When it comes to climate change, Canada’s approach is more about adaptation than activism. Environment Minister Peter Kent, before departing last week for United Nations climate change talks in Doha, was direct about federal priorities.
"We are balancing our obligation and engagement on climate change with sensitivities to the realities of Canada’s still-recovering economy, job creation and job growth," the minister said.
"And we will continue on that course."
No surprise, Canada received another dump of fossil awards at the 10-day event which winds up Friday, courtesy of activists in attendance.
A group of young Canadians in Doha, the Youth Climate Coalition, pushing for a shutdown of Alberta’s oilsands, applauded censure of Canada.
"The Canadian government has failed to represent us at the international climate negotiations," asserted Vancouver activist Peggy Lam.
"And as a youth, I want to hold them accountable."
Her colleague Alana Westwood complained that Canada cannot possibly stick to a world target for warming of 2 C, set in 2007, with the oilsands set to expand.
According to Canada’s Green party, the oilsands represent one-tenth of one per cent of all global emissions.
Conservatives clearly believe this country is but a tiny part of the problem and are determined not to damage a fragile economy or get ahead of the U.S. in addressing the crisis.
That is not to say the government has its head in the sand.
"Impacts of changing climate are already evident in every region of Canada," says a report on climate change, appearing on Ottawa’s Natural Resources website.
Among its observations:
• B.C.’s glaciers are retreating at rates unprecedented in the past 8,000 years.
• Since 1950, the Arctic has experienced 20 fewer days of snow cover each year.
• In the last century, spring has moved 26 days earlier in Alberta. Eastern Canada is seeing spring leaves and flowers five to six days earlier. Quebec’s crop-growing season is longer.
The report predicts that the most significant climate effects in Canada will be water-related, with more flooding due to heavy rainfall and storm surges, more ice and wind storms, more heat waves and drought.
In British Columbia, the report cites "extreme sea levels, storm surges and enhanced coastal erosion" as well as an increase in wildfires.
It warns of increasing water shortages that will affect the province’s hydro generation; damage to coastal infrastructure used for highway, ferry and air transport; more forest fires and more pest infestations.
For all that, the report reassures that "the magnitude of impacts can be reduced through adaptation," activity that quietly has been underway for some time now.
Indeed Ottawa has created a Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Division within Natural Resources Canada. Its employees work with government and non-government players "to collaborate on adaptation priorities" and make Canada more "climate resistant."
Examples of the adaptation activity:
• Northerners increasingly are using bug repellent and window screens to deal with insect proliferations.
• Canadians are building their homes and cottages further from coastlines.
• A New Brunswick town, prone to flooding, has organized an emergency shelter and planning for a better road network into the community.
• Forest companies are putting new tires on their vehicles that can navigate washed-out roads.
• Greater Vancouver’s regional district is taking smaller snow-packs into account in forecasting water needs.
• B.C. has shifted forest management practices to account for climate change.
Actions like these reflect a sober determination to "weather the storm" of global warming, even as the Harper government remains cool about a crisis that is already dramatically intruding on people’s lives.
» Barbara Yaffe is a national affairs columnist for the Vancouver Sun.