ACT Release: December 3, 2008

For Immediate Release
December 3, 2008

BC must act now to save the last great refuge of biodiversity in North America, warns SFU team

Vancouver, BC – The BC government must move faster to protect the richest and most diverse ecosystems in Canada from the ravages of climate change, or thousands of animal and plant species will be threatened.

Already under siege from human activity, BC is “a biological ark” for more than 70 per cent of North American plant and animal species, according to policy analyst Dr. Jon O’Riordan and researcher Eric Kimmel, who authored the report on behalf of Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT).

Titled Climate Adaptation and Biodiversity: An Ecological and Community Perspective, it concludes that within the next 60 years, BC’s ecosystems will lose the capacity to adapt to climate change, which is rapidly transforming the landscape of this last great repository of biodiversity in North America.

“What’s perhaps not clear in the climate change debate is what’s at stake here in BC,” says Jon O’Riordan, a former deputy minister in the province’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development. “BC is the last refuge for most of the biodiversity in North America. Our province is literally the biological ark for more than 70 per cent of the species on the continent. Current government policies, although moving in the right direction, just can’t handle the double threat of human and now climate impact.”

The authors make 14 recommendations designed to avert a biodiversity catastrophe. They call for the province to bring all land and water decisions in BC under a single agency to accelerate the transition to a proactive, ecosystem-based approach to resource management. Also among the recommendations: an ambitious call for a transition to an “ecosystem-based” economy that assigns real value to ecosystem-based goods and services.

The authors conclude that current government policies designed to address threats to plants and animals are reactive, operating on a species-by-species basis, and say we need to protect entire ecosystems from climate change that will see temperatures rise between 2 and 7 degrees over the next 80 years, with a 50 per cent decrease in precipitation in the summer and 25 per cent increase in the winter.

These major ecosystems are already under pressure from human activity and habitat fragmentation. The additional pressure from climate change could result, the authors conclude, in “increased disease outbreaks, increased wildfires drought stress and the loss of ecological function,” as well as the loss of a vital spectrum of ecological goods and services such as flood control, clean drinking water, carbon storage, climate moderation, not to mention spiritual and cultural value.

The authors acknowledge that, to its credit, the BC government is aware that current policies for managing land and water are drawing down natural capital and efforts are underway to make the transition toward an ecosystems-based regulatory system. But because they are based on the natural range of climate variation in normal ranges of temperature and precipitation, many current policies are being rendered out-of-date by rapid climate change.

At the same time, the government’s conservation efforts are scattered across several ministries, departments and agencies. The report calls for a single agency to be established by 2012 to make all land and water decision in accordance with ecosystem principles to avoid individual, fragmented, decisions made by separate agencies.

Finally, the report concludes, protection of ecosystems should proceed in terms of an economic model that considers the value of ecosystems goods – such as food fiber, water and air – and services, such as carbon storage, temperature moderation water and air quality, flood reduction and water conservation, as well as recreation, aesthetic, cultural and spiritual values.

“As climate changes and as ecosystems become less resilient, the impact on this wide range of ecological goods and services will be increased,” says O’Riordan. “Prudent governance will start to adapt changes to meet these challenges now rather than waiting for them to become so significant that they will require more drastic action later, if it will not then be too late for any actions at all.”

The report includes findings from ACT’s Communities in Jeopardy: Plant, Animal and Human conference, held September 2007 to April 2008. Part of the first of ten six-month research sessions hosted by ACT, the conference was attended by community leaders, NGO, First Nations, government, industry and academic participants, and explored key challenges posed by climate change on ecosystems west of the Rockies, with the goal of developing policy recommendations for sustainable community responses. The conference was presented with the support of the Bullitt Foundation; the Wilburforce Foundation funded the six-month session.

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About ACT

SFU’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) is an initiative that aims to help government, industry and communities develop sustainable responses to climate change. The five-year program consists of a series of ten six-month sessions in which a cross-section of thought leaders from industry, academia, government, communities, NGOs and First Nations from across Canada and around the world come together to examine climate change, its impacts on communities and industry, and viable policy options. Session topics include extreme events, ecosystem shifts, health risks, fresh water supply, crop and food adaptation, energy production and distribution, new technologies, sea level rise, displaced populations, and linkages between these issues.

For more information visit www.sfu.ca/act

For more information, or to register your attendance, please contact:

Almira Bardai
AVID Communications
Tel: 604-568-7214
Email: almira@avidcommunications.ca

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