Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement

Fall 2010 Report Press Conference—7 December 2010

Good morning. Our Report today examines a number of areas, ranging from oil spills from ships to fresh water monitoring and climate change impacts. It points to some common and long-standing weaknesses in the way the government has been managing environmental issues, from a lack of critical data to inadequate information about key environmental threats, to a lack of plans to tackle those threats.

Over the years, the government has made repeated commitments to take the lead in protecting the environment and moving toward sustainable development.

Sustained leadership is necessary to successfully address these weaknesses that we have reported time and time again.

Oil Spills from Ships

The first chapter in the Report examines the government’s readiness to respond to oil spills from ships. Every day, on average, at least one oil spill is reported to the Canadian Coast Guard. Fortunately, most are small. However, given the findings of this audit, I am troubled that the government is not ready to respond to a major spill.

We found that the Canadian Coast Guard’s national emergency management plan is out-of-date, and the organization has not fully assessed its response capacity in over a decade.

Although Transport Canada assesses private sector response organizations to verify their readiness to respond to spills, a similar process is not in place for the Coast Guard.

We also found that because the Coast Guard does not have a reliable system to track spills, it cannot accurately determine the number of spills that occur each year, their size and their environmental impacts.

We note several areas of concern, from incomplete risk assessments to out-of-date emergency response plans. These must be addressed to ensure the federal government is ready to respond to any ship-source oil spill occurring in Canadian waters.

Monitoring Water Resources

In Chapter 2, we examine how Environment Canada is tracking the quality and quantity of Canada’s fresh water through its long-term water-monitoring programs. Environment Canada has been running the federal government’s water monitoring programs for 40 years, yet it has not taken such basic steps as defining its responsibilities and responding to the threats to Canada’s water resources that it has identified.

Environment Canada is not monitoring water quality on most federal lands, and it does not know what monitoring—if any—is being done by other federal departments on those lands.

The Department has assessed the changing risks that threaten Canada’s freshwater resources, but it has not adjusted its monitoring networks to respond to industrial development, climate change and population growth in certain regions.

Environment Canada should update its assessment of the threats facing Canada’s water resources, from climate change to impacts on human health, so that it can manage its network to understand and respond to the greatest threats.

Adapting to Climate Impacts

In Chapter 3, we focus on the federal role in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

The government has stated that climate change impacts are inevitable, and are already happening. The health of Canadians and Canada’s natural environment, communities, and economy are vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, and the government is not ready to respond to them.

The lack of a federal strategy and action plan has hindered departments’ efforts at coordinating actions to address the effects of climate change. The departments we selected for analysis have identified the risks they may face because of climate change, but they have taken little concrete action to adapt to the potential impacts.

Adapting to climate change requires sustained leadership that includes a federal strategy and plan comprising concrete actions to both inform Canadians of climate impacts and help them adapt to our changing climate.

Environmental Petitions

The final chapter is the annual report on environmental petitions. The petitions process was created in 1995 to provide Canadians with a simple yet formal way to raise concerns and get answers from federal ministers on questions about environmental issues.

We received 18 petitions this year. Health impacts of environmental issues was once again the topic most often raised, followed by toxic substances, fisheries, and water.

I will be pleased to answer your questions now.