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Special Reports


Canadians over-confident in country's supply of fresh water new poll by Unilever and RBC reveals

Canadian Partnership Initiative UN for Life Decade expert says findings "disconnected with reality;" economy and environment "impaired."

TORONTO, ON March 19, 2008 — 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.i

"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 products."

"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.ii This shows a disconnect between Canadians' concern for our long-term fresh 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.ii 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.iii

  • 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 supply.

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.iv As our population grows, we have to consider the higher pricing of water after our basic needs are met.

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 Decade
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.

About Unilever
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®, Lipton®, Red Rose®, Slim-Fast®, Hellmann's®, Knorr®, Breyers®, Popsicle®, Bertolli®, Sunlight®, AXE®, Vaseline®, Vim®, Q-Tips®, Dove®, Suave®, Sunsilk®, and Degree®.

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.

About RBC
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.

- 30 -

For further information: or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Kate Hanna

Roch Landriault

Erin Hochstein

Beth Lockley

iEnvironment 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.

iiNational Research Council Canada. Global Challenges - Environment. Accessed on March 13, 2008. http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/aboutUs/ren/nrc-foresight_16_e.html.

iiiUnited Nations, 2005. Fact sheet on Water and Sanitation. Accessed on March 13, 2008. http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/factsheet.html.

ivEnvironment Canada. Water - How we use it? Accessed on March 6, 2008. http://www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/info/pubs/primer/e_prim03.htm


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03/19/2008 09:20:17