The argument that Canada will stand to benefit in some ways from a changing climate isn’t entirely false — but any gains will be offset by the consequences of more erratic weather patterns and costs to replace Canadian infrastructure, one expert says.
A report earlier this summer by Moody’s Analytics made headlines for its assessment of a report by the UN’s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which the analytics firm made the case that while many countries will suffer a heavy cost from climate change, Canada could see benefits.
Those would most likely come in the form of more arable land, a longer growing season, and the potential to produce more crops.
Joe Oliver, the former Conservative finance minister, wrote an opinion column this month in which he used that assessment by Moody’s to argue that Canada is wasting its time trying to limit climate change and should instead be working on a national plan to deal with what scientists say is the result — extreme weather.
But that quickly prompted criticisms online that such an approach ignored the consequences of a warming climate on the rest of the world, of which Canada is only one out of 194 others, many of which are poorer and identified by the Moody’s report as being more likely to suffer significantly from climate change.
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Oliver repeated that argument in an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, saying it makes no sense to try to slow the pace of climate change when the focus, as he sees it, should be on addressing the impacts of extreme weather.
“There’s some things we can do and some things we can’t do, and we should focus on what we can do,” he said.
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Kai Chan, a professor with the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, pushed back at that.
Chan said while it’s true there will likely be more arable land and a longer growing season in Canada as a result of a warming climate, there will also be significant consequences that would prevent Canadians from actually reaping the benefits of those changes.
“There are going to be some benefits for Canada to be sure but the way that Joe Oliver has presented it is really misleading,” Chan said.
“It’s true that there is more arable land but as precipitation patterns change, we’re going to see less precipitation in some of those important growing areas, much longer droughts, more risk of forest fires, greater risk of floods.”
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He added that the impact will also hit some of the most vulnerable people in the country — those who are already under-served by the lack of infrastructure in the North.
“As the permafrost melts, the basically frozen ground underneath, then the buildings, buckle, things like bridges and roads buckle,” Chan explained.
“So there’s going to be lots of costs associated with climate change. There are going to be a few benefits. One major question is whether those who are bearing the costs are really being compensated for that, and I don’t expect the benefits are actually going to outweigh the costs when you take a whole perspective to it.”
Combating climate change has been a key global and domestic policy focus for the governing Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It’s also set to be a major focus of the upcoming federal election campaign following several years of high-profile natural disasters including floods and forest fires that have caused billions of dollars in damage — $1.9 billion to insured properties last year alone, according to one report.
And despite the political debate around measures like the carbon tax, an assessment of global climate policies last week by the Climate Action Network argued Canada’s policies are the worst in the G7, and about as effective as those of U.S. President Donald Trump.
That’s because they do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the target levels laid out in the Paris Accord, the group said.
That goal is to cut emissions by 2030 to 30 per cent below what they were in 2005.