January 25, 2017

Reflections from Gord McBean, Immediate Past Chair of the OCC

As the now past Chair of the Governing Council of the Ontario Climate Consortium (OCC), it is interesting to look back one or more decades and reflect on the changes in our climate and our societal approaches to dealing with it. My perspective on climate change has evolved over several decades, from that of a scientist studying the details of turbulent energy transfers, then larger scale physical processes, to Chair of the World Climate Research Programme (1988-94), which got me involved more in science policy and communications.

Gord McBeanDuring my time as an Assistant Deputy Minister in Environment Canada (1994-2000), one of the people I worked with was Karen Kraft-Sloan, the Member of Parliament for Richmond Hill and, for a period, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment Canada. We continued to talk and work together after we both left government. In February 2010, as an adviser at York University, she had me participate in a one-day Climate Science Workshop, hosted by Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and York University. The result was TRCA and York University creating the Regional Climate Modelling Ad Hoc Committee and Chandra Sharma appointing me as Chair, with her TRCA team coordinating the work on behalf of York and other academic institutions as part of the Committee. The result was the Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium (ORCCC) which was then renamed the Ontario Climate Consortium (OCC).  It has been my great pleasure to work with Chandra through my time as Chair and with the many academic, conservation authority, federal-provincial and other groups who have made the OCC what it is today.

The OCC formed partly as a response to the 2010 Report of the Ontario Expert Panel on Climate Adaptation, and continues to build on the excellent climate science expertise in partner universities and the practical experience of end-users such as GTA’s large urban municipalities and conservation authorities across the province. The Consortium has since broadened its scope to include mitigation issues, such as municipal low carbon energy planning. This mitigation focus will be reinforced by my replacement as Chair, Peter Love, who brings decade’s long experience at the intersection of energy and environment in Ontario.

Whether on adaptation or mitigation, the Consortium’s purpose is to provide regionally specific information and advice that supports effective policy responses. Scientific symposia have been held at the Universities of Toronto, Western, McMaster, Guelph and this year, at York. These symposia bring together researchers and policy makers, often including the Minister of Environment, so that the scientific outputs are more focussed on policy development and implementation. There has also been a great interaction amongst the researchers for their mutual benefit and enabling more effective science-policy interactions.

The climate change policy environment in Canada has changed dramatically over the past few years. In the summer of 2014, Glen Murray was appointed the Ontario Minister of Environment and immediately changed the name to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. I briefed him on OCC soon thereafter. In October 2015, the Liberal Party won the federal election and Prime Minister Trudeau appointed the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change.  These symbolic name changes are a signal of the increasing priority placed in climate change at both levels of government. Following the Paris Agreement in November 2015, the Canadian government has made commitments for emission reductions and actions to reduce climate risks with committees being established, nationally and among the provinces.

The Paris agreement was one of three major international agreements that address climate change to be endorsed in 2015 by international governments. On March 2015, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 was endorsed by nations, including Canada, with four priority areas for Disaster Risk Reduction: understanding disaster risk; strengthening disaster risk governance; investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Since about 75% of disasters around the world are climate related, floods, storms, heat waves, droughts …this is a challenge for the OCC community. In the fall of 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Development Agenda for 2015 to 2030 was approved by governments, with 17 SDGs including #13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

These three international agreements have overlaps and there is strong need to address them in an integrated way. Canada needs to develop its national science programs to enable the country to do this effectively. It also needs to link strongly with the international science community, including the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) which was created in 1980 to determine the predictability of climate and the effect of human activities on climate, and the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk programme with its objectives of addressing: hazards, vulnerability and risk, effective decision making, and actions for reducing risk and curbing losses. In addition, the recent creation of the program Future Earth: Research for Global Sustainability, with the goal to provide the knowledge required for societies in the world to face risks posed by global environmental change and to seize opportunities in a transition to global sustainability, provides an opportunity for Canadian (and Ontarian) researchers to connect their efforts to international research priorities.

The climate change and sustainability research community here in Canada and Ontario need to work together with and in this international program structure to do that integrated science that will support a just transition to a sustainable future.  For the OCC, there will be opportunities and the challenge for the new Chair and Governing Council will be on how best to respond.

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