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Naturally Resilient: A strategy to adapt to climate change or business-as- usual?

To address climate change in Ontario, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) developed a Climate Change Action Plan identifying a number of actions, across multiple ministries aimed at reducing the magnitude and/or rate of greenhouse gas emissions. These range from the creation of a low-carbon and zero emission transportation sector to reducing fossil fuel use in buildings and homes to developing carbon offset programs using managed forests and agricultural lands.

Because climate change is already impacting human communities and natural systems, MOECC also developed a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy identifying a number of actions, across multiple ministries to increase the resilience of water, energy, waste, and infrastructure systems to extreme events, increasing the resilience of natural systems including the Great Lakes and managed forests, and developing tools to support planning and decision making amongst others. MOECC is currently updating this strategy and will depend on inputs from a number of Ministries, including the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

MNRF is responsible for Ontario’s provincial parks, forests, fisheries, wildlife, mineral aggregates, and the public lands and waters that make up 87 per cent of the province. MNRF holds significant responsibilities for both managed and natural systems, the diverse values they hold and the services they provide to the public and Indigenous peoples. MNRF’s role is to both plan for and actually address climate change impacts on species, ecosystems, and landscapes to ensure their values and services are conserved while at the same time being responsible for promoting and managing economic opportunities in the natural resource sector. 

The Strategy focuses on a 5 high level goals that acknowledge MNRF’s responsibilities, includes a commitment to science and research through partnerships, and prioritizes MNRF’s mandate areas that are at risk due to climate change impacts (e.g., forest management, wetland conservation, water management, species at risk).

WCS Canada scientists offered a number of recommendations to strengthen the Strategy:

1.       Proactively conserve and protect habitat and expand existing conservation areas.  Increasing the size and number of protected areas is one of the best ways to address climate change because such areas can act as refuges and sources for recovery, reduce the effects of non-climate stressors, and reduce the spread of human-caused disturbance. Similar effects can also come from increasing connectivity among existing protected areas or other refugia. MNRF is responsible for ensuring ecological integrity in provincial parks and has an unprecedented opportunity in the Far North to consider a range of biodiversity values with First Nations. Considering how the current and future protected area network support biodiversity targets under climate change is necessary. Finally, scientific research supports the maintenance of large intact systems such as wetlands and forests as an effective buffer against climate change when compared to the effort of trying to restore these ecosystems and their services after impacts from multiple land uses. 

2.       Reduce non-climate stressors. Forestry, mining, hydroelectric development and infrastructure are already well established causes of habitat degradation and fragmentation that can facilitate introductions of invasive species, and contribute to pollution and overexploitation. Reducing these impacts can buffer species and ecosystems against the additional stresses caused by a changing climate. Human land use may also impede species movements to more suitable areas and climates. New proposals for development need to address climate change more directly and planning needs to include a regional or strategic perspective (e.g., watersheds).


3.       Address cumulative effects. Our experience of climate change is really a manifestation of the cumulative effects of piecemeal planning at multiple scales, from local to global, and the siloed approach to decision making about impacts on land, water, species, and ultimately people. MNRF (and MOECC) need to consider the cumulative effects of climate change and different land uses in decision making processes about planning, permit approvals, and other regulatory processes it administers.



·         Read our comments here

·         MNRF is accepting public comments on the Strategy until March 31, 2017 on the Environmental Registry.

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