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2006 September Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

September 2006 Report—Chapter 2

Insert 2.1—Adapting to climate change impacts on Canadian communities, sectors, and regions

Toronto's heat-health alert system

The number of excessively hot summer days is expected to rise in Toronto. The urban environment—extensive pavement and high-density buildings and structures made of concrete and glass—exacerbates the problem by re-radiating heat. Excessive heat can cause illness and premature death, and it promotes the spread of certain diseases and other adverse outcomes associated with climate change. Based on data from 1954 to 2000, the Toronto Medical Officer of Health estimates that on average, 120 premature deaths in Toronto each year can be attributed to heat. In 1999, Toronto Public Health began to develop a hot-weather response system to protect public health and prevent premature deaths. The Toronto Heat-Health Alert system is based on the historical relationship between heat-related deaths and specific weather types. Environment Canada daily weather forecasts are analyzed to determine when the Toronto Medical Officer of Health should issue a "heat alert" or "extreme heat alert." An extreme heat alert issued by the Medical Officer of Health triggers a co-ordinated response among key city agencies and community partners. The response includes media announcements about ways to beat the heat, activation of a Heat Information Line, outreach to socially isolated individuals and other vulnerable groups, opening of public cooling centres, and home visits by Emergency Medical Services. Longer-term adaptation strategies include urban reforestation and a move to reflective surfaces on roofs and roads.

Melting permafrost destabilizes northern infrastructure

Abundant mineral, oil, and gas resources position Canada's North for economic expansion. Natural Resources Canada estimates the value of diamond production in 2005 at $1.7 billion. But development of northern natural resources is challenged by inadequate transportation infrastructure, a challenge that grows more difficult as northern temperatures rise and permafrost melts. Temperature increases of 4o to 5oC predicted for the Western Arctic by 2080 are likely to affect a large portion of the total permafrost area. Melting of permafrost reduces the load-bearing strength of the land, causes the ground surface to sink, and threatens the stability of roads, airport runways, pipelines, water supplies, waste-water disposal structures, and older buildings. A temperature rise could cause structural damage to infrastructure foundations. An "ice road" is a temporary highway using the surface of frozen rivers and lakes. The "ice road" season could be shortened substantially. Stabilizing existing infrastructure and developing new construction methods to adapt to changing conditions are critical to maintaining ground access in Canada's North.

Prairie droughts threaten agricultural production

The Canadian Prairies have always been susceptible to drought, and many climate models predict that droughts will become more frequent and widespread as temperatures continue to rise. Drought uses up soil moisture and surface waters in the summer, increases the risk of crop failure, and contributes to soil erosion and desertification. Its effects may be too great to be offset by the occasional wet year that climatic extremes are likely to include. The economic fallout of a severe drought can be devastating. In 2001, for example, Alberta livestock inventories plummeted because feed and water were scarce, some crops were almost completely lost, and net farm income was zero in Alberta and at a deficit in Saskatchewan. Crop insurance payments in these two provinces skyrocketed from about $600 million in 2001 to nearly $1.9 billion the following year. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration has been helping farmers adapt to drought in a variety of ways since its creation over 70 years ago. Supporting farmers in the future could require far-sighted adaptation strategies to deal with potential long-term effects of climate change, such as prolonged drought.

Beetles ravage British Columbia's pine forests

The mountain pine beetle lays its eggs under the bark of lodgepole pine trees, found throughout western North America. Emerging larvae feed on the inner bark of the tree, and bluestain fungi introduced by the beetle discolours the tree's sapwood. Larvae and fungi together kill most infested trees. Unseasonable cold temperatures in the fall, winter, and spring are needed to control populations; hot and dry summers leave trees more susceptible to attack. In the last few decades, B.C. has seen a change in climatic conditions, such as warmer winters that have allowed the mountain pine beetle populations to spread. As the climate continues to change, it is likely that the mountain pine beetle will continue to expand into new habitats. The current outbreak in B.C.'s west–central interior is the largest in the province's history, affecting 8.7 million hectares of forest in 2005, altering wildlife habitat and reducing biodiversity, and threatening the livelihoods of some 30 communities and 25,000 families. Accelerated harvesting allows dead trees to be cut before they lose value, but it will take many decades to rebuild the supply. In 2002 the federal government announced the six-year, $40-million Mountain Pine Beetle Initiative aimed at studying the impacts of infestations and how to mitigate them. It provided techniques and funding to rehabilitate forestlands and reduce the risk of new outbreaks and included research on the potential effects of a changing climate on outbreaks.

Total area affected by the mountain pine beetle in western Canada