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How Will Climate Change Affect Transportation? It’s Not a Pretty Picture

OTTAWA, Ont. -- While the transportation industry has focused on the cost of implementing Ottawa's greenhouse gas reduction strategy, it has paid scant attention to how operations could be affected by climate change.


OTTAWA, Ont. — While the transportation industry has focused on the cost of implementing Ottawa’s greenhouse gas reduction strategy, it has paid scant attention to how operations could be affected by climate change.

And it’s not a pretty picture, according to Jim Karygiannis, parliamentary secretary to transport minister Tony Valeri.

“The first and most certain way the sector will be affected will be through the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events,” Karygiannis told industry stakeholders attending a transportation outlook conference in Ottawa recently, hosted by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. ” Heavy snowfalls, ice storms, extremely hot summers, droughts, and unpredictable fogs are likely to occur more often and in places where they never occurred before.”

He added the longer term trends are potentially more serious but quite uncertain.

Global warming could raise sea levels and flood coastal infrastructure such as ports, bridges and roads, he said. If a warmer climate increases evaporation and lowers water levels in the Great Lakes, the larger ships plying those waters would lose some of their cargo capacity, raising costs for some commodities. Landslides and avalanches that would have an impact on roads and railway tracks are another possibility as well as changes to the length and quality of the construction season.

“These problems must be approached with foresight and a willingness to adapt effectively to climate changes. Transportation systems represent long-term investments that cannot easily be relocated, redesigned or reconstructed,” Karygiannis pointed out. “When we build them, we must make greater efforts to include in the design and construction standards allowances for a wide range of climate conditions.”

He also called on transportation industry stakeholders to join with Ottawa in voluntary agreements to reduce greenhouse gases. He added that his government has initiated programs to identify and encourage the sharing of best practices and through the Freight Sustainability Demonstration Program, Ottawa is offering financial contributions towards the creative use of new emission-reducing technologies.

While Karygiannis’ remarks presented a carrot to industry, later during the conference, Robert Lyman, director general, environmental affairs for Transport Canada showed them the stick: “Climate change policy is at a crossroads,” Lyman warned, pointing out Ottawa has tried education, voluntary programs and incentives in trying to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets under the Kyoto Accord. “If these measures do not succeed, more intrusive measures may be used in the future.”


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