Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here today to discuss my report on adapting to the impacts of climate change, which was tabled in October 2017. I am accompanied by David Normand, the director responsible for this audit.
Before I present the findings of this audit, I wish to take this opportunity to highlight key findings from another one of my fall 2017 reports, which looked at the progress on reducing greenhouse gases.
In that report, we found that Canada had missed all of its reduction targets since 1992 and that it was not on track to meet the 2020 target. The federal government has set new, more difficult targets for 2030, which means extending the timeline.
In December 2016, the government released the newest of its climate change plans—the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Environment and Climate Change Canada has made progress in working with the territories and provinces to develop this new plan to meet the 2030 target. However, the plan remains the latest in a series of plans that have been produced since 1992.
Environment and Climate Change Canada already estimates that even if all the greenhouse gas reduction measures outlined in the new pan-Canadian framework are implemented in a timely manner and result in emissions reductions, more action will be needed to meet the 2030 target.
Canada's climate, as you are all aware, is becoming warmer and wetter, and the impacts, such as extreme weather events, rising sea levels, increasing ocean acidity, and decreasing sea ice and permafrost, pose significant risks to Canadians and the economy.
In our audit on adapting to climate change, we wanted to know whether the federal government was ready to adapt to a changing climate. Overall, we concluded that it is not; however, in the case of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and a few other departments, there are a few glimmers of hope.
Environment and Climate Change Canada developed the 2011 “Federal Adaptation Policy Framework”, which is aimed at integrating climate change considerations into programs, policies, and operations. Through this framework, each federal organization is to apply its experience in risk management to the climate change issues that could affect its ability to deliver its mandate.
In this audit on adapting to the impacts of climate change, we looked at whether 19 federal organizations, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, had assessed risks and taken measures to adapt to climate change in their areas of responsibility.
We found that most of the federal departments and agencies we examined did not take appropriate measures in order to achieve this. We also found that Environment and Climate Change Canada, in collaboration with other federal partners, did not provide adequate leadership to advance the federal government's adaptation to climate change impacts.
We are happy to report, however, that Fisheries and Oceans Canada was one of the five departments that did complete comprehensive risk assessments and integrated adaptation into its programs and activities.
For example, in 2005 Fisheries and Oceans Canada identified the greatest risks to its mandate, and in 2012 it refined its analysis: two times it had done risk assessments. Some of the risks they identified included potential negative impacts on ecosystems and fish stocks, the safety and accessibility of waterways, as well as impacts on infrastructure, such as small craft harbours and Canadian Coast Guard assets.
We also found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada was one of the five departments that made progress in responding to the climate change risks they had identified. Through its aquatic climate change adaptation services program, Fisheries and Oceans Canada conducted 38 research projects and developed 22 adaptation tools to monitor and study the impacts of climate change on Canada's fisheries, aquatic ecosystems, coastlines, and coastal infrastructure.
For instance, to address the high risks it identified to the 750 core commercial fishing harbours it manages, the department, among other things, developed two web-based adaptation tools to manage potential infrastructure damage from climate change impacts.
The first is the Canadian extreme water level adaptation tool, which provides future projections of sea level rise. The second is the coastal infrastructure vulnerability index, which combines environmental, harbour engineering, and socio-economic data into a measure of harbour vulnerability to climate change impacts. This helps engineers and managers plan where best to invest in adaptation projects.
One example of the way the Canadian extreme water level adaptation tool can be applied was seen at Margaree Harbour in Nova Scotia. Rising sea levels and increasing storm surges compromised harbour infrastructure. In 2010 the wharf was breached, and much of the facility was under water. Using information provided by the tool, the department raised the wharf by seven-tenths of a metre in 2016 to accommodate projected sea level rise over the structure's operational lifetime.
Risks from climate change cannot be completely eliminated; however, vulnerabilities can be reduced by taking measures to adapt, such as the measures we have seen with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Other departments also see that it can be done.
Adaptation is about making informed, forward-looking decisions to manage the risks that climate change presents and to take advantage of new opportunities. Strong and sustained leadership from the federal government is essential because the cost of inaction is estimated to greatly exceed the cost of taking action.
Lastly, I will take this opportunity to mention two audit reports that I will present to Parliament this spring and that could be of interest to this committee: one is on salmon farming, and the other is on conserving biodiversity. In those audits, we checked to see whether Fisheries and Oceans Canada has made progress in meeting the 2020 biodiversity targets on protected areas and species at risk. I would be happy to appear before your committee to discuss the findings of these reports after they are tabled.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
In our audit we looked at whether or not 19 different departments did complete risk assessments to see whether they were vulnerable and what the risks to their mandates associated with climate change were. We found that five departments did a good job and about 14 did not.
The five that did good jobs did what Fisheries and Oceans Canada did. They looked at their entire mandate and asked what all the programs and policies they have were; what all the services they provide to Canadians are; what all the risks of climate change were—sea level rise, more bad weather, extreme weather events. They asked what they were going to do to all of their assets and programs and then how they were going to deal with those risks—not just identify the risks, but determine how they were actually going to deal with them.
Five departments did that. There are another 14 that did not. Now, it's not that they did nothing. Some of those departments may have done something small. For example, we found that National Defence looked at the north and said, “We have some assets in the north and we need to worry about them.” From our perspective, that wasn't a complete risk assessment. What does the Department of National Defence do for Canadians? What does their entire program look like? What are all the risks of climate change to its entire mandate? Are they ready to adapt?
We were looking for complete risk assessments and then at whether or not departments were actually getting ready to adapt. In the case of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, they were. Five departments did what we would say were good to really good jobs, and about 14 did not.
That's a wonderful question.
When I became commissioner, the Cohen commission recommendations were definitely one of the high-risk items that were brought to my attention as one of the issues that we could audit. Soon after that, the government indicated that it made a commitment to implement all of the Cohen commission recommendations. I can't remember exactly when they made that commitment, but our office thought, okay, they've made the commitment to implement, so let's give it a bit of time, and then we can go in and audit that issue.
One way you could encourage that as a committee would be to make a recommendation and send in an all-party letter saying, “We believe the commissioner and the Auditor General's office should do an audit.” That would definitely raise it in our risk register, if you like, because we audit things that are of high risk and things that are of importance to parliamentarians. If one parliamentarian says “this is really important”, well, that's interesting, but if an entire committee says “this is of interest to us”, then it goes way up on our list of what we could do and when we could do it. What I would recommend, if you're interested in that as a committee, is that you write a letter to us as an all-party committee. That would probably encourage me, as commissioner, to launch an audit on it.
Often when a government commits to something we give it a bit of time before we go in and audit it, which is interesting, because the audits on climate change happened right in the middle of the pan-Canadian framework negotiations. We were auditing things before the pan-Canadian framework, essentially, and then the pan-Canadian framework came into play, so that was an answer the government could give us in terms of dealing with these issues. When the government made its commitment to implement, our staff would think, okay, let's give it a year or two, maybe three, for them to implement, and then let's go in and do an audit. To shorten my answer to you: a joint letter by the committee to us would be a way to initiate it.
The only other thing I was going to say is that we are doing an audit on aquaculture that will be released in April of this year. We're looking at salmon farming in New Brunswick, P.E.I., and off the B.C. coast. We're also looking at the Aichi biodiversity targets. Some of those pertain to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Yes. Thank you very much.
My thanks to our witnesses for being here.
As my first point, Mr. Arnold was asking you about what countries had signed on and what have you. You mentioned China and India and maybe another country. Yes, they've signed this accord that says we're shooting for a goal. Well, what I'd like to say is that Mr. McDonald, Mr. Hardie, and I could sign an accord that said our goal was to grow a full head of hair by the end of next week.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Larry Miller: When we don't do that, there are no consequences. I know it may sound humorous, but the reality is that if anybody believes these countries will actually fulfill their goals, I suggest that the sky is a little different colour in their world.
About your presentation, Ms. Gelfand, I have yes-or-no questions. First, there's man-made climate change. There are things man does that affect the climate. We all know that. They're miniscule in the whole thing, but they're there. Should we address them? Of course we should, and I believe governments are, around the world; not all governments, but many are. Then there's natural climate change. There are two distinct ones.
Would you agree with that statement?
Thank you so much for being here this morning.
Of course, we know climate change occurs naturally all the time. I mean, we remember when we used to touch the wires on top of the snowbanks in the great winter of 1965, I think it was. We know that happens, but we also know that man is responsible for additional climate change and catastrophes that we're seeing around the world
Having said that, even if we had met all of what we promised in the last 20 years, we probably would still have events that are now I guess responsible because of man's pollution. I don't know if you would agree with that. I don't think we could say, if we had done that 20 years ago we wouldn't have those small craft harbours being washed out and all those things.
Have we looked ahead, and have all departments looked at and budgeted for what's coming? Have we done an exercise in that sense? Whether it's agriculture, fisheries, and all the other, it's going to cost us. We know that. Have we done any exercise on that?
Welcome back, everyone. Let's all settle in. As we mentioned before, this is a briefing on report number two, “Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, of the Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development”, fall 2017.
As you know, we passed a resolution that we have to have a hearing on these reports within six months, which is what we are doing now, because I mentioned this was presented in the fall of 2017.
Right now, we have the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in front us: Arran McPherson, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science; Keith Lennon, Director, Oceans Science Branch; and Pierre Pepin, Senior Research Scientist in Science.
We also have Donna Jean Kilpatrick, Director, Engineering and Technical Services with Small Craft Harbours.
We also have some special guests with us. We have a whole slate of replacements joining us, and we are certainly honoured.
First, from Edmonton Strathcona, Linda Duncan.
From Dufferin—Caledon, David Tilson.
From Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Bev Shipley.
Thank you all for joining us.
Dr. McPherson, go ahead for up to 10 minutes please.
Thank you, and good morning.
I would like to start by thanking you all for giving us the opportunity to join you here today to highlight the work that's being done by departmental scientists to better understand and predict the impacts of climate change in aquatic environments, and to help advance the Government of Canada's efforts on climate change adaptation.
My colleagues have already been introduced.
I'd also like to thank the commissioner, who I think is no longer with us, for both her report and her presentation. DFO welcomes the report's acknowledgement of the departments efforts to address the impacts of climate change. The report recognizes that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has shown leadership in the area of climate change adaptation, and has conducted numerous risk assessments on how climate change impacts the delivery of the department's mandate.
Four specific risk assessments were completed. One for each of Canada's three oceans, and for its major inland waterways, under the aquatic climate change adaptation services program. These risk assessments concluded that there is a high probability that Canada's aquatic ecosystems and coastal infrastructure will be highly impacted by climate change over the next 50 years.
Specifically, Canada's oceans are expected to become warmer, fresher, more acidic and less oxygenated as a result of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the changing climate.
These changes in ocean conditions may have profound impacts on aquatic ecosystems and fisheries, coastal infrastructure, and the coastal communities that rely upon them for their sustainability. These potential impacts are creating the need for information and tools that can be used to help the department and its stakeholders respond and adapt to these changes. This is why DFO conducts science, research, and monitoring that is necessary to understand both the current state of the ocean environment as well as how it may be changing.
For example, due to the increasing risk of ocean acidification, aquatic ecosystems that use calcium for their shells or their external skeletons may eventually have difficulty in forming their outer protective coverings. This may mean that, in the future, salmon productivity could decline in the Pacific, because an important food source, copepods, which are small marine molluscs, may not survive in the long term due to the potential changes in their ability to grow a shell.
To respond to this type of increasing risk, DFO has an ocean acidification monitoring and research program, so that scientists have a better understanding of the extent and rate of ocean acidification in the coastal and offshore waters in all three oceans. DFO is conducting research to better understand the biological impacts and responses to ocean acidification by key species that require calcium to survive.
Many coastal communities in Canada are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change resulting from sea level rise and associated storm surges, flooding, and erosion. Future projections of climate change and the marine environment indicate that declining sea ice and rising sea levels will impact Canada's coastline and the infrastructure in these areas. Understanding these changes is essential for inputting into coastal planning processes, and developing adaptation strategies that can minimize the harmful effects that may result.
To better adapt to these future conditions and as the commissioner mentioned in her speaking points, DFO developed the Canadian extreme water level adaptation tool, which provides sea level rise projections for Canada's coastlines over the coming century, and advice on how to build coastal infrastructure to accommodate this projected rise.
This web tool was originally developed for internal use by the small craft harbours program. However, it now represents a positive example of how we've translated scientific data and analysis into usable information products and tools that will help coastal communities in Atlantic Canada. To take this even further, DFO has partnered with the Ecology Action Centre, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to bring this information on potential sea level rise directly to coastal communities.
DFO is also working to better understand and predict the vulnerability of commercial species and their prey to the impacts of climate change. DFO scientists are combining research with long-term observations and computer-based models to predict future ocean conditions, such as water temperature, currents, and ocean chemistry. These predictions can provide fisheries managers with insights into future potential ranges and migration patterns of commercial fish species as well as species at risk.
In turn, this type of information can inform decisions about how the timing of a fishery may change, how centres of distribution of species may change, or even how the condition of the fish may change over time. To provide an example, DFO scientists are looking at the impacts of changing ocean temperatures on the timing of the seasonal moults in lobster. Changes in temperature, the availability of prey, and other ecosystem factors can affect the moult timing in lobster. The timing of the moult is important, because it determines when the lobster shells harden, when they fill with meat, and when they're in top market quality. The results of this work will then help fisheries managers and the members of the industry themselves when they're considering the optimal timing for the fishing season.
While I've given you a few examples of how DFO is working to undertake the research needed to support its program decisions, this is also work that supports Environment and Climate Change Canada's overall leadership on climate change, including the actions of the pan-Canadian framework.
On behalf of DFO, we look forward to continuing to provide high-quality, credible climate change science that will benefit Canadians. We're happy to be here today and to answer any questions you may have.
I will start, and then I'll ask my colleague, Keith Lennon, who's the lead of our climate change program nationally, if he has anything he'd like to add.
As I said in my opening remarks, and I guess going back to what the commissioner said at the beginning, we looked at climate change impacts through every part of the mandate that we deliver as an organization to determine the risks. Then we took that and applied it to each of the three oceans, as well as to a freshwater environment.
When we looked at that, we looked mostly at the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg. Some of the work that we did in that undertaking was to determine the vulnerabilities of the nearshore habitat. We looked at water level changes, and how that might affect fish populations and their prey.
Therefore, that is something that obviously has risen to the top. All of our research findings and our research projects are available online. I just spoke to one specific example, but all of the ones that were mentioned earlier in this morning's presentation are available on our website for additional details.
Keith, did you have anything you wanted to add?
Again, thank you to our witnesses. It's not every day, I think, that we have groups or people appear at this committee who make it interesting, but today has been, because I think most of us are affected in some way by this.
My riding of Avalon is on the Avalon Peninsula part of Newfoundland and Labrador, and all but one community is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean. People depend on it very much, so we see first-hand the storm surges, sea levels, and the changes in climate. Where I live, in particular, it's about a five-minute walk to the ocean. There's a river and a pond that at one time would freeze in late fall and wouldn't thaw out until April of the next year. Now you hardly get the chance to play a game of hockey on it before it thaws out again, then refreezes. A lot of changes are happening.
My first question would be around the sea rise and storm surges that are taking place. Communities on the ocean have a tendency to put an awful lot of infrastructure along the ocean. It could be damaged very easily with a good storm surge. In particular, my hometown, for example, will approve a subdivision to be built because, of course, the land next to the ocean is at a premium. At one time, people thought it was worth nothing. Now, it's hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get a building lot.
We see erosion year after year after year taking place. There are water lines. There are sewer lines that are very close to the ocean, and that goes ahead. Do we, as a department, ever advise provinces or communities, and say, “Look, if you're putting this infrastructure in the ground right here, you have to understand that in 10 or 20 years' time, if the sea levels reach where they are predicted to go, and storm surges increase the way we've seen them increase, you stand to lose all that infrastructure and cause a major environmental catastrophe right on the edge of the ocean”?
I think you've pointed to why it's very important and what the value of the pan-Canadian climate change framework is about, which is departments, provinces, territories, and municipalities working together.
Some of the items you touched on in your points could be informed by some of the work we're doing, which is why we work in lockstep with departments such as NRCan, which is advising provinces and municipalities about things that go beyond our mandate.
Our mandate in Fisheries and Oceans is about the oceans. It's about how those things, the oceans, might be changing. We're obviously interested in our own infrastructure and want to make those tools available to anyone who can use them.
We don't have the expertise to be advising municipalities on their building codes, for example. That type of interaction rests with other bodies of government. We feel confident that by working with other federal departments and provinces and making all of our information available online, and also by working with partners such as the Ecology Action Centre and others, we can make sure people are aware of the work we're doing and of how they can grab that work and incorporate it into the work they're doing.
Do you have anything you want to add to that?
I appreciate all the things you have said. You've also pointed out that areas in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the west, and British Columbia are all different.
All the issues are different, but there's no question that all of these things are affecting the waters, the wildlife, and the the fish. We know that because we're living it. We're members of Parliament, but we're also citizens, and we realize that it's going on. In Ontario, for example, in cottage country, the water is going up and down like a yo-yo. Sometimes it's really bad, and sometimes it's not.
I appreciate all of your comments. They have been very helpful to the committee. My question is, do you have recommendations acknowledging what Mr. Miller said, which is that there are man-made issues and there are natural issues? The public is going to be asking us, their members of Parliament, what we are going to do and how we are going to solve these problems. Do you have any form of recommendations that may help any of the areas of Canada?