Message from the Minister

I am proud to present Ontario’s first Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan.

Depending on where you live, the average temperature in Ontario has increased by up to 1.4°C since 1948. We know that such temperature increases, though small at first glance, go along with huge changes in the patterns of wind and precipitation. Given Ontario’s vast size and differing regions, changing weather patterns present a complex challenge, but we know it is one we must meet to secure our future.

The long-term trends are perfectly clear. Our grandparents are correct when they tell us that winters aren't as cold as they used to be, that summer heat waves are hotter and that there are more storms.

In response to the challenge presented by these changes, our government appointed 11 renowned experts from across the province and beyond to provide advice and direction on how to minimize the negative impacts of a changing climate and on how to ensure we are best prepared for these changes. Their recommendations formed the basis of this initial "Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan."

This plan builds on the concrete action Ontario is taking to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All of Ontario’s power plants must stop using coal by the end of 2014. Under our Green Energy Act, we are expanding Ontario’s use of clean, renewable energy. The Water Opportunities Act will help sustain Ontario’s water infrastructure.

While we take action, it is also necessary to recognize that change is already taking place. It is critical that governments at all levels begin to build climate change considerations into their policy decisions at the same time as we address mitigation. This is what our Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan is about.

Climate change adaptation means taking prudent action to protect our families and secure our business investments.

Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan will create a vision and framework for collaboration across ministries and with external partners. All of us in Ontario — businesses, communities and individuals — will be touched by climate change. All of us must learn the skills of adaptation. We are highlighting steps Ontario is taking to ensure that we are well prepared for the challenges changing weather will bring and are in a position to take advantage of opportunities. I welcome your partnership in implementing this plan for a stronger, more resilient Ontario.

John Wilkinson,
Minister of the Environment


The Government of Ontario would like to thank the Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation. The process it undertook in meeting with individual ministries during its mandate, as well as its report and recommendations, "Adapting to Climate Change in Ontario", was indispensable in moving adaptation work forward in Ontario, and helped form the basis of Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan.

We would like to especially thank the co-chairs of the Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation, Dr. David Pearson and Dr. Ian Burton, for their tireless work, advice and guidance in ensuring Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan is a good first step to increasing the province’s resilience in the face of a changing climate.

Executive summary

The Government of Ontario is taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also recognizes the need to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of changing weather patterns resulting from heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere.

We know that extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Across the province we have seen an increase in prolonged heat waves, torrential rain storms, windstorms, even drought. It is no longer a matter of reacting when the next major weather event occurs. Ontario must be prepared by taking prudent steps to deal with a changing climate and the challenges it presents both now and in the long term.

The Minister of the Environment appointed the Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation in 2007 to help the government prepare and plan for these impacts. Based on the Panel’s advice, we have developed, "Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan", which outlines a strategy with a progressive vision, five broad goals and over 30 actions — initiatives to help prepare us for climate change in Ontario over the next four years, to 2014.

We will continue our efforts to better understand the effects of a changing climate through investments in climate science. This will assist us in minimizing loss and preventing unsustainable investment. We also look to bolster our ability to take advantage of new opportunities that emerge from a changing climate. We will take measures to increase the ability of ecosystems to withstand the impacts of climate change. Working with others, we will create risk-management tools to support adaptation efforts and help communities adapt. We have identified actions across several ministries to help us meet our goals.

Some tangible examples of how we will get there include:

  • Minimizing damage by amending the Ontario Building Code and undertaking infrastructure vulnerability assessments to determine vulnerabilities due to the impacts of climate change and sharing the results with the broader public sector.
  • Increasing the climate resilience of our ecosystems by developing the Lake Simcoe Adaptation Strategy and creating a model to advance adaptation planning in other watersheds.
  • Supporting the development of risk-management tools to manage heat-related illnesses and working with Public Health Units to raise public awareness of health hazards, such as the increased risk of Lyme disease.
  • Obtaining a better understanding of the impacts of climate change by continuing to partner with experts to create climate projections throughout the province that will assist in decision-making.
  • Working with others through Ontario’s Regional Adaptation Collaborative to improve decision-making on adaptation throughout the province.

The Government of Ontario will report annually to the public on its progress towards its long-term adaptation goals and its success in taking climate change impacts and adaptation into full consideration in the Province’s policies and programs. These are the first steps in ensuring Ontario’s preparedness for the impacts of climate change.

What is adaptation?

Adaptation is the process societies go through in order to cope with an uncertain future. Adapting to climate change entails taking measures to reduce the negative effects of climate change — or take advantage of the positive effects. For example, faced with greater storm activity, we may change the way we design and build our roads, bridges and buildings to better withstand these weather events.


In Ontario we are already experiencing climate change impacts which threaten our health and safety, our environment and our economy.

The Government of Ontario is working to ensure that Ontario reduces emissions of the greenhouse gases that are contributing to this change.

We must also prepare to face the difficult challenges and embrace the opportunities that come with a changing climate.

Climate Change is the defining issue of our generation – we've Come a long way, but we have more to do, together.Premier Dalton McGuinty, News Release, June 20, 2007.
And now our world is different. The climate has been permanently altered and is on an escalating vector of change, not because of what we are going to put into the atmosphere in the future but as a consequence of what we have already done.Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, 2009/2010 Annual Report.

A violent rainstorm in August 2005 that washed out Finch Avenue in Toronto broke two gas mains and a drinking watermain, took out telephone, hydro and cable lines, and flooded more than 4,200 basements at a cost of almost $550 million. Flooding in downtown Peterborough in July 2004 caused damage to homes and businesses amounting to $87 million. The same story has been told in many communities across Ontario, from Rainy River to Hamilton to Sudbury. Insurance companies have been counting the cost of these claims and the numbers are climbing.

In its January 2011 Progress Report on Adaptation to Climate Change, the Insurance Bureau of Canada noted that losses related to water damage are costing Canadian insurers and policyholders up to $1.5 billion annually — a figure that continues to rise. These losses can be attributed to both the aging of water and wastewater infrastructure and changing weather patterns.

Rainstorms and floods have always been a fact of life in Ontario. So too have droughts and heat waves, ice storms and blizzards, tornadoes and windstorms. But weather is changing and has been for a generation now. Temperatures are higher, especially in winter; more rain is falling in heavy storms and summers have more frequent and longer dry periods. A few of the consequences of rising temperatures, such as a longer growing season and a decreased need for winter home heating, may be beneficial to people. Our natural systems, however, are adapted to today’s climate and may have difficulty adjusting to changing weather patterns.

Weather affects all sectors of our economy and our communities from the way we design stormwater drainage systems, bridges and roads, to the type of crops grown by farmers to the water levels in the Great Lakes.

Scientists firmly believe a gradual increase in the amount of the sun’s heat being captured by the atmosphere is the main reason for the change in weather events and seasonal weather patterns. The changes have developed over at least 40 years and clearly amount to a change in climate. The Ontario government agrees that an increase in the quantity of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere has been largely responsible for contributing to climate change and is working to reduce Ontario’s emissions of those gases.

Regardless of the cause, changes in weather patterns already impose risks to life, property, and the natural world in Ontario that cannot be ignored. Reducing those immediate risks is the only prudent course of action for all levels of government, as well as communities, corporations, businesses, and individual citizens.

In December 2007, the Minister of the Environment appointed an Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation — composed of 11 leading scientists and environmental experts — to help Ontario understand, prepare and plan for the impacts of changing climate on our health, economy, environment and infrastructure.

In November 2009, the Expert Panel presented its advice on how to build a climate resilient province in a report, "Adapting to Climate Change in Ontario". This report includes more than 50 recommendations across a wide range of sectors and called for a provincewide climate change adaptation strategy and action plan.

In response, the Government of Ontario has prepared, "Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan". This plan draws on expertise from ministries across government.

This Plan outlines the Province’s strategy and actions to address the impacts of a changing climate over the next four years as Ontario prepares for the risks and opportunities created by a changing climate.

Climate change impacts in Ontario

Between 1948 and 2008, the average annual temperature in Ontario has increased by up to 1.4°C. The greatest warming has been in the western part of the province.

Scientists project that by 2050, the average annual temperature in Ontario will increase by 2.5°C to 3.7°C (from baseline average 1961- 1990). In fact, 2010 was the hottest year on record since nationwide record-keeping began in 1948, and northern Ontario experienced conditions that were at least 20 per cent drier than normal (Environment Canada 2011).

How much warming will occur will depend on what happens to the atmosphere (IPCC 2007). If emissions of heat-capturing gases continue unabated, then the warming trend will accelerate. If emissions are strongly controlled, then warming will be less.

The Expert Panel (2009) highlighted that "more moisture in a warmer atmosphere is expected to cause an increase in extreme weather events — rain, snow, drought, heat waves, wind and ice storms, [and] weather is also likely to be more variable and less predictable year-to-year". Impacts will be felt differently throughout the province and across all sectors of the economy and society.

The most pronounced change is expected to occur in the Far North of Ontario during the winter. Southern Ontario can likely expect hotter summers with the number of days over 30°C more than doubling by 2050.

What does this mean for Ontarians?

Many Ontarians have already been affected in one way or another by increased temperatures and extreme weather events that may well have been part of a changing climate. Everyone in the province will be affected in the future as today’s trends continue. The impacts are not theoretical; they will affect our day-to-day lives from a growing number of 'heatwave' days in the summer to a broadening spectrum of fruits and vegetables available from Ontario growers due to a longer growing season.

The Government of Ontario recognizes that the impacts of a changing climate need to be considered in all decision-making.

Impacts on human health

Ontario’s climate had limited the northward spread of warm weather diseases. But recently, warmer temperatures have already begun to allow the appearance and spread of mosquito and tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and West Nile Virus, and the potential spread of malaria (Berrang-Ford et al. 2009).

Projections of the future spread of Lyme disease depicted in a series of risk maps show the risk of infection increasing in central and northern Ontario in the next 20 or 30 years. The maps on the left are scenarios of the slow spread of Lyme disease and the maps on the right depict scenarios of the fast spread of Lyme disease. The maps were developed based on projections from the Canadian Regional Climate Model 2 (CRCM2 A2 emissions scenario).

Impacts on infrastructure and personal property

Impacts of weather on buildings, roads, bridges, hydro-transmission lines, stormwater drainage, drinking water and water treatment services, natural gas and communication lines, range from softening of tarmac during summer heat waves and cracking of concrete during freeze-thaw cycles, to catastrophic flooding, road washouts, ice and windstorm damage. The frequency and intensity of all these small- and large-scale effects is changing and infrastructure of all kinds is in danger of becoming subject to conditions for which it was not designed. For example, this means that the environmental performance of some infrastructure, such as wastewater and stormwater infrastructure may become inadequate, which would have impacts on the water quality, water quantity and the ecosystem.

Impacts on the Far North

Most communities — including First Nations communities — in the Far North of Ontario depend on winter roads for travel on snowmobile routes, transportation of goods, trucking in building supplies, new vehicles, heavy equipment and many other large items for business and domestic purposes (Far North Science Advisory Panel 2010). In recent years, the cold weather required for freezing lakes and wet ground — deep and hard enough to take the weight of heavy vehicles — has become variable. Climate projections show the high likelihood of increasingly warmer winters and therefore even less winter road access to communities than today. Melting permafrost also threatens water and sewage lines due to ground shifting and heaving.

The Boreal forest and wetlands across the Far North region are considered to be one of the world’s largest, most intact ecological systems. The region is projected to be considerably warmer and will receive slightly more precipitation than it does today. These conditions will increase the potential for evapotranspiration (the loss of water through evaporation and through transpiration from plants) and, in turn, may lead to reduced ecosystem soil moisture, lower lake levels and reduced river flow.

It is likely that some of the most dramatic changes will occur near the coast of Hudson Bay and James Bay. A considerably shorter ice-cover season on Hudson Bay and James Bay would lead to much warmer and longer summers, as well as warmer and shorter winters. This, in turn, would lead to the loss of permafrost, changing the surface hydrology and local landscape.

Impacts on agriculture

The agricultural sector will also need to deal with the potential for increased impacts on farm operations of extreme weather events such as drought and hail damage as well as pest infestations and increased crop vulnerability from year-to-year (Natural Resources Canada 2007). Overall, water availability is likely to become even more of a challenge for farmers under a changing climate.

Warmer and longer growing seasons may present opportunities for some farmers (for example, crops such as corn and soybeans could potentially benefit). Warmer temperatures could also allow a northward extension of crop production as long as soils are suitable and soil moisture is sufficient. These warmer temperatures may adversely affect some southern agricultural activities such as the ice wine industry, given its dependence on cold winter temperatures for production.

Warmer temperatures in both summer and winter will present challenges for livestock production. While milder temperatures can reduce winter heating bills for livestock barns, livestock pests and diseases previously unable to over-winter here and/or those able to extend their ranges northwards into Ontario pose a threat to our food supply and economy.

Impacts on forestry

The forestry sector will feel the effect of changes in the frequency and severity of disturbances such as fires, drought and severe storms. Damaging insect and disease attacks will also affect Ontario forests. In the long term, the forestry sector will also face changes in its productivity and in the composition of forest species as a result of changes in moisture and temperature (Williamson et al. 2009).

Impacts on fisheries, wildlife and biodiversity

Species survival is determined by many biotic (e.g., food, competition, symbiotic relationships, and diseases) and abiotic (e.g., climate and access to water) factors. Given that climate change will impact all or most of these forces and factors, the composition, distribution and abundance of Ontario’s biodiversity will change during this period of rapid warming. For example, some southern wildlife species will expand northward and northern species are in jeopardy of losing significant areas of habitat in the southern part of their ranges. Similarly, there will be significant changes in the composition of species in aquatic habitats like lakes, rivers, and wetlands. With warming water temperatures, cold and cool water fish (e.g., lake trout, Salvelinus namaycush) will lose habitat while warm water species (e.g., smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieui) will gain habitat.

Impacts on water resources

A changing climate will affect both water quantity and quality. Intense rain storms and changes in the annual snow melt may cause flooding to happen more often. A changing climate may lead to reduced winter ice cover on lakes, lower lake levels and more frequent water shortages due to higher temperatures and increased evaporation rates. In the Great Lakes, a changing climate is expected to cause lower water levels, exacerbate other stresses such as habitat loss and pollution, and increase problems with excess algae growth and invasive species infestations. Climate change may cause changes in water temperature in Lake Simcoe, affecting commercial fisheries and further accelerating the growth of aquatic plants caused by high phosphorus loading.

Impacts on tourism and recreation

Warmer winters in Ontario will mean shortened skiing, snowmobiling and ice-fishing seasons. Although downhill skiing operations can increase the use of snowmaking — at increased costs for operators — to account for reduced snowfall and milder winters, snowmobiling and cross country skiing rely heavily on natural snowfall. Projections indicate a reduction in snowmobiling seasons between 30–50 per cent by the 2020s (Natural Resources Canada 2007).

Warmer winters may also present opportunities for certain activities. For example, tourism may benefit from longer golf seasons and other summer activities such hiking, fishing and biking.

Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

Climate co-benefits describe the result of an action or a technology that is designed to both reduce GHG emissions and reduce vulnerability to climate impacts in the future. When something contributes to both climate change mitigation and adaptation, we call that a climate co-benefit.

Where possible and appropriate, every policy and practice of government, the private sector and civil society should be reshaped and redesigned to achieve three objectives:
  1. The maximum reduction in GHG emissions
  2. The greatest possible reduction in vulnerability through adaptation and climate-resilient development, and
  3. The integration and harmonization of these first two objectives with each other and with other policies such that the joint benefits or co-benefits of actions are maximized.
Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation 2009

As Ontario begins to transition to a low-carbon economy, there are a number of opportunities to take advantage of co-benefits.

Many Ontarians are looking to their own homes as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In many cases, upgrades and retrofits that promote energy and water efficiency can also increase the resiliency of a home to the impacts of climate change.

Sometimes co-benefits can result from the simplest of actions. For example, many communities throughout Ontario, such as the Town of Eden Mills in Wellington County, have decided to increase their urban forests and tree planting programs as a means to absorb carbon dioxide and combat climate change. In addition to the important role trees play in mitigating climate change, shade helps to cool the urban environment. Cities often experience amplified heating effects due to factors such as construction density, types of construction materials used and the reflection of sunlight off the earth’s surface (albedo effect). Increasing and renewing the urban canopy can also generate other co-benefits such as improving local air quality, reducing stormwater runoff, slowing erosion and enhancing biodiversity.

What Can One Person Do?

There are simple steps you can take to be prepared for emergencies that are likely to increase with climate change.

  • Creating an emergency kit with enough supplies to support your family and pets for 72 hours including items such as bottled water, food, can opener, blankets, flashlights, batteries, first-aid kit and an emergency plan.
  • Knowing where to shut off electricity and gas in homes in the event of a flood.
  • Staying informed and following advice from weather watches and warnings, such as those from local Public Health Units about heat waves and health alerts.
  • Reducing your greenhouse gas emissions by taking public transit or a bike instead of a car, unplugging your cell phone charger, turning off the lights when not in use, and washing your clothes with cold water and hanging them up to dry.

Adaptation strategy

Adapting to a changing climate goes far beyond the mandate of any one ministry and requires a provincewide strategy and action plan that applies across government. Adaptation is an ongoing process that requires the commitment and the flexibility to respond to new information as it emerges from ongoing science and research.

The following sections outline the strategy, including the vision, goals and implementation principles, of the actions that ministries will undertake over the next four years. The content below shows the structure of Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan.


A province prepared for the impacts of a changing climate through implementation of policies and programs that minimize risks to our health and safety, the environment and the economy, and maximizes the benefits from opportunities which may arise.


To achieve this vision and prioritize actions, five goals have been identified:

  1. Avoid loss and unsustainable investment, and take advantage of economic opportunities.
  2. Take reasonable and practical measures to increase climate resilience of ecosystems.
  3. Create and share risk-management tools to support adaptation efforts across the province.
  4. Achieve a better understanding of future climate change impacts across the province.
  5. Seek opportunities to collaborate with others.

Implementation principles

Key implementation principles will be used to guide actions. They include:

  • Seeking the best available science for decision-making while recognizing that there is uncertainty in climate change projections and the associated impacts.
  • Incorporating climate change adaptation into existing policies and programs wherever possible.
  • Being flexible when developing action plans to accommodate ongoing improvement in our understanding of climate impacts and potential risks.
  • Prioritizing actions that have co-benefits between mitigation and adaptation.
  • Contributing to sustainable development, taking into account the effect of decisions on current and future generations.


A province prepared for the impacts of a changing climate through implementation of policies and programs that minimize risks to our health and safety, the environment and the economy, and maximizes the benefits from opportunities which may arise.

Goal 1

Avoid loss and unsustainable investment, and take advantage of new economic opportunities.

Cross-cutting Actions
  • Action 1: Require Consideration of Climate Change Adaptation
  • Action 2: Establish a Climate Change Adaptation Directorate
  • Action 3: Promote Water Conservation
  • Action 4: Review the Ontario Low Water Response Program
  • Action 5: Consider Climate Change Impacts in the Building Code
  • Action 6: Undertake Infrastructure Vulnerability Assessments
  • Action 7: Build Climate Change Adaptation into Ontario’s 10-Year Infrastructure Plan
  • Action 8: Integrate Climate Change Impacts into the Environmental Assessment Process
  • Action 9: Integrate Adaptive Solutions into Drinking Water Management
  • Action 10: Develop Guidance for Stormwater Management
  • Action 11: Strengthen the Winter Road Network
  • Action 12: Protect Animal Health
  • Action 13: Protect Plant Health
  • Action 14: Encourage Business Risk-Management Approaches
  • Action 15: Pilot Adaptation Strategies in the Tourism Sector
Goal 2

Take all reasonable and practical measures to increase climate resilience of ecosystems.

Cross-cutting Actions
  • Action 16: Conserve Biodiversity and Support Resilient Ecosystems
  • Action 17: Undertake Forest Adaptation Assessment
  • Action 18: Build Adaptation into the Great Lakes Agreements
    • Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement
    • Canada-US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
    • Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA)
  • Action 19: Examine Climate Change Impacts on Fisheries
  • Action 20: Develop the Lake Simcoe Adaptation Strategy
Goal 3

Create and share risk-management tools to support adaptation efforts across the province.

Cross-cutting Actions
  • Action 21: Increase Awareness of Land use Planning Tools
  • Action 22: Integrate Adaptation Policies into the Provincial Policy Statement
  • Action 23: Consider Climate Change in the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario
  • Action 24: Raise Awareness about Health Hazards of Climate Change
  • Action 25: Raise Public Awareness of Lyme Disease
  • Action 26: Update Intensity-Duration-Frequency Curves
  • Action 27: Update the Environmental Farm Plan Program
  • Action 28: Provide Community Outreach and Training
  • Action 29: Develop the Far North Land use Strategy
  • Action 30: Incorporate Climate Change into Curriculum
Goal 4

Achieve a better understanding of future climate change impacts across the province.

Cross-cutting Actions
  • Action 31: Enhance Climate-Related Monitoring
    • Water Quality
    • Water Quantity
    • Natural Resources
    • Forests
    • Land Cover
    • Far North
    • Agriculture
  • Action 32: Undertake Climate Impact Indicators Study
  • Action 33: Undertake Research Partnerships for Climate Modelling
  • Action 34: Establish an OPS Climate Modelling Collaborative
Goal 5

Seek opportunities to collaborate with others.

Cross-cutting Actions
  • Action 35: Establish and Lead Ontario’s Regional Adaptation Collaborative
    • Developing a Municipal Risk-Management Tool
    • Developing Guidance for Building Retrofits
    • Creating a Heat Vulnerability Tool
    • Integrating Climate Impacts into the Source Protection Framework
    • Developing a Weather and Water Information Gateway
    • Providing Community Outreach and Training
  • Action 36: Work with Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment and Canadian Council of Forest Ministers
  • Action 37: Participate in the Territorial Approach to Climate Change (United Nations Development Programme)

Each action contributes to the Future Vision.

Delivering the strategy and action plan

Mainstreaming adaptation

Action 1: Require consideration of Climate Change adaptation

The Government of Ontario will require adaptation be a key consideration in updating existing policies and programs, and in developing new policies and programs.

Mainstreaming adaptation means making sure that legislation, policies and programs are modified to consider climate change adaptation when necessary. Since overall risk to public interest is divided into specific ministry mandates, mainstreaming requires adaptive efforts from every part of the provincial government.

Governance and accountability

Action 2: Establish a Climate Change adaptation directorate

The Government of Ontario will establish a Climate Change Adaptation Directorate to drive implementation of the Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan.

The Government of Ontario will create a Climate Change Adaptation Directorate to drive the implementation of the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan. This Directorate will:

  • lead or act as a catalyst for new policy initiatives on adaptation and assist in the review of existing policies and programs as necessary
  • coordinate and report on adaptation actions across the province
  • develop a risk-management framework to guide adaptation decision-making
  • sustain Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan into the future and develop new actions in partnership with other ministries
  • undertake or co-ordinate economic and climate impact studies on different sectors and communities across the province
  • lead the integration of science and policy to create strategies that can be made available to decision-makers
  • act as a one-window resource for the public and the Ontario government to connect experts and provide needed information
  • lead the establishment of an OPS Climate Modelling Collaborative, and
  • chair a cross-ministry steering committee to ensure integration across government programs and policies.

To support the Directorate, the Government of Ontario is creating a cross-ministry steering committee to provide knowledge, advice and official points of contact on adaptation across the Ontario Public Service.

Reporting on progress and performance measures

The Government of Ontario will report annually to the public on the actions contained in the Strategy and Action Plan. As part of ensuring transparent accountability, the Ministry of the Environment working with its partner ministries and the cross-ministry steering committee, will co-ordinate updates on the progress of the actions described in the Plan. New actions will be brought through the Cabinet Committee process as appropriate and will be included as part of Ontario’s Climate Change Annual Report.

An indicator of success of this Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan will be that adapting to climate change increasingly becomes integrated into policies, programs, information, and monitoring across government and beyond. Through the Adaptation Directorate, the Government of Ontario will track programs and evaluate the effectiveness of policy measures to improve Ontario’s resilience to climate change impacts.

Ongoing access to experts

Adapting to climate change is a complex issue with rapidly evolving science. This requires careful analysis in order to gauge the impacts for Ontario. It is critical that Ontarians receive the best advice from experts on the impacts of climate change on people, natural assets and the economy.

The Ontario government has developed critical relationships with members of the scientific, academic, infrastructure, and insurance sectors through its work with the Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation. Ontario is able to exchange information with progressive jurisdictions such as Québec and the United Kingdom where there is a wealth of knowledge and expertise.

Ontario will continue to welcome opportunities to work with the brightest minds around the world and at home to increase the province’s resiliency to climate change.

Investing in our future

We know from a number of leading international studies that well-targeted, early investment to improve climate resilience is likely to save money in the long term. This is because the cost of adaptation is likely to increase the longer adaptation action is delayed. The Government of Ontario’s plan includes a comprehensive suite of actions across government to ensure that adaptation to a changing climate is well integrated into financial and policy decisions, whether this involves building a new road, updating land use planning legislation or managing natural resources.

It’s a common sense approach to protecting lives and property based on what we can all see is happening to the weather. it isn't the same as it was for our grandparents and it won't be the same for our grandchildren. we need to prepare for the change, not pretend it isn't happening. Dr. David Pearson, Professor of Earth Sciences at Laurentian University,
Co-Chair of Ontario’s Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation

Goal 1: Avoid loss and unsustainable investment, and take advantage of new economic opportunities

In the context of a changing climate, loss can be significant and include lives, property and resources.

Shifting wind patterns and changing air temperatures will likely contribute to an increased frequency of extreme weather events in Ontario. Torrential rain, high winds and tornadoes, droughts and heat waves threaten human health and safety in a number of ways. This includes damaging homes and roads, contaminating water supplies and causing illness due to extreme heat.

The Government of Ontario must employ a new way of thinking to deal with and avoid loss caused by climate change impacts.

IBC commends the provincial government’s leadership on climate adaptation — The government’s actions represent a significant step forward in focusing attention on the impact changing weather patterns are having on communities across Ontario. Don Forgeron, President & CEO Insurance Bureau of Canada

The Province recognizes the importance of developing, applying and amending risk-management tools — through legislation, policies and programs — to better prepare for the impacts of climate change and avoid making unsustainable investments.

Climate change will continue to expose local communities to mounting challenges — and costs — of protecting lives and assets against extreme weather and other climate-related risks… Science can give some clues about the changes in climate which will force societies to adapt. But national and local decision-makers will still have to make policy and investment choices under a large degree of uncertainty and cater for a variety of future climate impacts. Swiss Re, Weathering Climate Change (2010)

Climate change will affect infrastructure of all kinds — buildings, transportation, energy, water and wastewater infrastructure.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) estimated that the annual costs of extreme weather brought on by climate change in developed countries could reach between 0.5 and 1 per cent of world GDP by the middle of the century. For Ontario, this could equate to about $5.66 billion per year1. In the province, the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program has provided over $60 million since 1998 for flood relief alone. There is an increasing financial imperative to consider climate change impacts in our long-term planning decisions. Among the facts:

  • There is strong evidence from other jurisdictions that proactive measures to reduce the impacts of extreme weather will save money over the long term. For example, an independent study from the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency found an investment payback of $4 in cost savings for every $1 spent on disaster mitigation (National Institute of Building Sciences 2005).
  • In 2008, Ernst & Young identified climate change as the top risk to the insurance industry.
  • Ontario has experienced an increased number of significant urban flood events over the past several years, including floods in Peterborough (2002 and 2004), Ottawa (2004 and 2009), Sudbury (2009) and Hamilton (2005 and 2009).
  • Flooding associated with an intense storm system moving across southwestern Ontario in August 2005 caused extensive flood and infrastructure damage resulting in approximately $550 million in insurance claims alone.
  • Flooding damages account for the highest number of property insurance claims in Canada, primarily related to payouts for the clean up of sewage backups.
  • Water damage from flooding is now the number one source of household insurance claims in Ontario, overtaking losses due to fire and theft.

Climate change may also bring new opportunities for economic growth in a number of sectors, including agriculture and tourism:

  • Warmer temperatures could have a positive effect on some types of nature-based tourism and all-season outdoor recreational activities in Ontario.
  • Longer growing seasons could benefit Ontario farmers.
  • Warming temperatures could reduce heating costs to business, industry and homeowners (to be balanced against cooling costs).

Ontario’s investment and policy decisions need to anticipate and adapt to changes in climate in order to take advantage of the opportunities that will emerge.

The Government of Ontario is focusing action in four distinct areas to avoid severe loss and unsustainable investment, and to take advantage of opportunities for economic growth. These include:

  1. water management
  2. infrastructure
    • built environment
    • water
    • transportation
    • energy
  3. agriculture
  4. tourism

Water management

Ontario has some of the most valuable freshwater resources in the world.

Climate change is expected to result in both low water levels (from changes in precipitation and runoff) and flooding (due to extreme weather events).

As the average summer temperature rises in Ontario, the demand for water for agricultural irrigation and household water use for gardens and lawns also increases.

Growing demand for water and increased variability in precipitation, combined with greater levels of evaporation, shorter winters and altered snowfall patterns will change groundwater recharge and surface runoff patterns, potentially reducing the amount of water in streams and lowering the water supply.

Decreasing water levels cause restricted water supplies which can lead to:

  • decreased crop yields through limited irrigation
  • decreased hydroelectric generating capacity
  • reduced opportunities for shipping transportation
  • reduced value of shoreline property

Warmer water temperatures, another expected result of climate change, can worsen microbial and algal problems and change the distribution of warm-water and cold-water fish populations throughout the province.

Increased frequency of extreme weather events can lead to flash flooding events that threaten our infrastructure, including stormwater and wastewater systems.

Well-targeted, early planning and meaningful investment to improve the province’s climate resilience are likely to be more effective than complex disaster relief efforts after the event. For example, impacts to infrastructure due to flooding events can be lessened by:

  • increasing culvert size so that more water can be conveyed
  • applying proactive solutions that encourage groundwater infiltration of stormwater, such as increasing permeable surfaces in built-up areas
  • improving protection on electrical and telecommunications infrastructure so that these services are not lost in situations of extreme weather

Specific actions related to water infrastructure are covered in a following section.

Action 3: Promote water conservation

The Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act received Royal Assent on November 29, 2010. This act builds on Ontario’s expertise in clean water technology, lays the foundation for new jobs and positions Ontario to become the North American leader in the development and sale of new technologies and services for water conservation and treatment.

The act enables the province to develop regulations that will require new and innovative ways to reduce demands on existing water resources and also addresses impacts from a changing climate by:

  • creating the Water Technology Acceleration Project (WaterTAP) to help grow globally competitive companies, and provide high-value jobs in Ontario’s water and wastewater sector
  • encouraging Ontarians to use water more efficiently by using innovative approaches to conservation
  • strengthening the sustainability of municipal water infrastructure planning by helping municipalities identify and plan for long-term infrastructure needs

Specifically, the act will, through regulation, require municipalities to create a Municipal Water Sustainability Plan — including conservation plans, and a risk assessment and risk-management plan which address the challenges of climate change and impacts on water resources.

The Ministry of the Environment is also proposing to partner with municipalities to develop an approach for sustainability planning for water, stormwater and wastewater taking into consideration projected climate change impacts.

Action 4: Review the Ontario Low Water Response Program

The Ministry of Natural Resources, in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will review the Ontario Low Water Response Program to improve the Government of Ontario’s ability to reduce the impacts of drought on water supplies.

The Ontario Low Water Response Program was developed in response to the increased occurrence of low water levels provincewide due to changing weather patterns. For example, a severe drought in 1998/99 was a particular cause for concern.

The Ontario Low Water Response Program strives for improved provincial preparedness. The Ministry of Natural Resources' (MNR) Surface Water Monitoring Centre maintains a provincial monitoring network, analyzes data to provide early warnings, and co-ordinates the provincial drought response. Conservation Authorities and the ministry’s District Offices support local response in the event of drought.

MNR assesses streamflow and precipitation trends using information gathered from its stream gauge network and the federal government’s climate stations.

The Ontario Low Water Response Program is initiated when conditions fall below the prescribed levels and indicate drought. At the watershed level, measures employed may include voluntary conservation and restrictions on non-essential water use. If conditions continue to deteriorate, broader restrictions can come into effect.

Flood Management: Early Warning and Response

Given the increased frequency of extreme weather events plus increased development, urbanization and population growth — it will be increasingly important that Ontario maintain a sophisticated flood warning system to protect human life and natural resources. Through the Surface Water Monitoring Centre, climate experts routinely review current weather conditions and monitor weather satellites, weather radar, stream flow and levels, soil moisture conditions, snowpack information and ice break- up potential. This information is used to provide Flood Advisory Messages to Conservation Authorities and the Ministry of Natural Resources' District Offices so that they can track and manage local flooding.

Conservation Authorities

Conservation Authorities were established under the provincial Conservation Authorities Act to implement programs in resource management in Ontario watersheds. The mandate of Conservation Authorities includes:

  • enhancing public safety
  • managing water-related natural hazards
  • controlling flood and erosion
  • forecasting floods and giving warning on imminent flooding
  • managing ice and ice hazards
  • regulating development in hazard-prone areas
  • identifying potential hazards in municipal plans and site plan applications

Many of the programs delivered by Conservation Authorities make important contributions in the protection of life and property from floods and can assist in managing the effects of climate change.

The Built Environment

Increased flooding, prolonged dry periods causing droughts and other severe weather events will pose challenges for Ontario’s physical infrastructure.

Much of Ontario’s physical infrastructure was built before changes in weather trends were evident. The average age of public infrastructure in Ontario is 15.4 years (Statistics Canada 2009). While natural variations in climate and historic extremes were considered during their design and construction of infrastructure, it is unlikely changes related to more extreme climate conditions have been factored in.

Going forward, it is essential that Ontario consider climate change impacts in the design and maintenance of public infrastructure.

Investment Markets Require Disclosure

The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) requires environmental disclosure from businesses that issue securities. In October 2010, the OSC issued definitive guidance to further clarify how businesses are to disclose risk from climate change within the context of existing reporting obligations (Ontario Securities Administrators 2010). Guidance includes the assessment of environmental risks outlined for disclosure including physical risks of environmental matters, such as the impacts of industrial contamination, changing weather patterns and water availability. Impacts are outlined and include: property damage, health and safety issues, disruptions to operations and increased insurance related costs. The OSC also outlines the need to assess what risk-management, adaptation or mitigation strategies have been, or will be, adopted.

The United States Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) established new guidelines (effective February 2010) requiring public companies to disclose to investors the physical risks their businesses might face due to climate change.

Action 5: Consider Climate Change Impacts in the Building Code

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is consulting on updates to the Building Code to make new buildings in Ontario more resilient to climate change impacts and to enhance their ability to conserve water and energy.

Ontario’s Building Code is an important policy tool in responding to the direct and indirect effects of climate change. Work is underway by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) on the development of the next edition of the Building Code. As part of this process, MMAH is:

  • developing changes to the Building Code — with public consultation and technical review — that would make buildings in Ontario more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather linked to climate change.
  • focusing on enhancements in water and energy conservation for buildings.
  • working with other provinces and the federal government through the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes to update climate data (precipitation, wind speed and temperature) which will support the model National Building Code and new provincial building codes across Canada.

Action 6: Undertake infrastructure vulnerability assessments

The Government of Ontario is to undertake infrastructure vulnerability assessment case studies to better understand infrastructure vulnerabilities due to the impacts of climate change.

The Expert Panel recommended the Province undertake vulnerability assessments for representative asset types and geographical locations to better understand the climate change risks to physical infrastructure.

Working with Engineers Canada’s Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee’s Protocol, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Ontario Realty Corporation are undertaking a pilot vulnerability assessment of three public buildings. The Ministry of the Environment is proposing to partner with municipalities to assess municipal stormwater and wastewater (sanitary and combined sewers) infrastructure including the update and use of the local rainfall Intensity-Duration-Frequency (IDF) curves. These assessments will help inform the development of infrastructure that is resilient in a changing climate.

Develop Guidance for Building Retrofits

The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, through its work with the Ontario Regional Adaptation Collaborative, will be providing guidance to homeowners on how best to retrofit their homes to withstand the impacts of a changing climate. More information about the Ontario Regional Adaptation Collaborative can be found in Goal 5.

Building Strong, Building for the Future

The Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee was created to develop a protocol to conduct engineering assessments of the vulnerability of Canada’s public infrastructure to the impacts of climate change. It is co-funded by Natural Resources Canada and Engineers Canada. The recommendations arising from the use of this protocol provide a framework to support effective decision-making about infrastructure operation, maintenance, planning and development. This Committee is studying four categories of public infrastructure including:

  • buildings
  • roads and associated structures
  • stormwater and wastewater systems
  • water resources

Critical Infrastructure Program

The Government of Ontario developed the Ontario Critical Infrastructure Assurance Program to support continued functioning of critical infrastructure such as electricity and healthcare facilities during emergencies, regardless of the ownership or operator. The provincewide Program:

  • identifies and assesses Ontario’s key facilities, systems and networks plus their dependencies and interdependencies
  • provides a strategy to assure continued operations during threats from all hazards

Vaughan Tornadoes 2009

On August 20, 2009, two separate tornadoes with winds from 180-250 km/hour (rated F2) caused extensive damage in Vaughan. Several repeated failures of structural resiliency were observed at damage sites. Researchers from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) have concluded that the damage in Vaughan could have been minimized or avoided if buildings had been constructed to higher standards than the Building Code. The Insurance Bureau of Canada cited the Vaughan tornadoes as one of the costliest extreme weather events of 2009, with insurance costs exceeding $76 million for the single day event (ICLR 2010).

Action 7: Build Climate Change adaptation into Ontario’s 10-year infrastructure plan

The Government of Ontario will support the objectives of the Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan by considering climate change impacts when making infrastructure investments.

Ontario is developing a new 10-year plan for infrastructure that will be part of the Open Ontario Plan to create jobs and new opportunities for growth. The plan, to be released in 2011, will identify key issues, trends, and priorities to help modernize and expand public infrastructure over the next 10 years. The development of this 10-year plan will take into consideration the potential impacts of climate change on Ontario’s public infrastructure to ensure sustainable investment.

Action 8: Integrate Climate Change impacts into the environmental assessment process

The Ministry of the Environment will update existing guidelines to incorporate climate impact considerations into the Environmental Assessment process.

The Environmental Assessment Act promotes good environmental planning by assessing the potential effects of infrastructure projects before the first shovel goes into the ground. The act applies to most public and some private projects, including roads, landfills, water and sewer undertakings, and electricity projects.

The act, which came into force in 1976 and was amended in 1997, does not specify that proponents take into account the risks from climate change as part of its environmental assessment of project proposals.

Below are two cases where climate change impacts could be considered in the environmental assessment process:

  1. the environmental impact of a project may be greater when coupled with the projected impacts of climate change — for example, a project’s demand on a local water supply should also factor in the predicted decline in water supply due to climate change effects such as warmer temperatures and increased evapotranspiration
  2. the future climate change risks may impose limitations on a project — for example, building in locations where climate change may increase the risk of flooding due to more frequent and severe rain events.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has guidance documents for proponents seeking environmental assessment and approval. The ministry will review and, where appropriate, update existing guidelines (e.g., Codes of Practices) to incorporate climate change considerations into the Environmental Assessment process. Moreover, as parent class environmental assessments2 are renewed or undergo a scheduled review, MOE will require proponents to:

  • assess climate change impacts and adaptive actions
  • amend the parent documents as appropriate

Water infrastructure

A wide range of water infrastructure is used to:

  • treat wastewater
  • manage stormwater
  • provide hydroelectric power
  • regulate water levels
  • supply safe drinking water

All water management and treatment infrastructure will be challenged by the impacts of climate change.

Climate change may pose a threat to both the quantity and quality of our water. With reduced water quantity and with changes in water quality due to warmer water temperatures, physical structures and operational systems must be adapted to cope with the increase in extreme weather events:

  • hydroelectric dams may need to be altered to adapt to lower water levels.
  • stormwater management systems may need retrofitting as storms and heavy rainfall increase.
  • water treatment facilities may need new equipment and processes to deal with changes in microbial populations such as the bacteria and viruses that thrive in warmer waters.

In the past, design standards for new infrastructure have been developed based on historical weather patterns that track the intensity, duration and amount of rainfall. New infrastructure may require designs based on projections of future climate that differ from historical trends. Identifying climate change trends early and incorporating these considerations into design and operation manuals will help ensure that Ontario’s water infrastructure is resilient.

Action 9: Integrate adaptive solutions into drinking water management

The Ministry of the Environment is leading an effort to ensure that climate change considerations are integrated into the provincial drinking water safety net and sourcewater protection framework.

Ontario’s Drinking Water Safety Net assures protection of Ontario’s drinking water from source-to-tap under two regulatory frameworks (Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act). Climate change has the potential to impact many critical elements of this safety net.

To face this threat, a project has been launched bringing together climate change and drinking water experts to evaluate the extent to which our Ontario Drinking Water Safety Net and associated drinking water programs are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They will be looking at what can be done to protect these systems and ensure the delivery of safe drinking water.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) is also assessing the extent to which Ontario’s current drinking water management program is capable of addressing adaptation. The intent is to strengthen the drinking water program by identifying key priorities and "no regret" actions for the short, medium, and long term. All aspects of the program will be examined including drinking water infrastructure, treatment processes, design standards, laboratory analyses, drinking water compliance, certification and training, and source protection.

MOE is committed to identifying key climate change risks to Ontario’s Drinking Water Safety Net within its existing programs by 2012, and to addressing those most critical to the success of the safety net in consultation with key partners.

Source Water Protection Framework

The Ministry of the Environment is working to enhance integration of climate change impacts into the source water protection framework established through the Clean Water Act. This process takes an integrated watershed approach to ensure that communities identify risks to their drinking water supplies and take actions to reduce those risks. Climate change has the potential to worsen various threats to water quality and water quantity. Threats could include seasonal changes in water availability due to precipitation trends and increased temperatures.

Assessment Reports prepared by Source Protection Committees identify areas where the quantity and quality might be vulnerable to contamination or depletion now or in the future. Source Protection Plans identify how significant threats identified in the Assessment Reports will be managed within Source Protection Areas and are to be submitted to the Minister of the Environment for approval by 2012. Once the Plans are approved, decisions under the Planning Act (including Official Plans), as well as prescribed provincial instruments, must conform to the mandatory policies in the Plan.

MOE will be integrating climate change data and science into the source protection framework and will evaluate risk-management measures tailored to climate change adaptation. This will help inform policies developed for local Source Protection Plans and ensure that climate change impacts are appropriately managed at the local level.

As part of the technical components of the Assessment Reports, water budgets are science-based tools that follow a tiered process to evaluate the risks to water quantity, as well as the ability of the water supply to meet the community’s drinking water needs currently and in the future. These water budgets take into account integration of historical climate data and trends, the impact of drought and an assessment of growth related to water usage.

Under the Clean Water Act, further changes in the technical rules are being considered to include climate change science in future Assessment Reports.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, working with the Ministry of the Environment and Environment Canada, produced a guide for the assessment of hydrologic effects of climate change in Ontario as one approach to integrating climate change projections into hydrologic modelling. This guide will help to inform the development of water budgets under the Clean Water Act and has numerous other target users and applications.

Action 10: Develop guidance for stormwater management

Ensure Ontario’s stormwater management systems are sufficiently resilient to handle a range of precipitation patterns to limit the impact on nearshore water quality and on ecosystems.

The Ministry of the Environment is currently reviewing best management practices in other jurisdictions in support of proposed Municipal Water Sustainability Planning under the Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act. The review includes municipal water, wastewater and stormwater systems for additional guidance and information on adapting water systems to deal with impacts caused by climate change. Among system issues and practices being reviewed:

  • source control (reuse and low impact development)
  • sewers for conveyance
  • end-of-pipe treatment works
  • water conservation
  • inflow and infiltration
  • by-passes and combined sewer overflows

The Province is expected to present new guidance to address the resilience of stormwater management systems in light of climate change.

The ministry is undertaking pilot and demonstration projects with municipal and industrial leaders in Ontario to assist in developing guidance. For example, the Ministry of the Environment is proposing to partner with municipalities to develop guidance on how reuse and low impact development approaches to manage stormwater can be introduced in the development of business/industrial parks.

Towards Resilient Wastewater Treatment Plants

The Ministry of the Environment, in partnership with the Water Environment Association of Ontario and Environment Canada, has developed the Optimization Guidance Manual for Sewage Works. The Guidance Manual identifies the best of current scientific and engineering methods and practices including operational procedures that allow sewage treatment plants to handle peak flows caused by intense storms. The Guidance Manual is available to the public on Water Environment Association of Ontario’s website.

The ministry is also completing a manual for Water and Energy Conservation at Sewage Works, to be completed in 2011.

Safe Operation and Maintenance of Dams in Ontario

Dams are used for many purposes including:

  • storing water for flood control
  • domestic, industrial and agricultural water supply
  • hydroelectric generation
  • recreation
  • low flow augmentation
  • pollution control
  • fire fighting

When dams fail, there are direct impacts on downstream communities, including serious social and economic consequences and concerns with water quality. Climate change is expected to cause more variability in water levels and flows with greater extremes in highs and lows. Dams will experience increased stress on structural stability from increased fluctuations in freeze/melt events in winter and will experience increased erosion due to more variable flows.

Ontario requires dam owners to obtain Ministry of Natural Resources' (MNR) approval of new dams and of major repairs to existing dams (and associated structures) under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act. Since 2006, MNR has been working collaboratively with a stakeholder advisory panel to modernize provincial requirements for dam safety of dams in Ontario. Enhancements being considered include:

  • updating existing design and construction standards
  • promoting public safety around dams
  • introducing new requirements for dam operation and maintenance
  • creating a registry of ontario dams
  • upgrading periodic inspections and emergency preparedness

These changes will strengthen the safe operation and management of dams in Ontario and ensure that they are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Transportation infrastructure

Action 11: Strengthen the winter road network

Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada are working with First Nation communities to deal with the effects of climate change by re-aligning and strengthening the winter road network in Northern Ontario.

The Ministry of Transportation is also replacing diesel genera- tors at some remote airports with solar and wind-powered generation to reduce the need to haul fuel on winter roads.

Transportation infrastructure will become more vulnerable to climate change impacts from damage caused by extreme weather events and temperature-related damages to roads. In the Far North, winter roads (ice roads) provide important economic lifelines to remote communities. These winter roads, which often cross frozen lakes and swamps, require long freeze-up periods. In the past several years, rising temperatures have cut short those periods and shortened the duration of the winter road networks.

In the Far North, winter roads provide important economic lifelines to remote communities.

When relatively inexpensive ground transport over winter roads becomes impossible, Northern communities must depend on air transport with often increased costs, barge transport which is not always possible and much slower, or must face substantial new investment to move winter roads to higher ground. There will also be an increasing need and demand for all-weather road access to the Far North should current climate trends continue and the winter road system ultimately becomes too undependable.

Energy infrastructure

The province’s energy sector may face numerous challenges from a changing climate such as the impacts of more frequent and severe windstorms, and more intense rainfall on electricity distribution and transmission infrastructure.

Agencies in Ontario responsible for the delivery of electricity are focused on this challenge, continually assessing systems and processes in light of potential weather impacts. Ontario is also committed to ongoing development of clean energy sources that diversify our energy supply and that have a much smaller environmental footprint than fossil fuels.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) manages Ontario’s electricity grid with risks from extreme weather in mind. It is engaged in systematic audits and assessments of processes and standards at the local, regional, and North American level, to ensure high-impact, low- frequency event risks are identified and addressed. As an active participant in the standards development process of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, IESO is vigilant in its continual review of standards and processes, and is incorporating new strategies and technologies as necessary to ensure the integrity of the Ontario electricity grid.

Hydro One, which owns 97 per cent of transmission assets in Ontario and almost 30,000 km of high-voltage transmission lines, was cited in 2009 by the Research Network for Business Sustainability as a leading energy sector firm in adapting to climate change. This was based on Hydro One’s use of an Enterprise Risk-Management model which sets out uniform processes for the company to identify, measure, treat and report on anticipated risk factors. Key business objectives, such as the reliable delivery of electricity, are modelled on an impact-probability risk map which factors magnitude, probability of occurrence and strength of existing controls into an index that demonstrates risk reduction per dollar spent as well as responsibility areas for that risk. This enables climate risk to be factored into investment priority decisions and for appropriate delegation of action to develop concrete action plans.

In 2004, Hydro One opened a new Ontario Grid Control Centre (OGCC), which uses some of the most sophisticated technology in the world to efficiently manage the bulk of Ontario’s electricity network in real time. The OGCC operators monitor Ontario’s power system remotely, which enables them to respond quickly and effectively to both routine and emergency events. In its October 2006 audit report, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation cited Hydro One’s physical and network security, training programs and high-tech grid-control centre as examples of excellence from which other utilities can learn.

To enable quick and efficient response to weather-related and other emergencies, Hydro One has reciprocal agreements in place with North American utilities to provide assistance during significant power outages. In the recent past, Hydro One crews have assisted US utilities following a number of emergencies, including providing assistance to the State of Florida following hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. In 2007, Hydro One crews also assisted Vermont following a severe weather event that resulted in significant outages. In September 2008, more than 170 Hydro One staff (line maintainers) and equipment were sent to Ohio to assist with power restoration when a state of emergency was declared following Hurricane Ike.

The Province is also taking steps to determine the feasibility of connection of remote First Nations communities in the northwest of Ontario to the provincial electricity grid. Remote communities currently rely on diesel fuel generation, which has many drawbacks, including greenhouse gas emissions and risks of potential spills. In addition, many remote communities rely on seasonal winter roads for transportation of fuel, which is becoming increasingly problematic given the shortening winter roads season. To this end, in the recently announced Long-Term Energy Plan, the government announced that it will ask the Ontario Power Authority – the province’s electricity system planner – to develop a plan for remote community connections north of Pickle Lake. The plan may also consider the possibility of onsite generation such as small wind and water to reduce communities' diesel use.

1998 Ice Storm – Canada’s 'Largest Natural Disaster'

Natural Resources Canada anticipates that there will be more frequent freezing rain events in the future as a result of climate change. Freezing rain caused the 1998 Ice Storm that hit Eastern Ontario and Western Québec. The storm had a significant impact on critical services such as energy, communications and water supply. Ice loading damaged and brought down power lines, telephone cables, transmission towers and utility poles. Over 1,200,000 people in Eastern Ontario experienced loss of electricity for periods of a few hours to almost three weeks. As a result of the storm, 25 people in Ontario and Québec lost their lives. 700,000 insurance claims were filed for storm-related damages in both provinces and total insurance payouts approached $1.5 billion.

Following the storm, an independent review team at Ontario Hydro (now Hydro One) produced a report with recommendations which have largely been incorporated into Hydro One’s business practices. Among these were to give priority to reinforcing strength and capability of pre-1960's transmission assets. Since 2003, Hydro One has upgraded over 5,000 km of transmission and distribution assets, improving the reliability of the electricity grid. Another recommendation led to the establishment in 2004 of the Ontario Grid Control Centre in Barrie, with a fully functional back-up facility located in Toronto. Lessons from catastrophic events such as the 1998 Ice Storm have been incorporated into development of a pre-emptive approach to dealing with extreme conditions. The centralized response centre in Barrie uses a command-and-control structured organization which tracks weather patterns across the province, anticipating weather-related catastrophic events and ensuring experienced decision-makers are always available to initiate corrective pre-emptive action. For example, in anticipation of an impending weather event Hydro One now mobilizes human and physical assets such as poles, crews and bucket trucks, from areas outside of the storm’s path into the anticipated problem area, to enable speedy system restoration.

With this report and its implementation we in ontario put ourselves among a small select group of global leaders on adaptation to climate changeDr. Ian Burton, Emeritus Professor at the University of Toronto,
Co-Chair of Ontario’s Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation

Green Energy and Green Economy Act

Ontario’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act – legislation to protect the environment, stimulate a clean economy and create a new generation of clean jobs – received Royal Assent in May 2009. At the heart of this act is North America’s most comprehensive Feed-in Tariff program which sparks the development of renewable energy such as wind, water, solar and biomass/biogas-sourced power. By incorporating more renewable energy into the electricity system, Ontario reduces greenhouse gas emissions, diversifies its energy supply and increases the resiliency of the system.

The act also includes commitments on promotion and development of the Smart Grid – a modern electric system that uses sensors, monitoring, communications, automation and computers to improve the flexibility, security, reliability, efficiency and safety of the electricity system. In its 2009 budget, Ontario committed $50 million over five years to enable the research, capital and demonstration projects necessary for the development of a Smart Grid in Ontario. Among other benefits, the emerging Smart Grid technologies are expected to have positive impacts on grid reliability by contributing to the reduction of impact, frequency and duration of power outages.

Ontario Innovation Leaders with Climate Co-Benefits

Electrovaya Inc. is an Ontario-based developer and manufacturer of energy storage solutions. The company has 150 patents on its proprietary Lithium Ion SuperPolymer battery technology which allows more energy to be stored in smaller spaces. In 2009, Ministry of Economic Development and Trade invested $16.4 million in Electrovaya through its Next Generation of Jobs Fund. These funds are dedicated to research and development in technology to be used in zero-emission vehicles.

Lithium Ion SuperPolymer technology can also be used to store surplus power from the electricity grid, providing customers with uninterrupted access to a power supply even if power-generating facilities are compromised during extreme weather events.


Ontario has a strong and diverse agriculture sector that represents close to one quarter of Canada’s total farm cash receipts. Climate change brings not only risks for this sector, but also some potential economic opportunities through warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons.

Ontario’s farmers have a long history of adapting to and meeting climate challenges. Of key importance for agriculture is ensuring future adaptation is proactive rather than reactive. With successful proactive adaptation in the agri-food industry, Ontario producers may enjoy competitive advantages and strengthen their long-term economic stability.

Action 12: Protect animal health

The Government of Ontario is taking action to address threats to animal health brought about by climate change through the passage of the Animal Health Act and a formal partnership with the Animal Health Laboratory at the University of Guelph that supports detection and surveillance for animal diseases, including those that are emerging and evolving as a result of climate change.

Changes in Ontario’s climate may be impacting livestock production across the province. For example, heat stress could pose serious risk during summer heat waves, leading to loss of production and higher cooling costs. New pathogens could pose a threat to our food supply and economy. Warmer temperatures could increase the risk of animal diseases, since pathogens sensitive to cold temperatures may have a higher rate of winter survival in Ontario.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is working with its partners in the agricultural sector to protect animal health through continuous improvement in early detection, prevention and response to emerging animal diseases.

OMAFRA collaborates in funding for applied research on emerging and evolving animal diseases that are influenced by climate change. This cross- agency work involves key partners such as the Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses (diseases transmissible from animals to humans) and the Animal Health Laboratory at the University of Guelph.

OMAFRA is taking a number of actions to address predicted animal health risks, including new threats due to climate change. The ministry is working to improve coordination/partnerships, infrastructure, research and risk assessment through:

  • passing the Animal Health Act, 2009 — a key tool for Ontario to prevent, detect and respond to animal health risks, including those that may emerge as a result of climate change
  • preventing new animal disease outbreaks through veterinary outreach activities, evolving biosecurity practices and protocols3, disease surveillance, and early detection; and by working in partnership with the University of Guelph and maintaining links to other disease surveillance initiatives at national and international levels
  • partnering with the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre to develop and improve tools and techniques to detect significant wildlife diseases that may be transmissible to livestock — some of which may result from new and emerging climate conditions

Action 13: Protect plant health

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is developing new approaches to protect plant health by searching for new crop varieties and cropping systems and encouraging the adoption of Best Management Practices on Ontario farms.

Warmer summers and shorter winters could open opportunities for warm-season crops like corn, soybeans, forages and horticultural crops through the northward extension of crop production. Climate change, however, also brings significant risks to agricultural operations.

Changes in the frequency and severity of drought, shifts in precipitation and storm intensity, as well as the arrival of new pests, diseases and invasive species, all present risks to production profitability, competitiveness and environmental impact.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is exploring best practices in other jurisdictions, identifying agricultural plant health experts whose expertise may be drawn upon, and investigating opportunities for improving provincial surveillance and response capacity.

OMAFRA continues to collaborate with university and other researchers and helps fund applied research on emerging and evolving plant diseases and pests. Ministry-supported research at the University of Guelph is ongoing:

  • to identify risks and opportunities in plant agriculture which are emerging with a changing climate
  • to establish how Ontario’s agriculture sector can best adapt to anticipated changes in areas such as crop yields, variability and quality

New and more accurate modelling of cropping systems under changing conditions can identify major vulnerabilities and help farmers alter cropping patterns to avoid climate change impacts.

Overall program goals include increased adoption of Best Management Practices (BMP) which foster adaptation to climate change such as water- conserving irrigation, integrated pest management and low-till or no-till practices and the incorporation of buffer strips (i.e., planting permanent vegetation immediately adjacent to water sources to manage pollutants and other environmental concerns). Additionally, OMAFRA aims to continuously improve its outreach materials related to these farm practices as new information becomes available.

Action 14: Encourage business risk management approaches

Through research and consultation, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is evaluating the potential for new business risk-management models to better reflect climate change stimuli including models for new crops. The ministry is also expanding research into the impacts of climate change on crop yields, variability and quality.

Business Risk Management (BRM) programs help farmers face the short-term risks that can affect production and profit in their businesses including risks from climate change such as extreme weather, pests and drought.

A suite of BRM programs — AgriInvest, AgriStability, AgriRecovery and AgriInsurance — is available under the Growing Forward Framework Agreement, a five-year joint federal-provincial-territorial program. The AgriInsurance and AgriRecovery programs were designed to respond to farmer needs and to help farmers cope with changing climate patterns. Farmers continue to advocate for the adaptation of these programs in order to satisfy future needs.

OMAFRA is working with key agricultural partners, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, to review the Environmental Farm Plan process to ensure it adequately considers new risks from climate change and increases farmers' climate resilience. These considerations will be brought forward during federal-provincial-territorial discussions towards developing the successor policy framework to Growing Forward.

Ontario Innovation Leaders with Climate Co-Benefits

Leamington Area Drip Irrigation Inc. is a group of 13 farmers who sought improved water efficiency for their operations. After lengthy consultation with agencies and specialists, these farmers created a new communal irrigation system that increases the reliability of water supply and quality to local producers.

The 36 km pipeline, pump house and filter system can precisely monitor the amount of water being delivered from Lake Erie to 2,500 acres of tomato fields in the Leamington area. Participating growers have seen a reduction in energy and input costs and an increase in the quality and yield of their crops. The drip water dispersion technology means water is not lost to evaporation, as happens with standard irrigation.

In 2010, the group won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, which included a $100,000 prize in recognition of its water conservation initiative.


In 2008, tourism spending in Ontario generated $22 billion and supported some 300,000 direct and indirect jobs. Most tourist activity in Ontario is influenced by the weather, especially the wide variety of popular outdoor and nature-based activities. Provincial and national parks are important venues for many of these activities.

Cultural attractions such as summer and winter festivals, First Nations events, museums, science centres, theatres, and historical and architectural sites often form part of itineraries or packages that can also be influenced by weather.

The Ministry of Natural Resources recently assessed the implications of climate change for Ontario’s provincial parks including potential changes in ecosystems (composition, structure and function), increased forest fire severity, and impacts on tourism.

Park visits are projected to increase as the warm-weather tourism season extends earlier in the spring and later in the fall.

At the same time, climate change is projected to shorten the winter recreation season and decrease the reliability of suitable snow cover in many parts of Ontario. For example, due to uncertain snow conditions the Ministry of Natural Resources no longer grooms cross-country ski trails at Presqu'ile Provincial Park, a peninsula south of Brighton, Ontario.

The total value of tourism — plus its spin-off benefits such as sales of recreation equipment — may not change greatly or it could even increase. However, there are likely to be shifts in the balance between winter and warm weather outdoor activities. Successful adaptation would allow a gradual transition rather than disruption in this very important sector of the province’s economy.

Action 15: Pilot adaptation strategies in the tourism sector

The Government of Ontario is encouraging actions to help build the climate-resiliency of the tourism sector through initiatives to expand summer tourism.

It is now clear that Ontario’s tourism industry must address climate change impacts in the near term. Given changes in the length of seasons, the threat of decreasing water levels (affecting water-based tourism) and changing visitor expectations (which are spurring sector-wide adaptation efforts), the Government of Ontario has already taken steps to adapt by supporting tourism-related initiatives. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture has promoted and funded tourism which uses sustainable transportation (e.g., bicycle tourism via The Bike Train). The ministry is also funding tourism operators to develop products focused on locally-sourced food and drink — an important attraction for visitors interested in eco-friendly features.

Future vision

Infrastructure: In the future, the Government of Ontario is considering expanding vulnerability assessments to conduct additional case studies in geographic regions and asset types not yet assessed within the province.

Integrated Human, Animal and Ecosystem Health: The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care will be engaging with its partner ministries to explore a One Health approach to identifying, assessing and addressing emerging human, animal and ecosystem health issues in Ontario. This approach will focus on cross-sector surveillance, monitoring and control and mitigation of emerging diseases. It will seek to recognize the linkages between human, animal and ecosystem health domains, and will emphasize environmental conservation. Adopting the One Health concept as a strategic framework in Ontario will help prevent emerging infectious diseases of animal origin — an action far preferable to responding to diseases once they have begun to spread.

Tourism: To ensure that Ontario is well-positioned to retain and grow its tourism industry, the Expert Panel suggested the Ministry of Tourism and Culture provide strategic co-ordination to guide adaptation in different sub-sectors of the tourism industry. To create this strategy, Ministry of Tourism and Culture would need to consult with academics and key stakeholder groups. The ministry would also benefit from new research on risks and potential opportunities.

Ontario would also benefit, economically and environmentally, by helping tourism operators to go green with their energy consumption choices. This could include assistance:

  • for selected operators to make existing facilities more energy-efficient
  • for tourism operators to diversify their energy supply in favour of renewable sources
  • through communications and other support to help the industry better market itself to eco-friendly visitors

Goal 2: Take all reasonable and practical measures to increase climate resilience of ecosystems

Ecosystem resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to adapt to stress and change.

In the context of adaptation, an ecosystem’s resilience is its ability to absorb disturbances related to climate change while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning (IPCC 2007). The Government of Ontario is currently focusing its actions in several specific areas:

  • biodiversity
  • forest management
  • Great Lakes
  • Lake Simcoe


Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy (2005) defines biological diversity (biodiversity) as "the variety of life". Biodiversity is shaped by ecological forces and factors that are expressed through genes, species and ecosystems. Threats to biodiversity include:

  • habitat loss
  • population growth
  • introduction of invasive species
  • pollution
  • over-consumption or unsustainable use

Climate change increases the threats to biodiversity and can significantly alter the distribution and abundance of species throughout Ontario. For example:

  • Reduced ice cover on the Great Lakes — including changes to freeze- up and break-up times — can affect the food supply for aquatic life, alter fish spawning, and cause birds to change migration patterns.
  • The expanded range of southern species into more northerly and easterly/westerly habitats can pose serious and immediate threats such as the Mountain Pine Beetle (Langor 2003, Lemprière et al. 2008:21, Williamson et al. 2009) and the Black-legged Tick that carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Ogden et al. 2006, Varrin et al. 2007:10).
  • The expanded range of southern species into more northerly habitats can alter ecosystems such as the increased presence in southwestern Ontario of the southern flying squirrel and the Carolina chickadee (Bowman et al. 2005, Varrin et al. 2007).
  • Reduced sea ice in Hudson’s Bay and James Bay changes the body condition, range and survival rate of polar bears by threatening their feeding, mating and resting areas (Obbard et al. 2007).
  • Species such as moose, the gray jay and polar bear are already experiencing reduced range (Varrin et al. 2007, Waite and Strickland 2006, and Obbard et al. 2006).

The Expert Panel identified that, while nothing can be done to prevent ecosystems from being exposed to climate change, the Government of Ontario can bolster the resilience of ecosystems through proactive measures.

Species at Risk

More than 190 of Ontario’s wild species are at risk; causes include habitat loss, pollution, changing land use activities, spread of invasive species and climate change. The recovery of species at risk is key to conserving Ontario’s biodiversity.

The Ministry of Natural Resources protects species at risk and their habitats through the Endangered Species Act, 2007 which emphasizes assessment of species by an independent body which uses the best available science, community knowledge and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge. The ministry also supports the stewardship efforts of private landowners, resource users and conservation organizations by coordinating the development of recovery strategies for endangered and threatened species and establishing management plans for species of special concern.

Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Maintain Biodiversity

Ontario’s system of protected areas includes over 650 parks and conservation reserves with an area of over 9.8 million hectares — approximately nine per cent of the area of the province. Protected areas maintain biodiversity by permanently protecting ecosystems representing all of Ontario’s natural regions, as well as protecting significant natural features, such as species at risk. The Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act mandates that these areas be planned and managed to maintain or restore their ecological integrity.

The provincial protected areas system plays a vital role in Ontario’s ability to lessen and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Protected areas:

  • capture and store carbon in their natural ecosystems
  • reduce the impacts of natural disasters
  • protect ecological services (e.g., purification of air, decomposition of waste)
  • act as biodiversity refuges
  • support the ecosystem resilience of the landscape

Action 16: Conserve biodiversity and support Resilient ecosystems

The Government of Ontario is taking action to conserve biodiversity and support the resilience of ecosystems.

The Province is supporting the protection and recovery of threatened, endangered and extirpated species to safeguard Ontario’s biodiversity. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is undertaking a number of actions including updating Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy in 2011. This update will include integrating awareness of the expected effects of climate change and associated adaptation measures.

In partnership with the Forest Gene Conservation Association, local practitioners and the federal government, MNR will investigate assisted migration for tree species as a potential management tool. Several plantation trials have been established using seedling stock from southern sources for species that are expected to expand their range in Ontario in the future.

The Province is working with conservation partners to track Ontario’s biodiversity through the Natural Heritage Information Centre. The Centre updates information on species of conservation concern, collects information on representative vegetation communities in the Far North and enhances data for coastal areas of the Great Lakes. Ontario continues to protect representative ecosystems, species at risk and other natural features in a system of provincial parks and conservation reserves and managing these areas to protect their ecological integrity.

The Ministry of Natural Resources is putting in place a research chair at Algoma University to study invasive species and the threats they pose to biodiversity. MNR is establishing a new Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie and developing an invasive species action plan against pests such as the emerald ash borer and gypsy moth.

The Ontario government is increasing the percentage of high-quality natural tree cover on the landscape through launching the 50 Million Tree Program. The program is currently rebuilding the infrastructure needed for large scale reforestation through a series of private/public partnerships between the Ministry of Natural Resources and environmental non-governmental organizations, seed collectors, private nurseries, planting agencies and contractors.

The Ministry of Natural Resources is protecting genetic diversity by maintaining the provincial tree seed bank, sponsoring completion of a seed management plan for the 50 Million Tree Program, and supporting a Broodstock Management Program for Fish Culture. MNR is also developing a tool to assist municipalities in designing natural heritage systems with a view to maintaining the connectivity of natural features to help conserve biodiversity. Exploring how biodiversity conservation can be further included in provincial land use planning policy such as the Provincial Policy Statement to promote the protection and proper management of natural resources.

The Province is protecting stream habitat, water quality and shoreline naturalization by undertaking stewardship initiatives through the Ontario Stewardship Program, the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program, the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program and the Environmental Farm Plan. These programs include activities such as:

  • restoring and conserving wetlands
  • tree planting
  • riparian buffer strip planting (i.e. planning permanent vegetation immediately adjacent to water source)
  • livestock fencing
  • developing alternative water sources for cattle

Forest management

Warmer temperatures and changing rates of precipitation may cause changes to the range of Ontario tree species, as well as to forest community composition and site productivity. Forests will also be affected by changes in the frequency and severity of disturbances such as forest wildfire, drought and wind storms, along with the influx of insects and diseases (Williamson et al. 2009). Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will also impact forest growth in the short-term and alter species abundance and the genetic makeup of forest population (Colombo 2009).

The primary objective of Crown (public) forest management in Ontario is to provide for the sustainability of the forest so that it can meet the social, economic and environmental needs of Ontarians today and in the future. To maintain a forest’s sustainability and its long-term heath, the complexity of the forest ecosystem must also be maintained. To ensure the resilience of forested ecosystems, it is important that forest management practices are adaptive and conserves large, healthy diverse and productive forests.

Action 17: Undertake forest adaptation assessment

The Ministry of Natural Resources is researching forest ecosystem vulnerability to climate change impacts.

In 2009, the Ministry of Natural Resources co-sponsored a study of the vulnerability of tree species through the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. Building on this work, the Ministry of Natural Resources is currently working with other Canadian jurisdictions to develop a framework for managing forest adaptation which will include vulnerability assessment techniques and a 'tool box' of adaptive management techniques for use by agencies, organizations and communities.

Forest Fires Increases as Climate Change

Climate change will increase forest wildfire activity in Ontario due to higher temperatures and more frequent and severe periods of droughts. A hotter, drier environment will increase the number of "fire flaps" particularly in northwestern Ontario. A "fire flap" results from increased fire danger due to two or more weeks with little or no rain, coupled with an ignition source, especially lightning. In Ontario, fires ignited by lightning cause 80 per cent of the burned forest area. Climate change may also result in increased lightning activity.

In ecosystems across the world, including the Boreal Forest Zone, fire is a natural and essential force for maintaining structure and productivity. However, climate change projections for the 21st century suggest that wildland fire in the Boreal Zone will become more severe — with a larger numbers of fires and the likelihood of increased burned area (Natural Resources Canada 2009).

The Ministry of Natural Resources coordinates forest fire detection, monitoring and suppression. It also provides public information and is exploring new approaches to fire management in a changing climate.

Ontario Forest Research Institute

Ontario Forest Research Institute research staff is developing new scientific knowledge to support the sustainable management of Ontario’s forests in a changing climate. Researchers are examining tree genetics and the adaptive capacity of tree species by growing a range of species from various sources under controlled conditions to see how trees respond to increasing temperature and concentrations of carbon dioxide. They will combine this information with projections of Ontario’s future climate to determine how climate envelopes (the areas with suitable climate for a given tree species or ecosystem) are likely to change. This knowledge will help them to determine if tree species from further south are a better choice for Ontario, and will identify populations more genetically adapted to expected conditions. The Institute will also evaluate adaptation to climate change by comparing natural populations of trees with those planted on an experimental site matched to their seed source. With this information the Institute will refine guidelines for selecting a seed source to ensure trees grow in friendly environments.

Great lakes

Land use changes, the presence of invasive species, habitat loss, pollution and eutrophication (increase of nutrients) threaten the Great Lakes' water quality and fundamental resilience to a changing climate. The condition of the Great Lakes is critical to the health, economy and natural beauty of Ontario. It is imperative that we build upon existing actions and that we consider the ways in which climate change may intensify the impact of these threats — causing lower lake levels, lake temperature changes, extreme storm events and the spread of invasive species.

Action 18: Build adaptation into the great lakes agreements

The Government of Ontario will promote the consideration of climate change impacts and adaptation actions in all Great Lakes Agreements.

There are a number of agreements intended to manage the quality and quantity of the Great Lakes waters. Ontario will use the Framework of existing programs and Great Lakes Agreements to integrate climate change considerations into Great Lakes management practices.

Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement

The need to adapt to climate change was specifically negotiated into this sub-national agreement among the 10 Great Lakes States and Provinces. The agreement is built on the precautionary principle, stating that "in light of possible variations in climate conditions and the potential cumulative effects of demands that may be placed on the Waters of the Basin, the States and Provinces must act to ensure the protection and conservation of the Waters and Water Dependent Natural Resources of the Basin for future generations. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation".

The agreement commits Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Provinces and States to considering climate change uncertainties in periodic assessments of cumulative water use impacts. Ontario is currently in the process of developing regulations and supporting policies, as well as information and science, to fulfill the commitments of the Agreement. Provincial actions include:

  • banning out-of-basin and intra-basin transfers with strictly regulated exceptions
  • developing water conservation goals, objectives and programs to support basin-wide goals
  • developing the information and science needed to support water use decisions, including the assessment of cumulative impacts of water use with consideration of climate change

Canada-US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Canada and the United States first signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) in 1972, committing Canada and the United States to restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. It was last updated in 1987 and negotiations of amendments to the agreement began in 2009.

Ontario makes significant efforts to ensure that our Great Lakes communities, economies and ecosystems are protected through this process. Ontario’s Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation reaffirmed this imperative and recommended that all provincial, national and international agreements on the Great Lakes be consistent in considering climate change impacts and adaptation. The Government of Ontario is advocating for a climate change adaptation focus within the amended GLWQA.

Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA)

This agreement outlines how the governments of Canada and Ontario will co-operate on and co-ordinate our efforts to restore, protect and conserve the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem and help Canada meet its commitments under the GLWQA. One goal of the current COA is to understand the impacts of climate change on this ecosystem. As part of this effort, Ontario supports research to examine the role of climate change on beneficial use impairments (the degradation of water quality) in Areas of Concern (severely degraded areas within the Great Lakes). When a new COA is negotiated, the Government of Ontario will continue to press for the inclusion of strong integration of climate change adaptation considerations.

Planning and Adapting for Climate Change in the Great Lakes

The Government of Ontario is working with Canadian and US governments, academics and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the development of biodiversity conservation plans such as the recently completed Lake Ontario Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. Key recommendations from this strategy include considering the impacts of climate change and taking action to provide corridors that facilitate species migrations and shifts in ecological communities.

Action 19: Examine Climate Change impacts on fisheries

The Ministry of Natural Resources will assess the vulnerability of fish species to climate change impacts through research activities.

Maintaining the biodiversity of Ontario’s Great Lakes is vitally important; a resilient and healthy fisheries population provides significant social and economic benefits.

The Expert Panel recommended that Ontario analyze the vulnerability of Great Lakes fisheries to climate change to ensure that fisheries management policies and procedures take into account potential impacts on individual species, fish habitat and the aquatic food web.

The Ministry of Natural Resources is sponsoring the development of methods to assess the vulnerability of fish species to climate change at the watershed level.

For example, MNR recently published regional projections of how climate change will affect Ontario Lake Trout populations. This information will help resource managers understand how the future of a top predator such as Ontario Lake Trout will influence food web structure and the stability of the ecosystems that support it.

Climate impact projections are helping resource managers across the province plan for the ecological and economic consequences of climate change.

To advance the understanding of climate change impacts on fisheries, MNR is also:

  • investigating how existing research can be built upon to develop understanding of how climate change will affect fisheries
  • determining how to collaborate with the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission to continue analysis of fisheries vulnerability
Insurance companies call it 'due diligence'; ordinary people call it thinking ahead and being ready for what they see. That’s what adapting to changing weather patterns is all about. Dr. David Pearson, Professor of Earth Sciences at Laurentian University,
Co-Chair of Ontario’s Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation

Lake simcoe

Action 20: Develop the lake simcoe adaptation strategy

The Ministry of the Environment, in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the local First Nations and Métis communities, the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authorities, municipalities and academic institutions will develop a climate change adaptation strategy for the Lake Simcoe watershed by 2011.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan was released in June 2009 to provide a roadmap for restoring and protecting the health of Lake Simcoe. It promotes immediate action to address current threats to the ecosystem — such as excessive phosphorus levels.

Climate change may cause changes in water temperature in Lake Simcoe affecting the coldwater fishery and habitat and further accelerating growth of aquatic plants caused by high phosphorus loading. This negatively impacts the environment and the local economy which is dependent on recreational activities.

The Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources are bringing together leading climate experts to undertake vulnerability assessments and provide advice to support the development of the Lake Simcoe Adaptation Strategy. The Strategy will identify:

  • key recommended adaptation actions
  • roles and responsibilities for relevant parties
  • potential amendments to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan to ensure the recommended actions are undertaken

Lake Simcoe Vulnerability Assessments

The Ministry of Natural Resources is currently assessing the vulnerability of wildlife, vegetative cover, species at risk, watershed and lakeside hydrology, aquatic habitat and natural heritage/protected areas in Lake Simcoe and its watershed. Similarly, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has undertaken an assessment of the vulnerability of the agriculture sector in this area. Lake Simcoe is being treated as a pilot project for the development and testing of this type of analysis so that it can lead to meaningful action there and elsewhere. Experts will use selected indicators including future scenarios based on climate change to determine where and how natural systems are most vulnerable, and then develop quantified risk projections and 'best-bet' options for adapting to those risks.

To develop and implement the Lake Simcoe Adaptation Strategy, the Government of Ontario will:

  • assess and evaluate the risk of climate change impacts on the watershed
  • promote, conduct and support additional research to better understand the impacts of climate change in the watershed — including impacts on wetlands, aquatic life, terrestrial species and ecosystems, headwaters, conservation of life cycles, groundwater temperature, and water table levels
  • develop an integrated climate change monitoring program to inform decision-making and model the impacts of climate change onthe watershed
  • begin the development of climate change adaptation plans and promote the building of a Lake Simcoe watershed community of practice in adaptation planning

The Lake Simcoe Adaptation Strategy will create a model that can be shared to support adaptation planning in other watersheds across Ontario and beyond our borders.

Future vision

Biodiversity: The Government of Ontario will continue efforts to conserve biodiversity, to protect and sustain our natural resources and to maintain the resiliency of ecosystems in a changing climate.

The Expert Panel recommended that the Ministry of Natural Resources guide these efforts by means of vulnerability assessments and by actions that promote resilience of the most affected and vulnerable ecosystems and species.

Ontario will explore ecologically-based climate change vulnerability assessments at the species and ecosystem levels as a critical step in an adaptive management approach to natural resource management.

Forest Management: It is important to evaluate current legislative tools, policies and programs which can help forests adapt to climate change.

Forest policies and programs may evolve in response to climate change. Some possibilities are:

  • incorporating climate change into forest management planning processes
  • considering climate change scenarios in forecasts of disturbances to the natural environment
  • exploring opportunities to enhance reforestation programs in support of adaptation

To ensure resilient and biologically diverse forests under various climate change scenarios, Ontario will continue to sponsor research into adaptive forest management tools and techniques that address:

  • protecting forests from the impacts of fire, disease and insects
  • developing treatments for the care and cultivation of forests (silvicultural treatments)
  • modelling ecosystem processes to assess vulnerability, thresholds, and biological response under various climate change scenarios

Great Lakes: The Government of Ontario will continue to work on restoring and protecting the long-term health of the Great Lakes in light of climate change.

Ontario will continue to improve its understanding of the impacts of climate change through its own research and through sharing research conducted under international agreements.

Lake Simcoe: Assessing vulnerability and evaluating the risk of climate change impacts on watersheds such as Lake Simcoe could provide an example of how this information could be used in the development and implementation of local adaptation plans in Ontario. Similar work could be explored for other critical ecosystems in the province.

Far North: Management approaches that maximize ecosystem resilience and minimize external stressors on biodiversity and ecosystems will be critical in other areas such as the Far North of Ontario.

With the Far North Act of 2010, the Government of Ontario has created the opportunity to work with First Nations in the Far North through a joint body to issue policy statements that may relate to climate change adaptation and mitigation (described in Goal 4).

1 Based on a straight pro-rata estimate using Ministry of Finance 2009 gross domestic product.

2 A parent class environmental assessment refers to an approved procedure for municipalities to follow in the planning of municipal infrastructure projects. There are alternatives to following the parent class environmental assessment procedure such as conducting individual environmental assessments for each project but these can be costly and time consuming.

3 Biosecurity practices are preventive measures designed to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, invasive species, etc.