A report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada has identified an urgent need for strong federal action on climate change adaptation, echoing the conclusions of ACT’s Summary report on Climate Change Adaptation & Extreme Weather.

The 2010 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development notes that, “to date no framework, strategy, or action plan has been completed on adaptation, nor has a plan to adapt to the impacts of climate change been incorporated into any other broader environment and sustainable development policies or strategies.

In 2007, the government directed Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada to prepare, by December 2008, an adaptation framework explaining the government’s role with respect to adaptation and assisting it in establishing priorities. Since 2007, interdepartmental consultations on the development of an adaptation framework have taken place.”

The only departments mandated for consultation on the framework were those receiving funding under the adaptation theme of the Clean Air Agenda, a four-year, $1.9 billion program established in 2007. Most of the funding was directed to emissions reduction, with a mere 4.5 percent of the funds committed to six programs intended to assist Canadians in adapting to climate change.

All other departments that have mandates related to climate risks, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, had limited or no involvement in this process, and funding for the Clean Air Agenda ended this March, with no plans for renewal and no action plan for adaptation yet in place.

The report notes that demand from organizations, governments, and others for climate impacts and adaptation information is currently increasing, and makes the following recommendation:

“Building on the government’s 2007 commitment to develop an adaptation policy framework, Environment Canada, with support from Natural Resources Canada and other departments and agencies, should develop a federal adaptation strategy and action plan.”

ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation And Extreme Weather report foreshadows this conclusion in the following recommendations:

1. The Government of Canada should take the lead in addressing the risk of extreme weather associated with climate change by establishing a permanent scientific and technical working group with provincial participation.

2. The Government of Canada should establish a Climate Action Centre, which, through partnerships with provincial and municipal agencies, will focus national attention on climate hazards and promote adaptation planning.

3. Provincial and local governments should incorporate climate adaptation principles into infrastructure design and land-use planning decisions in order to reduce exposure and vulnerability to extreme weather events. Local governments should assess both their current vulnerability to extreme weather events and the risks posed by climate change, including sea level rise, and should develop an adaptation strategy, using risk management as a framework to prioritize actions targeted at climate-related risks.

Number 3 could be facilitated by the federal government through the development of centralized resources such as downscaled data and experts that can offer strategic advice to cash- and resource-strapped municipal governments, through coordination with provincial governments as suggested in Numbers 1 and 2.

We hope the upcoming election will provide opportunities for the federal government to assume a dynamic leadership role, and to develop a pro-active adaptation strategy and action plan.