A new report commissioned by Premier Doug Ford’s government warns that climate change poses high risks to Ontario, with impacts on everything from food production to infrastructure to businesses.
The report – called the Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment – projects a soaring number of days with extreme heat across Ontario, as well as increases in flooding and more frequent wildfires.
Presented to the government in January but only posted publicly in late August, the government did not issue a news release about the report. It follows a summer where Ontarians faced at times extreme heat, heavy rainstorms and unprecedented wildfire smoke.
The report does “the best job that’s been done to date describing the impacts of climate change and extreme weather,” said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.
Its 530 pages are filled with often grim details about the expected effects of climate change in Ontario, including:
The agriculture sector faces risks of “declining productivity, crop failure, and livestock fatalities.”
“Most Ontario businesses will face increased risks due to climate change.”
“Climate risks are highest among Ontario’s most vulnerable populations and will continue to amplify existing disparities and inequities.”
A team of researchers from the Sudbury-based Climate Risk Institute prepared the report, which the government commissioned in 2020.
“The impacts [of climate change] are very apparent right now, they’re very, very stark and quite serious, and this is expected to continue into the future,” said Al Douglas, president of the Climate Risk Institute, in an interview with CBC News.
Number of days with extreme heat could quadruple
The researchers used historical climate data together with information about the consequences of extreme weather events and projections of future climate trends to come up with their findings.
For instance, they project how an expected rise in the number of days with extreme heat – 30 degrees and up – will have impacts on Ontario’s growing seasons, businesses and human health.
By the 2080s, the report forecasts that southern, central and eastern Ontario will average 55 to 60 such extreme heat days per year, a nearly fourfold increase from the current annual average of about 16 days.
Northern Ontario, which experiences an average of 4 extreme heat days annually, is projected to see upwards of 35 such days each year.
“Changes in Ontario’s climate are expected to continue at unprecedented rates,” says the report. “It is important to recognize how these findings can be used to spur action to protect residents, ecosystems, businesses and communities across Ontario.”
The report lays out the ways the researchers expect climate change to affect each region of Ontario along five broad themes: infrastructure; food and agriculture; people and communities; natural resources, ecosystems and the environment; business and the economy.
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High risks to food production
Douglas says Ontario’s food production and agriculture are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
“Yields will decrease,” he said. “It will affect the overall health of livestock. It will pose indirect threats to things like water availability, water quality. It’ll indirectly impact soil health and soil quality.”
The report breaks down the different risks to various parts of Ontario’s $45-billion agriculture sector, including a potential 50 per cent drop in corn production from inadequate moisture or the high risks to apple crops from late spring frosts, extreme precipitation or extreme heat.
“I hope the report and the findings will motivate more action,” Douglas said. “Everyone has to play a part in this because of the magnitude of the issue.”
CBC News requested an interview with Environment Minister David Piccini, but his officials said he was not available this week.
In an email, Piccini’s spokesperson Daniel Strauss said the government is working to identify further ways to prepare Ontario for the effects of climate change.
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“Since receiving the report, we have been working across government to best incorporate the report’s findings as we continue to build Ontario,” said Strauss.
“The report concludes that Ontario has a robust capacity to adapt to the impacts of climate change and our government is taking action to further build climate resiliency across the province.”
Piccini’s spokesperson did not address questions about why the government withheld the report for eight months, or why it has not released a companion report on best practices for reducing impacts and adapting to climate change.
A group called Seniors for Climate Action Now (SCAN) has been campaigning for the public release of the reports.
The Ford government has “done a number of things that have made things worse from the perspective of climate change impact, and I don’t think they want to draw attention to those things,” said Jennifer Penney, a member of SCAN who previously worked as a climate change adaptation researcher.
“What we aren’t seeing is urgency on the part of the province to address these risks. That’s really what concerns me.”