Long-term decision making in forest management could help mitigate climate change in Canada, report finds, predicts cost of failing to plan ahead at C$21B-$43B/year by 2050

OTTAWA , October 3, 2011 () – Canada can expect to pay between $21 billion and $43 billion each year by 2050 if it fails to come up with a domestic plan within a global agreement to tackle climate change, says a groundbreaking assessment released Thursday by a federal advisory panel.

The comprehensive study, titled Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada, is the first of its kind in the country to analyse Canadian trends in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, population and the economy in the context of climate-change science.

It warns that Canadians could have a steep price to pay if governments reject the science that links human activity and greenhouse-gas pollution to global warming. The costly consequences could include major flooding in coastal cities, effects on human health as well as dramatic changes in the forestry industry and other sectors.

"Ignoring climate change costs now will cost us more later," said the report, produced by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, an independent organization whose members were appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

The report stresses the importance of assessing long-term decisions in areas such as coastal development, infrastructure and forest management.

"The highest costs result from a refusal to acknowledge these costs and (to) adjust through adaptation," said the report, published following extensive research and reviews by academics and stakeholders from the business world and environmental movement.

The study comes nearly five years after a major British government report by economist Nicholas Stern concluded that climate change could provoke the greatest market failure ever in the global economy.

David McLaughlin, president and CEO of the advisory panel, said it provides some new context for Canada, which has seen the debate on global-warming policy revolve mainly around the cost of reducing pollution for industry and consumers.

"Little attention has been paid to the cost of inaction, to what economic damages could accrue to Canada and Canadians as global emissions rise and climate change plays out," said McLaughlin, a former chief of staff to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. "Our report also shows that adapting to climate change makes economic sense. It can lower the costs of climate impacts by preventing damage, saving money and lives."

Harper's government has committed to reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in about 10 to 15 years, but has not introduced a plan to meet its target and stop the growth of pollution.
Some specific examples in the report warn about:

  • A greater risk of illness and death and millions of dollars of related health-care costs in cities such as Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto;
  • Severe impacts related to forest fires, pest outbreaks and tree productivity in Western Canada; and
  • Major exposure to flooding risk in Metro Vancouver.
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