Brace yourself for climate change

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McGill Reporter
October 24, 2002 - Volume 35 Number 04
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 35: 2002-2003 > October 24, 2002 > Brace yourself for climate change

Brace yourself for climate change

Water, water, everywhere, and no one stops to think.

Photo Professor Chandra Madramootoo
PHOTO: Owen Egan

That might have been the case a few years ago, but how to manage our water in the face of a changing climate is probably one of the single most important questions confronting Canadians today. A new research network based out of the Brace Centre for Water Resources Management on Macdonald campus will serve as a tool for researchers and stakeholders to identify how we can deal with this issue.

Chandra Madramootoo, director of the Brace Centre, said that the complex nature of the problem demands a wide-ranging network approach. In issues like how the water level of the Saint Lawrence River will be affected by climate change, the stakeholders include industry, multiple levels of government and ecologists, to name but a few.

"If we're talking about shipping and navigation, those are multidisciplinary and multi-jurisdictional issues. That's the purpose of the network, to get these people together," he said.

Madramootoo is no pie-in-the-sky optimist: the network is devoted to adapting to climate change, not preventing it. Given the amount of greenhouse gases currently being produced, climate change is going to continue happening for decades, no matter what we do.

"Even if we implement several Kyoto agreements we wouldn't turn it around," he said. "It's like turning around the Titanic."

The new research network, for which Madramootoo is the scientific director, is part of the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN), which looks at a variety of areas that could be affected by climate change. The Water Resources Network, of-ficially launched Sep-tember 9, has members from the industrial sector, students, academics, government re-searchers, non-governmental organizations, and consultants, and is funded by the Govern-ment of Canada's Impact and Adaptation Program. The Brace-based C-CIARN network will be receiving $625,000 over the next five years to act as a resource for researchers: identifying issues, putting researchers in touch with each other, and hopefully helping researchers get grants to study water management issues.

"Basically, what we're doing is research into the impacts of climate change on water. We're coming up with strategies, doing the research to come up with policies that will mitigate the impact of climate change on water," said Madramootoo.

By way of example, one obvious effect of climate change on water resources western Canada has seen this year is drought. There are a variety of ways we can deal with this issue, said Madramootoo.

"What kind of strategies do we need to put in place to cope with drought? Is it new drought-resistant crop varieties, is it new methods of water conservation, more efficient systems of irrigation, more dams, more reservoirs? Does Canada have the water resources to put more area under irrigation? These are the kinds of things we study."

Shipping is another area that has to know what to expect with a warming climate. The water levels in the Great Lakes are falling, which means the operation of the entire system of locks and canals on the lakes could change. For example, locks may not fill as fast, which would have an effect on the flow of shipping. Also, ships themselves may need to be redesigned with less draft to account for lower water levels.

Bano Mehdi is the coordinator of the C-CIARN Water Resources Network. She said that hopefully they will be able to identify knowledge gaps that can then be tagged as priorities for future research.

"Primarily we act as a hub --what's really unique is we're encouraging researchers to talk to stakeholders, because in the end it is the stakeholders that identify the issues," she said.

To that end, the network sponsored a workshop September 9 where 80 stakeholders identified priority areas in six sectors -- ecosystems and the environment, agriculture, hydro power, natural resources, municipalities, and transportation. The complexity of the problems means that it isn't just ecologists, climate change specialists or shipping tycoons that are consulted -- economists, lawyers and policy makers are on her list of 250 network members, who have access to the network's database of papers and resources.

"What we do is gather information, we talk to experts and stakeholders -- we ask, 'When you think of climate change, what do you think the impacts are on Canadian water resources, and given those impacts, what do you think are the higher priority adaptation issues?'" said Mehdi.

Recommendations from the research network will be used by the Natural Resources Climate Change Action Fund. Mehdi said they hope that other funding agencies at NSERC will pay attention to their recommendations as well.

"We can't force them to take the issues we've identified and issue a call for proposals, but they certainly will ask us for information and use our lists," she said.

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