Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Conference Hears Now's the Time for 'Proactive Adaptation' to Climate Impacts

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Conference Hears Now's the Time for 'Proactive Adaptation' to Climate Impacts

Article excerpt

Climate change adaptation a 'cop out' no more

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OTTAWA - Adapting to a changing climate used to be considered a "cop-out" or admission of defeat for policy makers and advocates when it came to addressing carbon emissions.

But the twin goals of stopping climate change before its most devastating impacts are fully felt and adapting to the changes already underway must now be considered together, a former White House climate adviser told an Ottawa adaptation conference Tuesday.

Adaptation Canada 2016 is a three-day national symposium that's examining everything from energy sector risks and opportunities to municipal infrastructure, forest management, shoreline erosion, public health and biodiversity.

"We are swimming in challenges and really looking for opportunities," Kathy Jacobs, a scientist who advised President Barack Obama's White House science and technology policy from 2010 to 2014, said in a keynote address to open the conference.

The University of Arizona professor said the "politically unpopular" topic of managing potential climate impacts has been superseded by real-world changes already underway and the need to prepare for more dramatic impacts still to come.

"Most engineers and many scientists were taught that there is a stationary set of assumptions you can use," said Jacobs. "Maybe there's variability, but there's a historic range of variability and we can plan within that. But we're sort of moving past that historic variability."

Gradual, long-term trends are not how societies feel a changing climate, said Jacobs.

"We're experiencing it in the context of extreme events -- whether it's floods or it's droughts or it's invasive species.... It's extreme events and cascading effects."

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna opened the conference by noting that the people of Canada's Arctic are already facing life-changing impacts.

While human history is one of climate adaptation, said McKenna, "the current rate of global climate change is unprecedented compared to past changes that society has experienced. …

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