The Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Canada, Mr. Scott Vaughan, that has been tabled in the House of Commons confirms Greenpeace's worse fears about the state of the Environment.

The Commissioner's Perspective—2008 Introduction Science indicates that we are not on an environmentally sustainable path Providing better information and encouraging changes in environmental behaviour are steps in the right direction The government is not ensuring that tools to limit harmful emissions are working The government cannot demonstrate that environmental programs are achieving intended results Sustainable development: Directions and strategies The way forward
Science indicates that we are not on an environmentally sustainable path

Four decades after national environmental laws and departments were created to clean up Canada's air and water and to safeguard biodiversity, wetlands, and habitats, Canadians still face mounting environmental problems. Despite progress in tackling such problems as lead pollution, acid rain, and ozone-depleting substances, too many smog alerts, respiratory illnesses, and days with high UV-radiation still occur. Few if any of the problems that led to the advent of the environmental protection agenda have been fully resolved.

Since the early days of the environmental agenda, remarkable progress has been made in our understanding of the complexity, fragility, and inter-connectivity of ecosystems. Advances in scientific research, applied satellite sensing, and computer modelling, together with observations from field testing, confirm that the scale and pace of environmental change is unprecedented and accelerating. The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report (2005) warns that our planet has been transformed by environmental change more extensively in the past 50 years than in any comparable period of time in human history. The quickening pace of species extinction is largely driven by the degradation and destruction of natural habitats such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

Advances in medical research also uncover risks to human health from environmental contamination, including long-term, low-dose exposure to industrial and household chemicals. Some of these exposures have been linked to thyroid cancer, as well as neuro-behavioural disorders and birth defects. According to the Canadian Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute of Canada, based on current incidence rates almost 40 percent of Canadian women and almost 45 percent of Canadian men will develop cancer during their lifetimes, and one in four Canadians will die from cancer (Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008). Improved diagnosis, aging populations, smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet are known to contribute to these trends. Exposure to many toxic substances also contributes to cancer, and this is an area where the federal government has a clear regulatory mandate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fourth Assessment of 2007, confirms that climate change is underway. A recent federal report, From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate (2007), examines some of the national effects of global climate change, including shortages of fresh water in southern Ontario and the Prairie provinces that may become more frequent, and violent storms and flooding in the Maritimes that also may become more frequent and severe. The effects of climate change are already being observed in the North—warmer winters are weakening permafrost and putting infrastructure at risk, ice roads are closing earlier, large areas of land are sinking even as sea levels rise, and some species—notably polar bears—are becoming increasingly at risk.

A second important federal report, Human Health in a Changing Climate (2008), similarly warns that climate change is likely to increase some respiratory illnesses and some infectious diseases.

These are not forecasts for a distant future. These are serious problems that governments and the public must face today. As noted in From Impacts to Adaptation, "We have options, but the past is not one of them."

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