Following many months of grassroots effort, a group of Ontario seniors determined to elicit greater transparency from Premier Doug Ford’s government have successfully pulled five long-delayed provincial documents on climate change adaptation into public domain.
More than two years after a provincially-appointed Advisory Panel on Climate Change submitted its findings to Queen’s Park, that report is now available for public viewing thanks to an intense campaign, involving multiple freedom of information requests, conducted by Seniors for Climate Action Now! (SCAN!).
Bundled along with the now-released advisory panel’s report are four supplementary documents likewise petitioned for by SCAN!. Those reports are fundamental to delivering on the recommendations in the previously-released technical report of the Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment (PCCIA) [pdf].
As this story went to virtual press, the Ford government had yet to update the relevant webpage to enable easy or broad access to any of these documents.
Commissioned in 2020, completed this past January, and released with zero notice or fanfare on a late Friday afternoon in August, the 553-page technical report assessment warns that climate change, habitat fragmentation, unsustainable land use, and pollution are all common, compounding threats whose range and intensity will increase as the decades pass.
The province’s ability to adapt to the ecosystem risks of climate change will depend on informed, forward-thinking governance, the report says. “With few exceptions, climate change adaptation of species, ecosystems, and ecosystem services requires public sector leadership,” the authors write.
Speaking with CBC News two weeks after the stealth release of the PCCIA technical report, a provincial environment ministry spokesperson pointed to the report’s conclusions that Ontario has considerable capacity to adapt to climate impacts—but passed over its parallel conclusion that “this capacity has not yet been mobilized widely despite the imperative.”
With the PCCIA report in hand, the Ford government is “taking action to further build climate resiliency across the province,” the spokesperson said.
Such assertions are difficult to square with the province’s decision to sit on the PCCIA’s supplementary documents for four more months, finally releasing them late on December 8, once again on a Friday.
The released PCCIA-related documents consist of a 140-page summary of the primary technical report; a 126-page Adaptation Best Practices (ABP) report with an accompanying 54-page summary; and a 120-page Decision Making Supports (DMS) report.
SCAN! climate adaptation specialist Jennifer Penney told The Energy Mix that while it will take time to fully assess the significance of the missing reports, her initial perusal of the documents, and of the DMS report in particular, suggests a sincere commitment to supplying policy-makers with hands-on guidance.
“This report is really interesting because it’s saying to different policy-makers at different levels, ‘these are the steps that you need to take in order to do your risk assessments in your particular area of interest and take action on them’,” said Penney, a self-described “policy wonk.”
The DMS authors stated a commitment to “helping practitioners translate PCCIA methods and results into detailed impact assessment on themes relevant to their own contexts to ultimately inform practical adaptation planning.”
The authors of the ABP report present their work as an essential supplement to the Technical Summary. “The intended audiences of this report are policy-makers, decision-makers, and technical climate change adaptation practitioners within Ontario,” they write. “These audiences are positioned to take appropriate action where possible, and to transfer adaptation information to relevant public and private stakeholders, as needed, in support of climate change adaptation in key sectors of the Province (as identified and prioritized in the PCCIA summary reports).”
Given that the supplementary reports were understood by their authors to be essential parts of the PCCIA package, it remains a mystery why the Ford government did not release them in August alongside the technical report, says SCAN!
“Why did the government stonewall for so long? These reports are meant to guide government actions to protect us, our homes, our communities from extreme climate events,” Penney said in a release. “Do the ideas for keeping us safe interfere with the government’s developer-friendly plans?”
SCAN! has proven a force in holding the province’s feet to the fire on transparency. Penney told The Mix she intends to read the released documents line-by-line.
What is immediately clear, especially in the wake of this past summer of heat stress and wildfire, is that the delay has been “unconscionable,” she said, after advisory panel members wrote in November, 2021 that the climate risks “are clear.”
“The time for protective action is now,” they added.