B.C. forecast: Drought, forest fires, storms

B.C.forecast: Drought, forest fires, storms

11 March 2008

published by www.canada.com

Canada — Climate change is already causing dramatic changes in B.C. and, ifleft unchecked, could threaten the province with increased drought, forestfires, storms and a variety of other challenges, says a new report quietlyreleased by the federal government.

“[Climate change] is affecting us all now. It’s occurring,” saidIan Walker, associate professor in the University of Victoria’s geographydepartment, and one of the lead authors of the comprehensive national report’ssection on B.C.

“There are a lot of people that still don’t buy into the climate change message and I really don’t think it’s a message anymore, it’s a reality,” he added.

But while the B.C. portion of the report outlines potential scenarios ranging from water shortages to health threats such as the increased risk of red tides, Walker said he and the other authors tried not to overstate the potential impacts.

“We really did try not to sensationalize the negative impacts too much and, where we could, show examples of good steps of adaptation,” he said, adding the report documents some ways specific communities are beginning to adapt to climate change.

“The report is a really good resource for anyone who wants to learn more, in a fairly straightforward way, about what is happening in their region and what’s being done about it,” he said.

The report warns that hotter, drier B.C. summers will lead to more intense forest fires.

Walker added the report, From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a ChangingClimate 2007, has been complete since October 2007.

Despite that, the report was not released until Friday when it was quietlyposted to a section of the Natural Resources Canada website.

Premier Gordon Campbell could not be reached for comment Monday about thereport, and a spokesman with Metro Vancouver did not return calls.

Environment Minister Barry Penner said Monday evening the report “reinforceswhy it’s so important for us to follow through on our climate change agenda inB.C.”

Penner added that in addition to taking measures to reduce greenhouse gasemissions, the province is also working on ways to adapt to the changes that aretaking place, as well as those that may be on the horizon.

For example, he said, the province has spent $620 million on projects relatedto the mountain pine beetle. He added the government also recently committed$100 million over 10 years to improve flood protection.

Campbell’s government has said it will introduce a carbon tax this July, andhas promised to release its climate plan within the coming weeks.

Those measures follow legislation passed last year to reduce greenhouse gasemissions 33 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050.

Among the key findings in the federal report is that climate change will makeB.C. wetter during winter and spring, but drier during summer in the south andon the coast, with prolonged droughts and water shortages during peak demandperiods across the province.

“The issue of water shortages is quite a serious one,” said Walker,adding such shortages could affect everything from agriculture to fisheries tothe production of hydroelectricity.

The report also notes that B.C.’s glaciers — a major source of fresh waterfor Western Canada — are retreating “at rates unprecedented in the last8,000 years,” and could be mostly gone within 100 years.

“Decreasing summer flows resulting from reduced glacier melt, combinedwith increasing summer water demands to meet rising irrigation requirements andenergy needs for cooling, presents one of the most significant water resourceschallenges for B.C., a province seemingly blessed with water,” says thereport, which also raises concerns about rising sea levels.

It says during the 20th century, sea levels rose four cm in Vancouver, eightcm in Victoria and 12 cm in Prince Rupert, and dropped by 13 cm in Tofino.

“For perspective, an arbitrary one-metre rise in sea level wouldinundate more than 4,600 hectares of farmland and more than 15,000 hectares ofresidential urban areas in British Columbia,” it says, adding about 220,000people live at or below sea level in Richmond, Delta and Metro Vancouver.

The report also says climate change could lead to a variety of naturaldisasters that could threaten infrastructure and economic prosperity.

“Windstorms, forest fires, storm surges, coastal erosion, landslides,snowstorms, hail, droughts and floods currently have major economic impacts onB.C.’s communities, industries and environments,” it says.

“In low-lying coastal areas, certain risks will be magnified bysea-level rise and increasing storminess.”

The report goes on to say the damage from these natural disasters is alreadymounting, as the provincial cost of dealing with provincial emergencies hasrisen from a yearly average of $10 million to $86 million within a period ofabout six years.

Other issues raised in the report include threats to B.C.’s forests fromfires and pests such as the mountain pine beetle.

The report even says climate change could have an affect on tourism, withforest fires potentially keeping people from certain areas of the province andreduced levels of snow, and receding glaciers, limiting the number of skiingdays at B.C.’s resorts.

The report does point out, however, adaptation is already beginning to takeplace.

For example, it points out that Whistler/Blackcomb already has golf andbiking facilities that can attract people when conditions are not suitable forskiing.

It adds that Delta is already considering the effects of rising sea levels ina re-evaluation of its dike design, as well as in the development of an adaptivemanagement plan for the expansion of the Delta Port.

That said, the report says more needs to be done.

“Most climate-related adaptations in B.C. are reactive responses to such’surprises’ as the unprecedented mountain pine beetle outbreak or the extremeforest fires of 2003,” it says.

“Examples of adaptation planned specifically for climate change arescarce.”

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