In a 1997 Global State of the Environment Report, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) made the following comments on environmental progress in North America:
Destructive consumer choices are slowing a generation's worth of environmental progress in North America. ... The two countries ... rank among the wealthiest in the world, not only in per capita income but also in richness of natural resources. With its high standard of living, North America is the leading producer and consumer of goods and services -- and of waste -- on the planet.1
The UNEP report noted that per capita gasoline consumption in North America is nine times the world average, and the continent produces one-quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions, even though it houses only one-twentieth of the world's population. This was attributed to "the booming desire for a mobile lifestyle, increasingly propelled by heavy and inefficient vehicles, [which] has led to significant increases in total energy use." The report went on to note that Canadians and Americans are among the world's largest per capita consumers of water because prices are relatively low. Canadian households use twice as much water as European households, but pay half as much. The Great Lakes basin, in particular, was highlighted, given that it is home to more than one tenth of the population of the U.S. and one quarter of the population of Canada. The basin contains some of the world's largest concentrations of industrial capacity and accounts for nearly 25 per cent of total Canadian agricultural production.
The Central Ontario Zone contains Canada's largest concentration of population, industrial capacity, agricultural production, and possibly water use per capita. Its wealth is beyond the dreams of most regions of the world and of many parts of Canada. The Government of Ontario, and the people of Ontario, need to understand that our environmental problems are not just regional problems, they are also global problems, and our solutions are not just regional solutions, they are global solutions. We must find remedies that extend beyond the narrow confines of Ontario, or any particular region of Ontario. We have an obligation to be responsible global citizens and to contribute to solving problems that extend beyond Ontario and Canada's borders, which should be emphasized in the work of the Central Ontario Zone Smart Growth Panel. This argues for more far-reaching solutions than addressing immediate and even longer-term local and regional problems might sometimes suggest.
There is another compelling reason for adopting a global perspective -- the impact that global environmental problems have, and increasingly will have, on Ontario. To illustrate this, the following table shows some of the projected impacts and health effects in the Toronto-Niagara Region associated with climate change.2
Impacts of Climate Change in the Toronto-Niagara Region
The number of days exceeding 30degC could double by the 2030s and surpass 50 days by the 2080s. The number of heat-related premature deaths among the elderly could reach 171 to 447 annually during an average summer by the mid-2020s.
The frequency of extreme weather events is projected to increase, with associated increases in injuries, illnesses, and deaths caused by high winds, tornadoes, blizzards, and ice storms.
Transmission vectors for West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease are already present. Increased exposure to these and other vector-borne and rodent-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, and hantavirus, is projected as they spread northward due, in part, to climate change.
Background ambient levels of ground-level ozone are projected to double under climate change, while the frequency of occurrence of oppressive air masses could increase from 5% of summer days to 23-39% by 2080. This would result in a substantial increase in illness, hospital admissions, and death caused by air pollution, which is currently estimated to cause 1,900 deaths in Ontario and almost $1 billion in health care costs annually.
In areas dependent on groundwater, increased exposure to water-borne and food-borne illnesses are expected to occur, such as diseases caused by Giardia, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium, due to changes in the intensity and frequency of excessive rainfall events.
The stratospheric ozone layer may not begin to recover until 2020-2050, thus exacerbating the health risks caused by ultraviolet radiation. In Ontario, it is estimated that there will be 370 deaths due to melanoma in 2002.
1. United Nations Environment Programme. 1997. Global State of the Environment Report 1997; Chapter 2: Regional Perspectives: North America: Major Environmental Concerns.
2. Pollution Probe. 2002. Towards an Adaptation Action Plan: Climate Change and Health in the Toronto-Niagara Region (October 2002).