Ontario's Environmental Commissioner pointed to the shorter ice fishing season on Lake Simcoe as proof that the provincial government must improve its strategic plan for dealing with the impacts of climate change.
"Climate change is one of the defining issues of our age, and it's already having an impact on our lives," Gord Miller said a report called Ready for Change? The report, released March 7, 2012, is an assessment of Ontario's climate change adaptation strategy.
Climate change threatens thousands of tourism and recreation jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the tourism industry, Miller said, pointing out that the ice-fishing season on Lake Simcoe has been getting shorter for the past two decades, and the lake hasn't completely frozen over this year. Skiing and snowmobile touring have also been harmed by warmer temperatures.
He also noted that:
• First Nations communities in the north, such as Attawapiskat, are worried about the continued safety of winter ice roads that bring in needed supplies. Northern Ontario faces more rapid and extensive changes to its climate than the rest of the province.
• In July 2009, Hamilton got 109 mm of rain in two hours — one of the biggest bursts of rain on record in Canada. Insurance losses were between $200- and $300-million.
• Following unprecedented rainfall in Peterborough in 2004, floods swept through the downtown, causing more than $112 million in damage.
Miller said the province must take the lead in helping local communities and municipalities adapt to climate change.
"I understand the Ontario government faces fiscal challenges right now," he said. "But the costs of adjusting to climate change in the future will only continue to increase if we don't take action now. The government itself has indicated that the cost of extreme weather events could rise to $5.66 billion per year by mid-century."
Miller said the Ontario government is facing challenges in developing plans to further reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, but is doing a lot better with its strategy to adapt to climate change. "We need actions to both reduce emissions and adapt to the changes — they are complementary."
While endorsing the government's plan, Climate Ready, Ontario's Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan, 2011-2014, the Environmental Commissioner pointed out there are gaps in its strategy to limit the damage that will be caused by fiercer and more frequent ice storms, heavy rains, and heat waves.
The Commissioner's report says the government must improve its strategic plan by prioritizing the actions that are needed, setting specific targets and timelines, identifying dedicated funding, and outlining the responsibilities of key government ministries.
"For example, despite the importance of our energy distribution and transmission system," says Miller, "the Climate Ready Plan released in 2011 does not identify any actions to be taken by the Ministry of Energy. This concerns me because scientists are predicting an increase in devastating ice storms, like the one that toppled power lines and transmission towers and caused blackouts in 1998. And the long-term decline in Great Lakes water levels could reduce electricity generation capacity by more than 1,100 megawatts."
The Environmental Commissioner's full report, "Ready for Change? An assessment of Ontario's climate change adaptation strategy"can been seen at eco.on.ca