In April, Environment and Climate Change Canada launched a public consultation to hear Canadians’ ideas for policy solutions for the serious challenges that climate change poses to our livelihoods and ecosystems. This conversation is well overdue and welcome in Canada.

One of the consultation’s four themes is how we should be preparing for the impacts of climate change. With effects already being felt in Canada—most acutely in the Arctic—we urgently need a coherent national adaptation plan to build our resilience to these threats.

The Paris climate agreement called on all countries to develop national adaptation plans to address their specific needs and adaptation challenges. And while this plan needs to cut across all sectors of the economy, in a Canadian context the urgency is felt most strongly when it comes to protecting our most vital resource: fresh water. After all, changes in climate are felt very immediately and acutely through changes in the availability, quality and access to water.

A glance at recent headlines reveals the scope of the problem in our country. Whether it’s darker lakes in Eastern Canada, toxic algal blooms plaguing every Canadian province, or the more than 1,000 communities that are still under boil water advisories; all signs indicate that climate change is affecting our precious water resources, on which we all depend daily, with little sign of abating. Clearly this is one of Canada’s major “adaptation challenges.”

The issue is compounded by the fact that water, evidently, flows. It crosses all boundaries, across our cities, provinces and even our border with the United States. Different jurisdictions, levels of government and transboundary agencies are, therefore, working, sometimes independently and in different directions, on fresh water management and health.

A pan-Canadian adaptation plan, with a strong focus on fresh water would encompass all jurisdictions, and set a clear and consistent agenda. It would clearly send the message that the Government of Canada takes our fresh water health seriously, recognizes the importance of bringing together multiple actors and stakeholders, and is proactively tackling the spectrum of issues that climate change is pouring into our water.

In 2011, the Canadian government’s Federal Adaptation Policy Framework laid solid groundwork for a national adaptation plan. But in the context of the Government of Canada’s public consultation on climate action, we have an important opportunity to strengthen and scale up our adaptation efforts. We hope a national adaptation plan will be one of the key recommendations to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna for how Canadians will prepare for climate change impacts.

Here in Canada, we are lucky to have access to 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water resources. This access comes with a great responsibility to manage our water wisely. Canada can be a world leader on fresh water management in a changing climate, and the time to act is now. By carefully stewarding our resources, and by making them a key priority in a national adaptation plan, we can ensure access to clean, potable fresh water for all Canadians, for generations to come.

Anne Hammill is director of the resilience program and Dimple Roy is director of the water program at the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.

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