July 30, 2007

Ontario names climate change adaptation panel co-chairs, launches impact projection Web site

The Ontario government has appointed Dr Ian Burton and Dr David Pearson as co-chairs of a new expert panel on Climate Change Adaptation.

Dr Ian Burton is emeritus professor at the University of Toronto and lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 4th Assessment Report, Working Group II. He recently served as a consultant with the World Bank and the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Author or co-author of several books and over 150 professional papers, Dr Burton currently focuses his work on the role of science in the policy process.

Dr David Pearson is professor of earth sciences at Laurentian University in Sudbury; he is also a member of the university's co-operative freshwater ecology unit, with an interest in Sudbury lakes. From 1980-84 Dr Pearson was the project director for Science North, Sudbury's landmark science centre. He has been honoured for his contributions to public awareness of the geosciences and science communication by prestigious organizations such as the Geological Association of Canada and The Royal Society of Canada.

The panel has been asked to develop adaptation strategies for Ontario and will provide recommendations to the government concerning adaptation strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change on Ontario's communities and ecosystems. Its establishment reflects the government's recognition of adaptation as a key part of a successful climate change plan. Even as action is taken to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the GHGs already in the atmosphere will still affect Ontario's climate. Accordingly, preparation is needed to enable communities, businesses and individuals cope with that change.

The province will be appointing additional members to the panel and releasing further details on its work in the near future.

In other climate change activities, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay unveiled a new interactive Web site, www.gogreenontario.ca, that shows the impact GHGs could have on Ontario's climate. Prepared jointly by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and the Canadian Forest Service, the Climate Change Projections for Ontario section of the Web site helps provide an understanding of how increased GHG levels will change the Earth's temperature and precipitation patterns and the effects of these changes on the province's forests, fish, wildlife, communities and people.

The Web site uses specific scenarios to show possible outcomes rather than predictions, since future GHG levels will depend on many factors such as global population, human behaviour, changes in technology and how much carbon the Earth's lands and waters will absorb or release. Projections for average temperature and precipitation in summer and winter throughout Ontario are mapped for three time periods--the early, middle and late 21st century.

These projections are also based on two scenarios, "A2" and "B2," representing two different levels of GHG concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere. "A2" assumes higher GHG emissions than "B2." Both are considered intermediate scenarios and have been approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Finally, Ramsay also announced $315,000 in provincial funding to support additional research into polar bears and their threatened habitat. The three-year research project will provide a better understanding of the impacts of climate change on the health of Ontario's polar bear population.

The work will involve monitoring the seasonal movement patterns of southern Hudson Bay polar bears, as well as the numbers of polar bears, their body condition and the habitat where female bears build dens to give birth. The climate change Web site projects that polar bear habitat in southern Hudson Bay would experience the greatest warming of any place in Ontario. The Minister is also putting polar bears on the priority list for scientific assessment by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario under Ontario's new Endangered Species Act.

"Polar bears are under increasing threat around the world as their essential habitat warms faster than any other place on the planet," noted Peter Ewins, director of species conservation for World Wildlife Fund Canada. "This research project will help us better respond to the disruption melting sea ice poses to Ontario's polar bears and the communities that share their ecosystem," he explained.

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