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Canadians face a high economic cost from the impact of a warming global climate, and the country should act quickly to reduce the financial price by investing in adaptation measures, a federal advisory panel warns.
In a report released Thursday, the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy forecasts that climate change will have a variety of increasingly harmful impacts, from flooding in low-lying coastal regions and threats to Canada's timber supply, to health problems caused by worsening air quality.
"We are already affected by climate change and will be by the carbon already in the atmosphere, so we already face physical changes to our environment and economic costs as a result," said David McLaughlin, chief executive at the roundtable.
"The sooner we move to invest in the right kind of adaptation strategies where these impacts are going to be the greatest, then the better we will be in a position to reduce those economic impacts and make those costs lower to Canadians."
He said the world needs to quickly achieve an international treaty to limit the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, in order to reduce the cost of climate change impacts. Countries will gather in Durban, South Africa, this year in another attempt to reach an accord on a global strategy, but they face serous division and the real potential of the United Nations-based process collapsing.
The national roundtable is a federally appointed agency that conducts research and provides policy advice. Among the panelists are several former Conservative politicians, including Bob Mills, who retired as an MP in 2008, and vice-chair Mark Parent, a former environment minister in Nova Scotia's Conservative government.
Under a high emission scenario, the national roundtable calculates that Canada will face climate-related costs equivalent to 1 percent of its economy by 2050 and 2 percent of GDP by 2080. And there is a 25 percent risk the costs could be far higher, as well as a similar probability they would be much lower.
Even a low-emissions scenario would result in economic costs equal to 0.8 percent of GDP by 2050, and nearly 1.5 percent by 2080.
But the roundtable said the impacts are already being felt with melting Arctic ice, drier forests and more extreme weather.
In the report, the panel urged the federal government to invest in expanding the country's expertise in the economics of climate-change impacts and adaptation, in research on the costs and benefits of specific adaptation options.
Environment Minister Peter Kent has come under fired from opposition critics for proposed cuts to his department's ability to monitor potential impacts of climate change, including ozone levels in the Arctic.
McLaughlin said he did not want to comment on internal changes at Environment Canada. "But our report does talk about the importance of having better data on climate change and focusing on what these economic impacts could be so we're in a better position to deal with it." he said.
"We need a Canadian approach to this because the impacts of climate change on Canada are going to be different than what they will be anywhere else."
The panel is also encouraging corporate leaders to increase their understanding of the looming impacts from climate change in order to mobilize the private sector to take action on cost-effective adaptation.