Climate change is already having a direct impact on Ontario waterways, including Lake Simcoe, the Environment Commissioner of Ontario says.
In the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report, called "Facing Climate Change," ECO Dr. Dianne Saxe reports that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by humans are changing the climate and already contributing to many impacts.
The report asks: What does this mean for Ontarians?
The answers, as set out in the report, are:
For the Greater Toronto Area: Punishing stretches of sweltering summer heat followed by greyer, wetter winters with more slush and freezing rain, less snow.
For those who live on or depend on rivers: Faster spring melts, risking floods; lover summer water levels, risking water shortages.
For those who live on or depend on lakes: Fluctuating water levels, plus warner water with less oxygen and more algal blooms in some lakes. Both precipitation and evaporation are predicted to increase.
For those who fish for a living, for food or for pleasure: Invasive species will increase to the detriment of prized native species such as lake trout. Popular cold-water fish, like lake trout, require water that is colder than 14C.
There is a special section discussing Lake Simcoe: "Every winter, thousands of families make their way to Lake Simcoe for excellent ice fishing. Lake Simcoe is close to Barrie and the Greater Toronto Area and contains many different fish species. Ice fishing on Lake Simcoe is a huge economic boost to the surrounding communities, and a time-honoured tradition for many families.
"Ice fishing opportunities on Lake Simcoe are being eroded by climate change. Since 1989, ice cover time has decreased, on average, by one day each year. Warmer winter temperatures will continue to reduce the duration of ice cover, thereby lessening the safe on-ice time for anglers during the ice-fishing season."
The focus of the ECO's report is on climate change mitigation, i.e. reducing GHG emissions. Saxe says transportation is our biggest challenge; it accounts for Ontario's largest and fastest growing share of GHG emissions. Industry, homes and commercial buildings are other major emitters.
The commissioner says Ontarians have high emissions per person, compared to most people around the world — even those in other rich northern countries.She says the Ontario government has taken great steps toward GHG reductions this year, including passing the GHG cap and trade program that begins Jan. 1, 2017, and she makes recommendations that "should help it avoid some major pitfalls."
These recommendations include:
• The government should do more to discourage, and make unnecessary, travel by petroleum-fueled vehicles. It should also prioritize funding for projects and transit that support dense, complete communities.
• The provincial government should report regularly to Ontarians on the province's entire climate change footprint, not only on Ontario's direct greenhouse gas emissions as calculated pursuant to international guidelines.
To read the full report by the ECO, go to https://eco.on.ca/reports/2016-facing-climate-change/
Saxe talked about the greenhouse gas progress report during her keynote speech Nov. 15, on the first day of the Latornell Conservation Symposium, at the Nottawasaga Inn Resort in Alliston. She cited some of the evidence of climate change that was included in the report, including how much greenhouse gases have gone up.
"In 2015, a significant threshold was breached: for the first time in at least 800,000 years, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million. Levels below 400 ppm are not likely to occur again in our lifetimes, or in the foreseeable future.
"Not only is the carbon blanket [around the planet] thickening, it is doing so faster than ever. 2015 was the fourth year in a row that atmospheric CO2 levels increased by approximately 2 ppm annually, and 2015 saw the largest year-over-year increase ever recorded."
Photo of Dr. Dianne Saxe by Johanna Powell, taken at the Latornell Conservation Symposium, at the Nottawasaga Inn Resort in Alliston.