Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is failing to grasp the security risks that climate change threatens for Canadians, according to a recent article by Margaret Purdy, research associate in the Centre of International Relations at the University of British Columbia, and Leanne Smythe, PhD candidate in political science at UBC, published in the Toronto Star.

The severity and frequency of climate change-related events such as storms, flooding, droughts, and pest infestations will have “dramatic social, economic and international relations repercussions,” according to Purdy and Smythe, and “could strain – if not overwhelm – our emergency preparedness, disaster response, critical infrastructure protection, public health, law enforcement and military capacities.”

In comparison, our neighbours to the south appear to be developing a better grasp of the effects of climate change on national security. During his first week in office, Obama warned that unchecked climate change “could result in violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines and irreversible catastrophe;” and has surrounded himself with advisors who speak candidly about climate change in security terms.

Purdy and Smythe propose that Canada could assume a global leadership role by undertaking serious assessment of how the changing climate will impact our national security, public safety and international security interests over the next 30 years. And that “Ottawa could do what no other government has yet done – use a country-specific risk assessment as the basis for developing a national adaptation and preparedness strategy.”

But they’d better hurry – the UK, a country already far ahead of many others on both mitigation and adaptation planning, has recently mandated a national risk assessment to be repeated every three years that considers climate change as a principal risk factor. Now that’s action!

ACT’s second set of policy findings – on Extreme Weather Events, which includes recommendations for emergency preparedness and public safety policy – is due for release late spring 2009.