Impact of climate change more visible in Northern Ontario, says environmental commissioner

A round of recent Ford government isn't stopping the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dr. Dianne Saxe, from touring Northern Ontario to talk about climate change. Saxe will be in Sudbury Tuesday.

Dr. Saxe will continue her mandate as the environmental commissioner until she's told to stop.

Ontario's Environment Commissioner Diane Saxe still touring Northern Ontario despite the elimination of her position by the Ford government. (Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario)

A recent round of Ford government cuts isn't stopping the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dr. Dianne Saxe, from touring Northern Ontario to talk about climate change.

Saxe will be in Sudbury Tuesday, hosted by four local organizations, Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, reThink Green, Citizens' Climate Lobby and Sudbury Naturalists.

Her presentation on climate change in Northern Ontario is at the Vale Living with Lakes Centre at 6:30 p.m.

Saxe said there are some wonderful groups in Sudbury who are very interested in these issues and seem to be doing some good work.

"It (climate change) is a shared responsibility and we all need to step up and speak up and work together, otherwise there's not going to be a happy ending," said Saxe.

Environmental programs cut

In November, Ford announced the elimination of the three independent officers of the Ontario legislature - the environmental commissioner, the child advocate and the French language services commissioner.

The environmental commissioner is the province's environmental watchdog, who advises on the Environmental Bill of Rights and reports on Ontario's progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy conservation.

Ontario was once on the right track in reducing fossil fuel emissions, said Sax. In 2016 the province had the lowest levels of climate pollution since they began keeping records in 1990.

However just in the last six months, many environmental programs to help improve energy and reduce fossil fuel emissions have been cut by the province.

Changing climate in Sudbury

The effects of climate change are being felt all over the world, but especially here in Northern Ontario, says Saxe.

"Northern Ontario is warming faster than the world average and faster than the Ontario average, so some of the impacts are showing up faster," she said.

One noticeable change is the predictability of the winter weather.

"Cold weather, deep snow and then rain and then cold weather again, so that you get ice formation, you get open water running when you don't expect open water," said Saxe about the unpredictable weather that was experienced in Sudbury over the holidays.

"Also forest fires are a much bigger risk in the north than in the south, we're starting to see more wild fires around the world as forests become drier and fire seasons are longer," she said.

Southern Ontario is also feeling similar effects of climate change, but they are becoming more visible, more quickly in the north.

"Climate change is a classic example of a collective problem to which we must have collective solutions, I do always encourage audiences to speak up and to speak to political representatives about the issues that concern them and to work for collective solutions, these are not things that individuals can solve entirely by themselves," said Saxe.

There are two important steps in response to climate change, says Saxe, one is dramatically reducing fossil fuels and the other is preparing for the change that's coming.

If we don't reduce our fossil fuel emissions, the changes that will occur will likely be too big for any of us to adapt to, she says.

"We can make a lot of things better by focusing on reducing fossil fuel use."

And once her position as the province's environmental watchdog officially ends, Saxe says there will be a big loss in environmental accountability. 

"For now we continue to do our work in accordance with the statutory mandate that we now have," said Saxe.