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Environment Canada's Science Plan

Where Are We Now?

Challenges and Opportunities for Environment Canada's Science

If we are to achieve our mission for Environment Canada's science, we must begin with a clear understanding of our current position. This section of the Plan provides an assessment of what environmental science will be needed over the coming years - those challenges where we will need to apply our scientific resources and experience, facilitate the development of new science and influence others. The assessment is based on extensive consultations with Environment Canada's scientists and science managers, as well as with external experts.2 Challenges and opportunities are grouped under the Department's three primary responsibility areas:

  • Between now and 2050, Canada’s Gross Domestic Product is expected to increase by up to 2.7% per year. This pace of economic growth likely will increase pressures on the environment.
  • Ecosystem Sustainability;
  • Weather and Environmental Services; and
  • Environmental Protection.

Ecosystem Sustainability

Departmental Strategic Outcome

Canada's natural capital is restored, conserved and enhanced.

Key Challenges and Opportunities

Between now and 2050, Canada's Gross Domestic Product is expected to increase by up to 2.7% per year.3 This pace of economic growth likely will increase pressures on the environment from urbanization, industrialization, resource extraction, habitat conversion to agriculture, invasive alien species and pollution. These pressures will challenge the ability of Environment Canada to monitor and understand changes to Canada's natural resources and ecosystems, as well as our capacity to identify, anticipate and reduce the risks to human health, safety and security.

Looking ahead then, Canada must improve its monitoring systems and develop the knowledge and data to promote environmental sustainability. We must ensure our capacity to develop more comprehensive and integrated policies to protect ecosystems. We will need to better understand the cumulative nature of human impacts on the environment. And we will need to strengthen science-based practices in such areas as species recovery and stewardship.

Environment Canada's science, in collaboration with national and international partners, will be needed on several fronts in the area of ecosystem sustainability:

  • Strengthened predictive models: Our science can help better understand, quantify and predict the influences of biological, physical and chemical influences on biodiversity, ecosystem function and water availability;
  • Natural capital: We can help develop a comprehensive framework to restore and enhance Canada's natural and physical environment, while balancing the real value of natural resources and ecosystems, biodiversity, human health, quality of life, and economic development;
  • Cumulative risks: We need to identify, monitor, predict and communicate cumulative impacts and risks, particularly with respect to ecosystem function and water availability; and
  • Resilience of ecosystems and the water supply: Our science must contribute to an adaptive management framework to help improve the resilience of ecosystems and Canada's water resources to large-scale environmental changes arising from industrialization and urbanization.

Weather and Environmental Services

Departmental Strategic Outcome

Weather and environmental predictions and services reduce risks and contribute to the well-being and security of Canadians.

Key Challenges and Opportunities

Every day, citizens, communities, governments and industry must make short- and long-term decisions affecting their health and wealth and the quality of the environment. For example, based on U.S. estimates,4 about 30% of Canada's Gross Domestic Product is sensitive to weather and climate that create inherent inefficiencies in the economy, especially in key sectors such as agriculture, forestry, construction, transportation and tourism. In addition, the risks to Canada's public infrastructure will increase due to the changing climate.5

A shelf cloud over a canola field in southern Saskatchewan during a derecho (a warm-weather violent windstorm with thunderstorms). Photo: Douglas A. Walker
A shelf cloud over a canola field in southern Saskatchewan during a derecho (a warm-weather violent windstorm with thunderstorms). Photo: Douglas A. Walker

The importance of atmospheric and related environmental prediction and adaptation science increases as Canadians
become more vulnerable to weather, climate and environmental conditions. The vulnerability has increased, in part,
because of population concentrations in urban areas, increasing dependency on electricity, aging of Canada's essential infrastructure, and greater integration into the global economic community.

In recent years, Canadians have become more aware of these risks and potential opportunities, such as wind power. Their awareness has driven the demand for environmental prediction science, adaptation science and decision-making tools enabling them to prevent the preventable, optimize the opportunities, reduce adaptation and mitigation costs, and risk manage the rest.

Environment Canada's science, in collaboration with national and international partners will need to address three major challenges:

  • Environmental prediction capability: We need a multidisciplinary environmental prediction capability that supports policy and decision making on key government issues such as clean air, clean water, clean land, energy, health and safety, and economic competitiveness. The objective is to provide highly reliable and useful predictions of weather, climate, atmospheric transport, water resources and other environmental conditions at various scales for different users;
  • Cumulative impacts, risks and vulnerabilities: We need to improve our understanding of the cumulative impacts, risks and vulnerabilities of high-impact events (such as floods, droughts, ice storms, hurricanes and poor air quality) and of climate change and variability, on human and ecosystem health and long-term competitiveness; and
  • Adaptation and resilience: We need to develop the full spectrum of adaptation science, including methodologies, approaches and tools to help decision makers minimize the risks and optimize opportunities (e.g., green energy) while improving the resilience of their social, economic and environmental systems to high-impact events and our changing climate.

Environmental Protection

Departmental Strategic Outcome

Canadians and their environment are protected from the effects of pollution and waste.

Key Challenges and Opportunities

Canadians need a safe and healthy environment to sustain their high quality of life. At the same time, their lifestyles generate and release into the environment a wide range of chemical, biological and physical substances. Some of these substances can significantly stress human and environmental health. We need to do a better job anticipating these new stresses and identifying and managing the resulting risks to acceptable levels.

In the past, governments tended to react to pollution threats, and ended up having to play costly "catch-up" after years of neglect. Today, we know that protecting human and environmental health is much more effective through proactive and integrated science-based approaches. This means taking an integrated approach to existing stressors and taking preventative action on new and emerging issues. We are now using these approaches to manage a variety of existing and emerging complex threats, such as chemical substances (including those linked to climate change), nanotechnology, new pathogens and urbanization.

We need to continue to use our scientific resources and skills to look ahead and anticipate possible threats to human and environmental health. This foresight will give policy makers, regulators and industry sufficient lead time to develop and implement effective initiatives to reduce these threats.

Environment Canada's science, in collaboration with national and international partners, will need to address several challenges in the area of environmental protection:

  • Improved predictive models: We need to understand and model, on appropriate time and spatial scales, the processes that are influencing emission, transport, fate, effects and risks of existing and emerging chemical, biological, physical and genetic pollutants within and across all environmental media;
  • Cumulative risks: We need to better understand, predict and communicate the cumulative risks of chemical, biological, physical and genetic pollutants on human and ecosystem health;
  • Integrated risk management tools: We need to develop tools, standards and advice to help governments and others proactively manage the human, socio-economic and environmental risks of chemical, biological, physical and genetic pollutants; and
  • Emission reduction tools and mitigation science: We need to develop comprehensive knowledgebased approaches, methodologies and tools to help Canadians reduce existing emissions of chemical (including greenhouse gases), biological, physical and genetic pollutants.

2 The reports from these consultations are provided in: Supporting Documents
3 Hawksworth, J. 2006. The World in 2050 (PDF: 425 KB, download free reader). PricewaterhouseCoopers.
4 U.S. Department of Commerce and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2006. Economic Statistics for NOAA, 5th ed. Washington, DC, U.S. Government.
5 Auld, H. and D. MacIver. 2006. Proceedings from the Engineering Institute of Canada Climate Change Technology Conference: Changing Weather Patterns, Uncertainty and Infrastructure Risks: Emerging Adaptation Requirements. Ottawa.