Technology & Science

Adapt policies to climate change, scientists say

Canada needs to take projections of rising temperatures and sea levels into account when planning everything from national infrastructure to health policy, a group of environmental scientists said Tuesday.

Canada needs to take projections of rising temperatures and sea levels into account when planning everything from national infrastructure to health policy, a group of environmental scientists said Tuesday.

"We need to factor climate risks into every area it is relevant," said Ian Burton, an international expert on natural-hazards management and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto,who wasone of five contributors to a recent UN-led report on climate change adaptation speaking in Ottawa on Tuesday.

He said Canada needs to invest now in buildings and infrastructure such as drainage systems and bridges to help offset the effects of climate change, particularly coastal storms and hurricanes.

"These are investments that … have to last 50 years, so we need to start now," he told CBC News Online.

Burton said every level of government needs to consider these changes when developing social and economic policies. He suggested the first step in this process is developing a national strategy for accumulating information on the changes to our country.

"We can access the information from the international community, but we need our own climate data," he said. "Much of our infrastructure for collecting information is out of date or broken up," he said.

Although more and better information is needed, he said, this should not excuse delaying action on infrastructure planning.

Burton spoke on Tuesday along with Canadian researchers Gordon McBean, Paul Kovacs, Don Forbes and Chris Furgal, all of whom contributed to the IPCC report.

He said in order to effectively deal with climate change, citizens and governments need to think of the solution as a two-pronged approach involving both the long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gases and the more immediate solutions of adapting to future changes.

"The talk in Canada has been very much dominated by reducing greenhouse gases, but the issue of how to prepare for the effects of climate change has been relatively neglected," he said.

Vulnerable regions must adapt, says UN panel

On Friday the UN-led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a summary of the second of four reports on global warming.

The summary of the first report, released in February, predicted average worldwide temperatureincreases of between 1.8 and four degrees over the next century, with sea levels rising between 18 and 59 centimetres over the same time period.

The second report looks at the impacts of these changes and the adaptations needed for regions and areas that are particularly vulnerable.

The reportsaid up to 30 per cent of the Earth's species face an increased risk of extinction if global temperatures risetwo degreesabove the average in the 1980s and '90s. It also predicted that areas now suffering from water shortages will become even dryer, increasing the risk of hunger and disease, particularly in poorer regions like Africa.

For North America the summary warned of increased risk of damage to forests from fires, pests and diseases. It said coastal communities would face heightened threats from flooding, severe storms and the erosion of coastlines. And cities that currently experience heat waves will see an increase in their intensity and duration over the next century.

The reportalso predicted a short-term positive effect, as climate change would actually increase rain-fed agriculture in the next few decades in North America as warmer temperatures lengthened the growing season in some regions.