend with the effects of higher sea levels.

"Strategies to adapt to climate change are needed now, because today's public and private sector investments will be subject to the climate conditions of tomorrow," he says.

"Operationalizing Adaptation to Climate Change" is the Board's second report on this topic: in "Adapting to Climate Change: Is Canada Ready?" it concluded that Canadian decision-makers are still several steps away from making adaptation to climate change a basic consideration in their infrastructure or corporate decisions. Based on discussions involving business leaders who met in March 2006 at the Boards' first Private Sector Roundtable on Adaptation to Climate Change, the report describes the most important steps toward this objective.

First and foremost, Roundtable members agreed that experts must seize the attention of Canada's corporate leaders about the importance of adaptation, and must ensure that firms consider the commercial risks from climate change when business decisions are made.

This, says the report, is the role of risk managers and environmental or sustainable development officers. They must interpret the science of climate change and its physical and economic impacts, and convey this information to senior executives, who in turn must comprehend the timelines involved in adaptation, from an investment standpoint.

Adaptation requires changes in the way business decisions are made, the report adds. The effects of climate change must be taken into account when decisions are being made regarding technical design, financial evaluation and delivery methods for all goods and services.

Assessing the risk of climate change requires high-quality information, particularly hydrologic data. Round Table participants agreed that Canada must at least maintain its current level of weather monitoring stations and hydrologic data collection to ensure continued availability of the information needed for modelling and trend analysis.

Having created a framework for assessing adaptive risk, corporate risk managers will need to translate the information into business risks and business opportunities. This will help generate a sense of urgency, which will be needed, as scientific analyses point to a much shorter time to prepare for climate change impacts.

The report also outlines the roles of governments in adapting to climate change. These include:

*Collecting and disseminating information (such as hydrologic information for a watershed) so firms can make decisions to account for a changing climate;

*Designing emergency preparedness plans--for example, by creating Community Emergency Response Teams--so that communities can more effectively deal with extreme events;

*Ensuring that existing regulations, such as building codes and design standards, do not impede adaptation measures; and

*Setting guidelines on decision-making tools and risk-management assessment techniques for businesses to use in adaptation management.

The Conference Board is launching a Leaders Roundtable on Climate Change Adaptation to conduct research and build relationships between the public and private sectors on adaptation issues. The report may be viewed on the Conference Board Web site, wwwconferenceboard.ca.

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