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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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CANADA A LEADER IN CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION

An interview with Don Lemmen, lead scientific editor of Natural Resources Canada's, Adaptation Report 2/5/13


This interview is part of our series on Sea Level Rise. After reviewing the scientific data behind assessments of sea level rise in Canada and the US, we are now looking at what concrete measures are being taken in Canada to manage risk in a changing climate.


Water Today

You are one of the lead authors of a report published in Canada by Natural Resources Canada, entitled ‘ From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate’, is this an academic report or does it contain practical information for planners and policy makers?

Don Lemmen
The main objective of this report is to provide decision-makers with a knowledge foundation to manage risk in a changing climate. It offers a synthesis of a vast body of scientific literature related to climate change, to enable them to make informed decisions. Through a primarily regional approach, it discusses current and future risks and opportunities that climate change presents to Canada, with a focus on human and managed systems.

Water Today
Is this the most current adaptation report available in Canada?

Don Lemmen
It is the last published one. We are currently working on an update to the 2008 report which we hope will be completed by the end of 2013 or early in 2014.

Water Today
Are these reports strictly federal initiatives or were the provinces and territories involved?

Don Lemmen
All of our assessments are collaborative projects. Many federal departments such as Environment Canada and Health Canada, as well as all provinces and territories, contribute as authors, advisors and reviewers. More broadly, the goal of Natural Resources Canada’s programming is to engage all these groups, and more, work with them and provide a practical sharing of experience.

Water Today

Was there any private sector cooperation or did you run into resistance in some sectors? Because of the possibility of added costs related to adaptation

Don Lemmen
I am not aware of any resistance. There is thirst for knowledge in the private sector. A need to understand the climate change risk factors involved in economic development. When you are planning an infrastructure project, there are many factors that come into play, regulations, industrial and environmental considerations, so factoring in climate change impacts just adds another dimension to consider.

Water Today

What are the main conclusions of the report?

Don Lemmen
The report contains 10 main conclusions. Among others, the report finds evidence of climate change impacts in every region of Canada, with particular vulnerabilities in resource-dependent and Aboriginal communities. This vulnerability is also magnified in the Arctic, where climate warming is causing permafrost degradation which threatens infrastructure, as well as water quality and quantity. The reports also finds that some adaptation is already occurring in Canada and that integrating climate change into existing planning processes, using risk management approaches, is an effective approach to adaptation.

Water Today

What are the main impacts of climate change on water?

Don Lemmen
Climate change is having a major impact on water resources in all regions of Canada; it affects the timing and volume of flows in lakes in rivers across the country. While water scarcity is the main issue in the southern Prairies, storm surges, coastal erosion and flooding, and groundwater salinization are major issues in the Atlantic Provinces. Changes in Great Lakes water levels are projected to be one of most significant impacts of changing climate in southern Ontario, with implications for water management, hydroelectricity generation, transportation, tourism and recreation and ecosystem sustainability.

Water Today

Can you give me concrete examples of climate adaptation initiatives in Canada?

Don Lemmen
There are many. The City Halifax for example has done detailed modeling work to evaluate the impact of sea level rise and storm surge flooding on Halifax Harbour, which will help determine the elevation of future structures in the Harbour. The City of Toronto has built high dykes along its rivers that are built in such a way as to be easily heightened if extreme water levels increase in the future. In Québec there have been comprehensive studies on the impacts of climate change on the timing and volumes of flow control in hydroelectric generation.

Water Today

When it comes to the impact of Sea Level Rise, as we see in Halifax. The aftermath of Sandy in the US has shown us the high cost of rebuilding. Is rebuilding the only option or does retreating make sense in some cases?

Don Lemmen
It depends entirely on a given situation. However, retreat may be difficult in that it has a heavy social dimension, few people will willingly agree to leave their home. On the other hand, rebuilding can be appropriate if it is done in a way that is climate resilient.

Water Today

What are the major barriers to implementing adaptation? In its synthesis, the report mentions limitations in awareness and availability of information and tools. What about regulations?

Don Lemmen
In some cases, regulatory frameworks can be perceived as an obstacle. For example, in forestry it was traditionally required to replant trees after a forest has been harvested. The replanting rules are precise as to distribution and variety. But as the climate changes, the optimal climate range for many species of trees is shifting, further north or upslope in mountainous areas. So revising regulations may provide opportunities for adaptation.

In the water sector, transboundary water agreements, where water apportionments are key clauses, are another good example where there may be a need to update regulation. Also, as climate change affects the timing and volume of streamflows, it alters how dams and reservoirs are operated. We saw this considered in the recent renegotiation of the Canada/Us Columbia River Treaty.

Water Today

Our current government is not widely known for making climate change a priority in its agenda. Where does Canada stand with regards to climate change adaptation, are we ahead of the curve or lagging behind?

Don Lemmen
I would say that all countries in the world are at a similar point in addressing adaptation. But I think that Canada is a true leader here. There is strong federal, regional and local cooperation. The Government of Canada has invested almost $150 million into adaptation programming between 2011 and 2016; there are some 10 federal departments and agencies involved in evaluating a wide range of issues related to climate change adaptation.

Water Today

How will the next Adaptation Report to be published in 2013 differ from the current one?

Don Lemmen
The update to the 2008 report will be organized by sectors, rather than by regions, which puts a different lense on the scientific information being presented. Chapters will address natural resources, food production, industry, natural environment and human health, with water resources being a major theme that cross-cuts all of the chapters.

NOTE: This research interview was reviewed by Don Lemmen to ensure the accuracy of the information.











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