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Download the Athletes' Letter (pdf)

Vancouver — Canadian winter Olympians are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to protect winter sports by supporting a fair, ambitious and binding agreement at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

Twenty members of Canada's Olympic team took a break from their busy training schedules this season to tell the prime minister that global warming is the greatest threat to Canada's winter sports.

"We're already seeing the impacts of climate change first-hand. For winter athletes, climate change means less snow and ice and cancelled races due to increasingly unpredictable weather. We can't sit on the sidelines when solutions exist. As a country we must act," says Sara Renner, Olympic silver medalist and member of the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team.

Winter activities across Canada, from Olympic sports like skiing and snowboarding to iconic Canadian pastimes such as pond hockey and tobogganing, will be at risk if we don't take international action to reduce global warming, according to an open letter by the winter Olympians to the prime minister.

The athletes are encouraging the prime minister to seek a constructive solution at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen to ensure global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to safe levels based on the best scientific information.

Canada is lagging behind in action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our country is one of the top ten global warming polluters and doesn't yet have an effective action plan in place. But the Prime Minister can turn that around," according to David Suzuki Foundation climate specialist, Ian Bruce.

"Canada can break the deadlock at the UN summit in Copenhagen by committing to stronger science-based targets and backing that up with an effective national action plan," says Mr. Bruce.

"In Copenhagen, our federal government has the opportunity to cooperate with the rest of the world to build an agreement that will protect us against global warming and ensure a lasting legacy for our winter sports culture. We are hoping that Canada signs a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement at the UN climate summit," Ms. Renner says.

Thomas Grandi, former Olympian and member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, delivers the letter today at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's constituency office in Calgary. "Canadians can make a big difference in their everyday lives, but the public can't do it alone. Prime Minister Harper, you have a tremendous opportunity to show decisive leadership at the UN climate summit", says Mr. Grandi.

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Olympian Thomas Grandi will deliver the letter to the prime minister's Calgary office at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009:
1600 — 90th Avenue SW, Suite A-203
Calgary, Alberta

For more information, please contact:

Kristen Ostling, Communications specialist, climate change and clean energy, David Suzuki Foundation

For a phone interview with Sara Renner, Olympic silver medalist and member of the Canadian Cross Country Ski Team, contact Chris Dornan at: 281-703-4394, hpprchris@comcast.net

Note to editors:

International efforts must ensure the global average temperature does not exceed 2° C from pre-industrial levels — a threshold that leading scientists say must not be breached if we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

Possible impacts of climate change on winter sports, if we don't take action now:

  • B.C.'s Whistler area, site of 2010 Olympic Winter Games, could experience up to a 5ºC increase in average winter temperature over the next 70 years under a high-emission scenario (i.e. business as usual — without strong international action to reduce global warming.)
  • By 2050, there could be fewer than 100 days of skiing at many resorts, even with massive and costly snow-making efforts, with lower elevation resorts in central Canada being hit the hardest.
  • Near the end of this century, the skating season on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa could be shortened to just one week. This would likely mean the end of Ottawa's Winterlude, one of the largest winter festivals in North America, which attracts more than a million tourists to the region every year with outdoor ice skating, ice sculpture and a range of outdoor events.
  • By 2050, little or no cross-country skiing would be possible in current locations in Ontario and Quebec.
  • Snowfall provides a protective cover for frozen lakes and rivers, but with a general trend of warmer temperatures and decreasing snowfall predicted for Canada, lake and river ice may not thicken to reliable levels for skating, pond hockey, ice fishing, and other recreational uses in locations where those sports are currently practiced. Apart from the cultural and recreational impacts, it's estimated, for example, that ice fishing alone contributes about $528 million in direct investments and goods and services each year.

    Source: On Thin Ice: Climate Change and Winter Sports
    Report author: Ian Bruce, Climate Change Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation
December 8, 2009