A new study from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) is arguing that the effects of a warming world may cost Canada upwards of $5B by 2020, and will increase dramatically afterwards. The economic toll could rise anywhere between $21B and $43B annually by the 2050s.
Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canadais focused on how Canada can best adapt to global warming and its impacts, as opposed to examining ways in which Canada can work towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet rather than sounding defeatist in tone, the report does aim towards confronting reality, something many find difficult: namely, if the world is warming rapidly, and there will be consequences of this, how best should Canada – and individual Canadians – begin to adapt to the changes?
And while the focus is on adaptation, NRTEE does indicate that limiting the effects of global warming should be a major priority for the federal government. In other words, NRTEE accepts that the world is warming and that we can and should do something to lessen the increase in global temperature: but accepting that some measure of warming is inevitable as a result of the GHG emissions that have already occurred, how can we best be prepared to survive and adapt?
They argue that,
global mitigation leading to a low climate change future reduces costs to Canada in the long term. This reinforces the argument that Canada would benefit environmentally and economically from a post-2012 international climate arrangement that systematically reduced emissions from all emitters — including Canada — over time.
The economic impacts of global warming will be more severe the longer we take to adapt to them, or move towards lessening their severity. It also argues that adapting to global warming will be more cost-effective than trying to deal with its consequences too late. Prevention is more effective than reaction.
However, not everyone sees the report as critical of Canada or the current government. Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, reported last week in the House of Commons that “the government was already on top of the situation, noting its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases in Canada roughly to 1990 levels within the next 10 to 15 years,” according to the Montreal Gazette. This, in addition to “$58 million in funding over two years, announced in the 2011 budget, to help Canadians adapt to climate change.”
$58M over two years will likely be cold comfort to the communities built on permafrost that are seeing the ground soften below their homes, or the communities built at sea-level that could be impacted by rising ocean levels.
“Our analysis shows that the costs of climate change on people, places, and prosperity will vary and be uneven across the country,” the report states. The effects of ail quality in urban centres; timber supply in BC and Ontario; and the sea-level communities in PEI and BC that will be most at risk are all indicators of how Canadians need to think about adapting to global warming.
And while it was beyond the scope of the report, there is some mention made of the cost to ecosystems and species, both those at risk and those that will be put at risk because of our warming world. The report does well to think about how best Canadians can adapt, but we have a responsibility to the animal and plant species that we share Canada with to do as little harm as possible. Some species will adapt, to be be sure – but species demise could be a very real possibility of global warming.
Yet according to Kent, a former anchorman-turned-political talking head, Canada is pleasantly “moving forward to reduce greenhouse gases, and at the same time we’re investing in programs to help Canadians adapt to climate change,” Mr. Kent told reporters.
As reported in the New York Times, “today’s report merely echoes what our government has long recognized, and that is the importance of adaptation to climate change.” But according to John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, “I’m not aware of any actual investments in adapting other than trying to produce oil in the high Arctic, if you call that adaptation.”Bennett told the Times that “this government refuses to recognize that there’s a cost to not acting.”
A warming world will have costs beyond economic tolls, that much is certain. But the message seems to be that Canada – and other nations – will pay a price regardless of whether they choose adaptation or not.
Yet the total cost is up to each nation to decide.