April 19, 2006

Act now on climate change, scientists urge Canada

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Unless Canada's new government moves quickly to tackle global warming the country's economy and quality of life will increasingly suffer in decades to come, 90 top environmental experts told Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an open letter.

Harper, whose Conservatives won the January 23 election, is openly unenthusiastic about the Kyoto accord on climate change and says there is no way Canada can meet its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"We urge you and your government to develop an effective national strategy to deal with the many important aspects of climate that will affect both Canada and the rest of the world in the near future," said the letter, which was delivered to Harper's office late on Tuesday.

"There will be increasing impacts of climate change on Canada's natural ecosystems and on our socioeconomic activities," it added, saying side effects could include more extreme events such as floods and droughts.

Under Kyoto, Canada is committed to cutting its emissions by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The latest data show emissions are running 24.4 percent above 1990 levels and these are set to soar as Canada continues to develop the oil-rich tar sands in the western province of Alberta.

Harper is from Alberta, which is also a Conservative power base. The government says it wants a made-in-Canada approach to tackling climate change and last week scrapped 15 research programs related to the Kyoto protocol.

Harper said Canada would work with its trading partners over the next year to create a national climate strategy.

"We're in the process of reviewing existing programs to try to sort out the funds and better use them on programs that will actually cause some reductions in emissions," he told reporters in the central Canadian city of Winnipeg on Wednesday.

"I've said all along that Canada will not achieve the Kyoto targets. Canada cannot achieve the Kyoto targets. It could not achieve them when it signed the agreement in 1997 and that's just a reality, but we do want to make progress."

Gordon McBean, the University of Western Ontario scientist who organized the letter, said Harper has to tackle climate change quickly.

"We need an adaptation strategy and we need a long-term strategy to address the emissions of greenhouse gases," he told Reuters by phone on Wednesday.

"In the last five years we have seen more scientific information come out that leads me to be more concerned than I ever was before," said McBean, who chairs the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.

The scientists said Canada had warmed faster than almost any other region on the globe in the last 50 years, particularly in the Arctic, which could be ice free in summer before the end of the century.

The letter was in part designed as a response to an open letter from 60 climate change skeptics, who wrote to Harper in early April to say "global climate changes all the time due to natural causes."

McBean and his colleagues said other possible results of climate change in Canada would be inadequate supplies of water for western and central grain-growing regions as well as for hydroelectric power stations.

(With additional reporting by Marcy Nicholson in Winnipeg)