Appropriate environmental monitoring, evaluation and reporting vital to successful implementation to Alberta’s Climate Change Leadership Plan

Fred Wrona, Ph.D., Chief Scientist Bill Donahue, Ph.D., LLB, Executive Director of Monitoring

Because of Alberta’s northern latitude and diverse landscapes and associated environmental gradients – including semi-arid regions in the south, mountain/alpine systems in the west, aspen parkland in the middle, and boreal forest with vast wetland complexes in the north – projected local and regional changes in climate pose significant risks to our water, land, air and biological resources.

Moreover, Alberta’s significant oil and gas and natural resource-based economies make it a significant per capita contributor to national greenhouse gas emissions, and by extension, to the impacts on the global climate system. Therefore, Alberta is an important player in national and international climate change policy development, agreements and actions.

The Government of Alberta (GoA) is thereby challenged to adopt climate change mitigation strategies for reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, while also having to contend with the present and projected impacts of climate variability on Alberta’s economy, environment, and society.

For example, changes in the hydrological cycle and associated cryospheric components are already having profound effects on the distribution, availability and quality of Alberta’s water resources, including increases in frequency and magnitude of extremes such as floods and droughts, increasing recession rates of glaciers in the headwaters of most of our major rivers, and the altered distribution, amounts, and timing of snow accumulation and melting. Further, these changes in water supply have consequent cascading effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem structure and function, and the related ecosystem services upon which our communities and economy rely.

Climate change will likely also affect human health in many ways. Potential health risks pertinent to Alberta include, for example, increased incidence of temperature extremes (more very hot days, fewer very cold days), floods, aero-allergen production, water-borne contaminations (cyanobacteria, E-Coli outbreaks, reduced dilution of effluent and non-point source pollution), and vector-borne infections (West-Nile, Lyme disease).

As considerable uncertainty still remains regarding projections of the possible short- and long-term effects of climate change on human and ecosystem health, and key economic sectors that are heavily water-dependent, such as agriculture, forestry, energy, and mining, it is clear that better data and information is needed to understand and predict the risks that substantial climate variability and change will pose to broad-scale hydrological, airshed and landscape processes in Alberta. This type of information can only be acquired through appropriate environmental monitoring and related scientific evaluation and reporting.

Credible, science-based data and information about the conditions of Alberta environment is vital to ensure effective decision-making by policy makers, regulators, industry, communities and the public on a variety of critical issues, including: the availability and sustainability of regional water resources; alterations in fish and wildlife distribution, abundance and health; efficacy of current and proposed conservation measures affecting habitat, land management and species diversity; resilience of urban and rural infrastructure and transportation; constraints on economic and industrial activities; modifications of cultural values and lifestyles for First Nations and Metis communities; and the well-being of Albertans.

GoA Strategy

“Climate change is a threat we all face, affecting everything from our health, food production, and fresh water, to biodiversity and our economy. Our government is committed to demonstrating real leadership on the environment and on climate change.”

The Honourable Shannon Phillips
Minister of Alberta Environment & Parks

Recognizing the social, economic and environmental importance of climate change, the GoA released its Climate Leadership Plan on November 22, 2015. Highlights of the Plan include accelerating the transition from coal to renewable electricity sources, placing a price on carbon pollution for everyone, and setting emissions limits for the oil sands.

Environmental Monitoring’s Role

Open, transparent, and objective evaluation and reporting on the condition of the environment in Alberta – including assessing cumulative effects on air, water, biodiversity and ecosystem health – is central to the provision of necessary information to inform Alberta’s policy and management responses, including any mitigation and adaptation actions to address the risks and impacts of climate change and variability.

The Environmental Monitoring and Science Division is taking a leadership role in developing the necessary collaborative relationships with Government of Alberta programs and relevant provincial, national and international scientific and Indigenous Knowledge experts, to ensure appropriate and credible environmental information is being collected, evaluated and reported to inform climate-change related issues and priorities.

As part of its integrated approach in providing appropriate ambient environmental data to inform cumulative environmental effects in Alberta, the division will ensure that relevant and credible environmental data are being collected to also inform priorities identified under the new Climate Leadership Plan.