Today I want to zero in on the urgent need for made-in-Ontario climate projections. How can we prepare for climate change and make long-term decisions – how high to build a bridge, for example, or where to site a water treatment plant – if we don’t have reliable data and information?
Decisions on infrastructure span far into the future and have major social and economic consequences. Without trustworthy climate projections customized for Ontario’s local scales, we are handicapped, and left in the dark about the vulnerability of our assets.
In Ontario, some municipal governments and other organizations are using current climate data – such as rainfall intensity, duration and frequency curves – as well as projections to inform infrastructure design and other planning decisions. However, adaptation planning in Ontario is still in its infancy.
Ontario lacks easily accessible, downscaled climate data and projections to use in preparing for the “new climate normal,” which I described in my 2014 greenhouse gas progress report.
Unlike Ontario, some leading jurisdictions understand the importance of scientifically sound, readily available and understandable information about future climate and weather conditions. They also see the business opportunity.
The United States is becoming a climate data leader, and it’s worth looking at what it’s doing as an example of best practice. The U.S. government is investing millions of dollars into climate data and modelling to ensure that federal agencies can support communities to prepare for climate change. This Climate Data Initiative is bringing together the private and public sectors to develop tools that help communities and companies prepare for climate change. The U.S. government is actively obtaining a variety of commitments from the private sector to support the initiative.
At the same time, President Obama sees the business advantage for American companies to develop new climate data products and services for both domestic and export markets. The uptake of these products and services by American companies will help ensure continued U.S. economic competitiveness in the face of a changing climate. These climate applications will be “made in America,” meaning that American companies such as Microsoft and IBM will be able to export their climate data expertise. To accelerate progress, the White House is convening private and public sector leaders around focused themes, such as food security, to develop and leverage climate data to ensure American resilience and economic competitiveness.
I find the array of accessible U.S. governmental and non-governmental websites dedicated to providing accurate local climate data, projections, maps and tools truly impressive, even at this early stage. The main U.S. government climate data web portal consolidates much of the available information into a one-stop shop. Other American websites are dedicated to providing information about current drought conditions, managing agricultural risks, assessing the cost-effectiveness of low-impact development, tropical storm maps and links to many more tools and data sets. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center manages six Regional Climate Centers. Its Regional Integrated Sciences & Assessments team supports public and private end users to understand and deploy climate data. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration provides a variety of climate datasets and images. The U.S. is also investing in creating 3-D maps that will assist in flood risk management and other climate impacts.
By contrast, the Canadian government has no initiative of comparable scale and scope. Ontario has made some modest investments in climate change modelling. One of the modellers funded by the province has a dedicated website for Ontario climate projections. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has created a real-time flood monitoring website. While these initiatives are a good start, there is clearly a large gap between the needs of climate data users (such as companies, insurers, municipalities and other organizations) and what is available. Some of these organizations can afford to hire consultants when faced with a lack of publicly-funded, scientifically-sound and properly interpreted climate data, but many cannot. I believe the provincial government has a responsibility to ensure that consistent, high-quality climate data are widely accessible in a user-friendly format. Our neighbour Quebec has created an organization, called OURANOS, to fulfill this exact function. In Ontario, the Ontario Climate Consortium is attempting to fill this gap, but without significant government financial support.
Accurate and reliable climate information is a prerequisite for adapting to climate change. Provincial stakeholders need this vital climate information to adapt Ontario’s economy and infrastructure to the changes we know are coming. Now is the time for leadership from the provincial government on this important issue.