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Do more to help business adapt to climate change, Ottawa told

Vancouver's Harbour Centre tower is pictured before and during Earth Hour on March 31, 2012. The annual event, in which people around the world turn off their lights to reduce energy consumption, is meant to bring awareness to climate change.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

An advisory group that was axed in the recent federal budget says Ottawa needs to show more leadership in encouraging businesses to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The National Round Table on the Economy and Environment was created by former prime minister Brian Mulroney 25 years ago but, in last month's budget, was given a year to wind down its operations.

Environment Minister Peter Kent justified the elimination of the round table – whose members were appointed by the government – by saying similar work is available from other think tanks and on the Internet.

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In a report released Friday, the panel said climate change is real and its impacts are already being felt across Canada and the world.

"The capacity of and actions by businesses to adapt to the impacts of changing climate conditions – both average and extreme – will shape Canada's future economic prosperity," the report said.

And government will need to provide regulatory and financial incentives – as well as additional research – to encourage corporate leaders to prepare their businesses for the inevitable impacts of a changed climate, including flooding in some regions, droughts in others and extreme weather.

In effect, Canadians need to prepare for the effects of global warming even as they strive to reduce emissions in order to lessen the severity of the shifting climate patterns, round-table president David McLaughlin said.

"This is saying you are going to be exposed regardless – there is going to be climate change, there is going to be warming because of the emissions that are already up there, and it's only going to increase," Mr. McLaughlin said.

"Because of the uncertainty of it, because of the extreme volatile nature, you need to get ready and be prepared. It's not an environmental issue in this context, it's a bottom-line issue, it's a core-business issue."

The round table has previously warned the federal government that its adaptation effort was going to leave the country vulnerable to severe climate impact, and that its policies to date are insufficient to meet its own target of reducing emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

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Mr. McLaughlin – a former chief of staff to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – said businesses will be looking to government to provide leadership on the climate change issue.

"If government isn't concerned, that does send a signals to a lot of businesses who may not have a lot of resources to deal with it, to say it is not a priority for now," he said.

He wouldn't comment on whether the elimination of the round table was evidence of a lack of leadership. But he said the group performs an important function not only in research, but in bringing together businesses and other experts to address issues of sustainable development.

The round table will produce two more reports before it closes its doors next March 31, including one that will assess the various provincial climate programs.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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