More than 120 of Canada's top climate scientists have signed an open letter urging Canadians to vote strategically for the environment in next week's federal election.

Andrew Weaver, a lead author with last year's Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says global warming is the defining issue of our time.

But Weaver says the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not addressed the "innovative and urgent policies" needed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The group's John Stone says this is shaping up to be "the rare election in which the environment is the issue."

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'The economic issue is important but it will take care of itself, global warming won't.'

--Simply put

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Stone says never has attention to the environment been more necessary, but he says the opportunity for an informed national debate on Canada's response to global warming is slipping away.

Group stresses seriousness of climate issue

The letter, signed by a who's who of Canada's top climate experts, says "it seems people have simply no idea how serious this issue is" even though it's clear the public accepts that global warming is a threat.

"Global warming is a problem that must be dealt with now, before it's too late," says the letter. "Any further delay will only increase the risks of damage and costs of action.

"The world needs to start down a path of greenhouse-gas reduction to avert the most serious consequences of global warming."

Even if atmospheric greenhouse gases are stabilized at current levels, it says, the Arctic would still go ice free in the summer, between 10 and 25 per cent of the world's species would still be committed to extinction, and weather will continue to become more extreme.

Many of the letter's signatories are research scientists who depend on federal granting agencies for the bulk of their funding.

But David Schindler, who won Canada's top science prize in 2001, says the scientists are confident that granting agencies will continue to support good science on its merits and on the basis of professional peer review rather than politics.

"Regardless, this is not a moment for any Canadian to be timid," Schindler said. "This is an urgent issue and I am proud to side with so many scientists who are willing to stand up for what they believe in."