Canadian Partnership Initiative UN for Life Decade expert says findings
"disconnected with reality;" economy and environment "impaired."
TORONTO, March 19 /CNW/ - Canada may be on the brink of a fresh water
crisis and unless Canadians start taking notice, our economy will suffer.
That's the conclusion of a leading water expert following the release of a new
poll commissioned by Unilever, RBC and the Canadian Partnership Initiative of
the UN Water for Life Decade, which shows that a significant majority of
Canadians (80%) are "confident" that Canada has enough fresh water to meet the
country's long-term needs. Further, two-thirds disagree that Canada has a
fresh water shortage problem at all.
The research findings contrast sharply with increased warnings from
Canadian NGOs and a report from Environment Canada that asserts Canada faces
numerous threats to its valuable, fresh water resources.
"Water scarcity has already constrained economic growth in parts of
Western Canada and low lake levels have caused a reduction in shipping loads
and reduced water availability for clean hydro-electric power on the Great
Lakes," says Bob Sandford, chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN
Water for Life Decade, a co-sponsor of the Unilever RBC Poll on Water
Perceptions. "With climate change, water quality and availability in parts of
Canada will further deteriorate. Our economy will be seriously impaired by the
effects of climate change."
In fact, the health of our economy is directly linked to the availability
of fresh water. Environment Canada estimates that water contributes $7.5 to
$23 billion annually to Canada's national economy.(1)
While respondents to the poll acknowledged their belief in the importance
of water, they also have confidence in Canada's ability to meet its long-term
needs, a finding that Sandford terms "a real disconnect with reality."
He says, "We are seeing more and more incidences of water shortages,
infrastructure problems, do-not-water advisories and drier summers. Canadians
don't seem to appreciate that our long-term supply of fresh water is at risk."
"Unilever Canada is very concerned about the challenges facing Canada's
water supply," says John Coyne, vice president legal and corporate affairs for
Unilever Canada. "We are looking globally at ways to reduce our water
footprint both in our operations, the supply chain and consumer use of our
"RBC has taken a special interest in water, both because it is a threat
to the health of people around the world, and because it also is a serious
threat to economic development here in Canada," says Shari Austin, vice
president, Corporate Citizenship, RBC. "As a financial institution, we're
concerned about the implications of water shortages for Canada's prosperity
and economic future."
"We need to change our attitude toward water and implement conservation
techniques in our everyday lives," says Sandford. "When it comes to water
sustainability, everyone has an important role to play from NGOs to
governments to corporate Canada to individual Canadians."
Key findings from the survey include:
Canadians on Long-Term Water Supply
- Poll: The majority of Canadians believe in the importance of water in
Canada. Yet, 80 per cent of Canadians are confident in the country's
long-term supply of fresh water.
- Reality: Although water is a renewable resource, it is not limitless.
In fact, Canada possesses only 6.5 per cent of the world's renewable
fresh water resources. More concerning is that Canadians are
considered to be the second largest wasters of water, second to only
the Americans.(2) This shows a disconnect between Canadians' concern
for our long-term fresh water supply and our over-confidence in being
able to meet demands at the rate we are going.
- Poll: Almost all (97%) of Canadians agree that an abundant supply of
fresh water is important to Canada's national economy.
- Reality: Canadians are correct in thinking that the availability of
clean, fresh water is absolutely critical to the long-term economic
stability of this country, and yet Canadians are considered to be the
second largest users of water in the world, second to only the
U.S.(2) For example, water scarcity has restricted economic growth
and development in parts of the Western provinces and global warming
has led to lower lake levels and caused a total reduction of shipping
loads on the Great Lakes.
Canadians on Climate Change
- Poll: Only 10 per cent of Canadians identified global warming and
climate change in a list of options as being a threat to Canada's
supply of fresh water and 77 per cent of Canadians could not identify
any adverse changes to their water supply.
- Reality: Climate change will have significant negative environmental
impacts on Canada's fresh water. As an example, only one per cent of
the total water resources on Earth are available for human use. Almost
68.7 per cent of the world's fresh water is frozen in ice caps and
glaciers. Rising temperatures have had a direct impact on the Earth's
sea level and in turn, reduced the amount of available fresh water.(3)
- Poll: Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians identified mass removal of
water to the United States in a list of options as the number one
threat to Canada's supply of fresh water.
- Reality: This belief is incorrect. The greatest threat to Canada's
supply of fresh water is our belief in its absolute abundance which is
being challenged by heavy use, rapid growth and by climate change and
global warming-induced drought. The fact that only 10 per cent of
Canadians identified climate change and global warming and only one
per cent identified overuse by agriculture shows that Canadians really
don't know what threatens our supply of fresh water.
Canadians on Water Use
- Poll: About 70 per cent of Canadians agree that if a price is not
placed on water people will waste it. Yet over 90 per cent of
Canadians believe that access to water is a human right and should be
free, not be bought and sold like any other commodity.
- Reality: Water can be treated as both a human right and as an economic
good. The average Canadian household pays $33.18 per month, and uses
about 26,500 litres of water in the home. Canadians pay approximately
one quarter of European water prices.(4) As our population grows, we
have to consider the higher pricing of water after our basic needs are
Key Findings Based on Regional and Gender Splits:
- Regionally, Canadians living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were most
likely to be confident in Canada's long-term supply of fresh water
(88%), followed closely by British Columbians (86%), Albertans (86%),
Ontarians (83%) and Maritimes (82%), while Quebeckers were the least
likely to be confident (68%).
- Ninety-seven per cent (97%) of residents in Saskatchewan and Manitoba,
or well above the national average, are confident in Canada's fresh
water supply. In fact, residents living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba
(68%) are less likely than the rest of Canada (76% average) to believe
that climate change will impact Canada's supply of fresh water.
- Older Canadians (84%) are more likely than middle aged (79%) or
younger Canadians (77%) to be confident that Canada has enough fresh
water to meet our long-term needs.
- Overall, Canadians are moderately split on whether fresh water is at
least moderately protected by various laws and regulations. More than
half of all Quebeckers believe that Canada's fresh water is not very
well protected by laws and regulations.
- The majority of Canadians (90%) living in Quebec and Atlantic Canada
believe that climate change will have a negative impact on Canada's
supply of fresh clean water.
- Virtually all Canadians believe that corporations should play an
active role in protecting Canada's fresh water.
- Men (86%) are more likely than women (75%) to be 'confident' that
Canada in general has enough fresh water to meet our long-term needs.
About the Survey
These are some of the results of an Ipsos Reid poll conducted online with
a sample of 2,309 adult Canadians. The survey was conducted from January 25 to
January 30, 2008. The results are considered accurate to within +/- 2.0% 19
times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire adult
population in Canada been polled. The data were weighted according to census
data to mirror the demographic composition of Canada.
About Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the UN Water For Life
The United Nations Water for Life Decade is a globally proclaimed decade
for action on water quality and availability issues that grew out of the
United Nations International Year of Fresh Water in 2003 which began as a
response to the UN's Global Millennium Goals as they relate to providing water
to the billion people on Earth who do not have access to a reliable supply.
While each country in the world will be focusing on its own water quality and
availability issues within the larger context of the global fresh water
situation, the Canadian initiative has been defined by a nation-wide public
and private sector partnership aimed at identifying and responding to regional
and national water issues. The Canadian United Nations Water for Life
partnership initiative is housed, and has its research home in the Western
Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative at the University of Lethbridge.
The United Nations Water for Life initiative in Canada exists to put
Canadian water issues into a global context. Specifically, the initiative
seeks to provide partners with connections to one another and to the latest
and best examples of water management and public policy related to water
stewardship from wherever they emerge in the world.
For more information about the Canadian partnership initiative in support
of the United Nations Water For Life Decade visit www.thinkwater.ca.
Unilever, one of the world's largest consumer products companies, adds
vitality to life by meeting everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal
care. Every day, 160 million people choose Unilever brands to feed their
families and to clean themselves and their homes.
Unilever is best known in Canada by brands such as Becel(R), Lipton(R),
Red Rose(R), Slim-Fast(R), Hellmann's(R), Knorr(R), Breyers(R), Popsicle(R),
Bertolli(R), Sunlight(R), AXE(R), Vaseline(R), Vim(R), Q-Tips(R), Dove(R),
Suave(R), Sunsilk(R), and Degree(R).
Unilever employs almost 2000 people across Canada and generated sales of
just over C$1.3 billion in 2007.
With a steadfast commitment to water sustainability, Unilever strives to
lead by example and remains committed to further reducing its water footprint.
For eight years running, Unilever has been acknowledged as the food industry
category leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for their environmental
policies and for the fourth year running Unilever was named amongst the
'Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World' by Corporate Knights
and Innovest, an international finance and investment advisory firm. Unilever
is also an active participant in several water sustainability programs across
Canada including Evergreen and EcoVoyageurs.
For more information, visit www.unilever.ca.
Royal Bank of Canada (RY on TSX and NYSE) and its subsidiaries operate
under the master brand name of RBC. Canada's largest bank, as measured by
assets and market capitalization, RBC is also one of North America's leading
diversified financial services companies. It employs approximately 70,000
full- and part-time employees who serve more than 15 million personal,
business, public sector and institutional clients throughout offices in
Canada, the U.S. and 36 other countries.
RBC recently released the RBC Environmental Blueprint, outlining their
environmental priorities and objectives, and launched the RBC Blue Water
Project, a 10-year, $50 million philanthropic program to support projects
dedicated to water conservation, watershed protection and access to clean
drinking water in Canada and around the world. In 2007, RBC was named Canada's
top corporate citizen, and in 2008, was named one of top 100 sustainable
companies in the world.
(1) Environment Canada 2004. Threats to Water Availability in Canada.
National Water Research Institute, Burlington, Ontario. NWRI
Scientific Assessment Report Series NO. 3 and ACSD Science Assessment
Series No. 1 p.xi.
(2) National Research Council Canada. Global Challenges - Environment.
Accessed on March 13, 2008.
(3) United Nations, 2005. Fact sheet on Water and Sanitation. Accessed on
March 13, 2008. http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/factsheet.html.
(4) Environment Canada. Water - How we use it? Accessed on March 6, 2008.
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