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 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
"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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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.
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For further information: or to arrange an interview, please
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