Canada must plan for worsening heat waves, water shortages in the Prairies and flooding in coastal cities like Charlottetown, according to an environmental scientist who has seen the latest UN climate report.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report expected next Friday will say the vulnerability of specific regions will depend on the effectiveness of adaptation strategies, according to Gordon McBean, president of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
"We need a strategy that recognizes that the climate is changing," McBean told CBC News. "We need to have a strategy that rethinks the way we do things."
The report is the second of four the UN-led body will release this year and will focus on the impacts of climate change, the regions that are particularly vulnerable and possible adaptation strategies.
The first IPCC report, released in February, predicted annual worldwide temperatures will increase between 1.8 and four degrees Celsius over the next century, and that sea levels will rise between 18 and 59 centimetres over the same period.
McBean said the report would outline a number of risks to Canadian regions, including:
- Worsening heat waves in North American cities as a result of rising temperatures.
- Increased flooding from storm surges in coastal areas sensitive to sea-level rise, with Charlottetown cited as an example of a city vulnerable to these changes.
- Water shortages in the Prairies, the result of rising temperatures increasing evaporation rates past precipitation rates and affecting glacial sources of water.
- Changes in Arctic climate affecting the region's unique ecosystem and threatening many of the species relied on by people in the North.
- Lowering of the Great Lakes as a result of evaporation, with implications for marine transportation, sewage and water-intake systems and marine ecosystems.
McBean said adapting a warning system to deal with heat waves would be necessary to avoid the tragedy that befell Europeans in August 2003, when a heat wave killed 35,000 people.
Changes in landscape and architecture will also be needed, he said, to prevent an over-reliance on air conditioning and other energy-intensive solutions.
"We don't want to rush to a massive air-conditioning economy because that will just exacerbate the number of greenhouse gas molecules going into the air," he said. "So we need to think through the design of our cities and add more green space and more designs to take advantage of shade and the natural cooling factors."
Avoid 'catastrophic investment later on': McBean
He also suggested low-lying cities, such as Richmond, B.C., and Charlottetown, will need to build and repair dikes with the predicted water levels in mind, and not current levels.
"It's a process of taking action and spending a little now so you don't have to make a catastrophic investment later on," he told CBC News Online.
The second IPCC report's summary for policy makers will be released on April 6 in Brussels, Belgium.
A third report outlining potential solutions will be released on May 4 and a fourth report summarizing the first three reports will come out in the fall.