Warming is draining Canada's rivers, lakes

Temperatures rising fastest in North, environmentalists warn

Mike De Souza, with files from Juliet O'Neill with files from The Canadian Press

Monday, November 13, 2006

//www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=1ad4ee5a-e977-4d22-be71-96def448a658&k=72761

NAIROBI, Kenya - Canada is being especially hard hit by climate change and its freshwater reserves are in danger, a study released today by two environmental groups warns, giving Environment Minister Rona Ambrose something else to deal with as she steps onto the international stage at a United Nations climate-change conference to sell her government's plan to fight global warming.

Based on reviews of scientific data, the study from World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Sage Centre shows how water levels in Canada are dropping while average temperatures are climbing much faster than elsewhere in the world.

"Our review of all the climate change impact assessments in the Great Lakes region shows that there is a large body of research that supports the point that water levels are likely to decline under climate change," reads the report, prepared by climate scientists, James Bruce and Tina Tin.

The report says water levels in the Great Lakes could decrease by as much as 1.18 metres, and minimum flows in the northwestern Athabasca River could decrease by 10 per cent in the coming decades. While the lower levels in the Great Lakes could reduce electricity production by more than $300 million, the losses in the Athabasca River could stunt development of oilsands, which require water to produce oil.

According to Environment Canada figures cited in the report, average Canadian temperatures have risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years. Northern British Columbia, the Yukon and the Mackenzie Basin experienced warming of more than 2 C, compared with a 0.8 C global-warming average across the planet since 1900.

"Canadians actually don't understand that we're already warming at twice the global rate and that we're more vulnerable, particularly in Western Canada and the northwest than many places on Earth," said Louise Comeau, director of the Sage climate project. "We need to be more aware of that reality."

She said provincial governments should develop water-sharing agreements to protect their natural resources.

The report also warned about a vicious circle of problems in central Canada due to the decreased hydro capacity in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region, severe hot spells in summer and more potential brownouts in peak periods of energy demand.

Ms. Ambrose is scheduled to arrive in Nairobi tonight for the annual UN conference, where representatives from 165 other countries will gather for the week-long meeting.

She could find herself fending off criticism from political leaders from Europe who have warned Canada that they expect it to honour its international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change to reduce greenhouse gases by six per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Ms. Ambrose has argued that the targets agreed to by the previous Liberal government were unrealistic and unattainable.

In its place, she introduced an alternative plan that sets a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 65 per cent by 2050.

Quebec Environment Minister Claude Bechard, who was scheduled to arrive last night, is also expected to stir trouble by contradicting the federal government's position, and arguing in favour of honouring the short-term commitments of the Kyoto Protocol.

On the eve of her arrival in Nairobi, Ms. Ambrose dismissed the heavy, personal criticism she has already faced as "just garbage -- politics."

And she said she's not worried that critics might sabotage the government's message at the conference.

In an interview on CTV's Question Period, she said Canada is just one of many countries having difficulty meeting the Kyoto targets. Canada remained committed to the Kyoto process all the same. "We are not isolated," she said.

"Canada has one message to deliver to the international community, which is that we are in the Kyoto Protocol, we are constructive members and we are taking measures immediately here back home to start to contribute to a decrease in emissions," she said.

But derision has rained down on the Tories for their plan, with a CBC-Environics poll suggesting 70 per cent of Canadians believe they aren't being tough enough in their effort to rescue the environment.

The environment minister will be watched closely at this conference.

She was thought to be one of the brightest and most capable of the people Mr. Harper selected for his first cabinet.

But her tenure has been marked by tumult in her office and a sense that, at a minimum, Mr. Harper believes she needs guidance from the PMO in handling her duties.

Ms. Ambrose's international debut was inauspicious. She arrived as chairwoman of a two-week meeting in Germany and stayed for a single day before withdrawing in the face of criticism of Canada's Kyoto commitments.

She decided to monitor a followup meeting in Switzerland from a distance -- her office in Ottawa.

Mr. Harper, for his part, has said over and over that the Kyoto targets set for Canada are unachievable. He also rejects the purchase of international emissions credits as a means of closing the gap.

But with polls suggesting the environment could become a ballot-box issue -- especially in the key electoral battleground of Quebec -- Ms. Ambrose will have to show flexibility in Nairobi or run the risk of alienating voters.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006


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