OTTAWA – A United Nations-led assessment of the environment is warning that extreme weather is on the rise around the world, and critics warn federal government cuts are eroding Canada’s ability to cope.
Scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say flooding, droughts, storms and devastating heat waves are becoming more and more frequent, hitting the health and the pocketbooks of Canadians.
“We see a vulnerability in ways most of us never think about,” said Gordon McBean of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at the University of Western Ontario, and an author of the panel report.
Municipal governments are paying millions for road repairs due to flooding, while insurance companies are paying out hundreds of millions in claims for home repairs and wet basements, he said. The scientists say governments in Canada and around the world should be taking precautions to deal with the consequences.
But federal funding cuts mean a central organization that supports research on the effects of changing weather is poised to close its doors in four-months’ time.
The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences http://www.cfcas.org/has not had its funding renewed, and will shut down in March, spokesman Denny Alexander confirmed. The foundation provides research grants for weather and climate research, but its funding was cut dramatically and then folded into another organization in the last budget.
The foundation “is deeply concerned by the inadequate level of support proposed for weather and climate research in the 2011 federal budget,” Alexander said in an email, adding that the funding is less than half what is needed to sustain the current level of research.
Environment Minister Peter Kent recently announced a three-year extension to $30 million in annual funding for adaptation to climate change. And scientists from his department participated in and approved of the intergovernmental panel’s research and conclusions.
But Green Leader Elizabeth May says the funding is “not even a drop in the bucket” compared to costs that are already being racked up by governments dealing with extreme weather.
She pointed to hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for the latest drought in the Prairies, to build a new highway in the North, and to shore up infrastructure to deal with storm surges in harbours.
Indeed, government-picked advisers at the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy have told the minister that warmer temperatures will cost Canada and its people about $5 billion a year by 2020 and will soar to as much as $43 billion a year by 2050.
The intergovernmental panel found that the frequency of extremely hot days could rise by a factor of 10 at a global level. It also found that wild weather was already on a steep increase, causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damages every year and taking many lives, especially in poor countries. In rich countries, loss of life is less frequent because infrastructure is sturdier. Economic costs, however, are higher, the researchers said.
Canada is expected to face far drier weather in the West, but more flooding in the East, erosion on most coasts, and heat waves across the land. But Canadian scientists involved in the research say climate change is not the only thing to blame for the pending damage.
Human factors can be held responsible for more frequent sky-high temperatures, the panel says. But the escalation in costs also stems from a growing population, and that population’s tendency to accumulate more and more material things, said insurance expert and economist Paul Kovacs.
“At the end of the day, we can’t exclude the role of climate change, but it is not the primary factor,” he told reporters.
The intergovernmental panel has won a Nobel Prize for its work in the past, but then landed in huge controversy after minor errors led climate-change skeptics to question its credibility. The assessment published Friday is the result of several years of research and negotiations among hundreds of scientists and governments. It is the first such global research into extreme weather events and their effects. The findings were presented at a meeting in Uganda.