Canada's Mackenzie River needs aid as climate "refrigerator"

Mon Sep 3, 2012 5:01pm EDT
 
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By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) - Canada's Mackenzie River basin needs better protection as a vast northern "refrigerator" slowing global climate change, experts said on Monday.

Canada's longest river also needs a unifying plan to oversee water quality, wildlife and oil pollution that would be similar to European Union directives governing rivers such as the Rhine or Danube, they said.

There is now a patchwork of government and local rules for the 1,800-km-long (1,100-mile) river that flows into the Arctic Ocean through a basin of forests and tundra covering 20 percent of Canada.

"The watershed is important not just for North America but for the globe," said Thomas Axworthy, president and CEO of the Toronto-based Gordon Foundation which is helping fund talks in Vancouver from September 5-7 about new ways to protect the river.

"Unlike many of our waters and streams it has not yet been ruined," Axworthy told Reuters, adding there were big risks unless oversight was improved. The foundation promotes freshwater resources in Canada.

"The refrigerator-like cooling effect of ice and annual snow cover in the northern Mackenzie basin plays a vital role in weather and climate patterns in Canada and throughout the northern hemisphere," conference organizers said in a statement.

GRIZZLY POLAR BEARS

There are already signs of a changing climate - such as a melting of ice roads, more insect pests in forests and even cases of grizzly and polar bears interbreeding. Better understanding of the risks was needed to plan for the future.   Continued...