Climate change adaptation in Canada
Canada’s climate is already changing. Higher temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, extreme weather events and rising sea levels are just some of the changes already affecting many aspects of our lives.
Changes in climate will persist and, in many cases, will intensify over the coming decades. That will have significant impacts on Canadian communities through our economy, social well-being (health, culture, etc.) and environment. We must understand these impacts and the options available to us if we want to build resilience through adaptation, reduce the associated risks and costs of climate change’s impacts and support sound decision-making.
What is climate change adaptation?
Climate change adaptation is any activity that reduces the negative impacts of climate change or helps people cope with them, or one that takes advantage of new opportunities that result from climate change.
Mitigation activities reduce the rate and magnitude of climate change, while adaptation addresses current and future impacts. Successful adaptation doesn’t mean that negative impacts won’t occur, only that they will be less severe than without adaptation.
Adaptation involves making adjustments in our decisions, activities and thinking because of changes in our climate. As part of our focus on adaptation, we’re working to understand what climate change means for those living in Canada, which approaches to climate change impacts and adaptation are most effective and where gaps in knowledge and action remain.
Since 1998, the Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Division of Natural Resources Canada has conducted work on climate change impacts and adaptation. It has developed considerable expertise together with a vast network of external experts and partners. The division leads the Canada in a Changing Climate National Assessment Process, delivers Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform and uses its network and expertise to lead a program that co-funds projects to address key knowledge and capacity barriers to adaptation, including for communities and natural resource sectors.
Areas affected by climate change in Canada
Because of its northerly location, Canada experiences climate change at twice the rate of the world’s average. That makes adaptation particularly important in certain Canadian sectors, if we are to make them more resilient to — and able to take advantage of — the effects of climate change. Explore the research and work that’s happening at Natural Resources Canada to learn more about climate change and potential adaptation strategies in Canada’s North, for coastlines and for Canadian forests.
Canada is warming faster than the world as a whole — at more than twice the global rate — and the Canadian Arctic is warming at about three times the global rate. Due to this rapid warming, sea-ice deterioration and changes in permafrost are expected to put communities and infrastructure in the North at risk. Understanding current permafrost and sea-ice conditions and how they may evolve in response to a changing climate is essential for the assessment of climate change impacts and the development of adaptation strategies in northern Canada. The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) conducts geoscience research to inform land-use planners, local governments and community leaders, industry and regulators who need to adapt to changing environments in Canada’s North. They use this information to create more resilient communities and infrastructure, and to respond to opportunities to develop natural resources.
Canada is surrounded by oceans on three sides: Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic. Climate change will impact a number of ocean properties, such as temperature, sea ice, sea level, acidity and dissolved oxygen. Sea-level rise and more extreme high-water events will increase the risk of coastal flooding in some coastal communities. These changes will result in greater impacts on cities in the future, unless appropriate adaptation and risk management are implemented. The GSC has produced relative sea-level projections for Canada to support planning and adaptation tools like Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Canadian Extreme Water Level Adaptation Tool.
Canada’s forests cover a greater land area and store more carbon than do the forests of almost any other nation. How Canada manages its forests is therefore a global concern. That’s why the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) is working to identify options so Canada’s forest sector can adapt to climate change. New knowledge is helping forest managers reduce the risks of climate change negatively affecting ecosystems and the forest sector. It’s also helping managers optimize what benefits may come from climate change. The CFS is also working with provinces, territories, universities and industry to develop decision support tools for managers and policy makers.
Moving forward on climate change adaptation
Successful adaptation practices continue to emerge, but large gaps remain in Canada’s preparedness for climate change. We’re seeing the increased frequency and intensity of costly natural disasters, such as floods and wildfires, as well as growing risks to infrastructure, supply chains and communities as a result of sustained changes to our environment, like permafrost thaw and coastal erosion.
It’s critical to Canada’s economic and social well-being that we take rapid action on adaptation. That includes working here at home as well as looking at the climate change impacts and adaptation action occurring elsewhere in the world, which can strongly affect food availability, trade and immigration in Canada.
Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy
The Government of Canada is developing Canada’s first National Adaptation Strategy as part of the strengthened climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy. The Strategy presents a blueprint for whole-of-society action on climate change adaptation. It outlines a shared path to a more climate-resilient Canada and establishes a shared vision of what we want our future to look like across five key systems that are at the heart of our lives and communities:
- Health and well-being
- Nature and biodiversity
- Economy and workers
- Disaster resilience
NRCan leads the Economy and Workers System of the National Adaptation Strategy. The advisory table for this system considered the impacts climate change will have across the economy, from finance, investment and insurance to labour and skills. It also considered the impacts on seven sectors identified as being particularly vulnerable to climate change in Canada's National Issues Report: forestry, fisheries, agriculture, mining, energy, transportation and tourism. Engagement with key partners and stakeholders throughout the development of the Strategy has shaped goals and objectives that strengthen the resilience of the economy, and prepare and protect workers.
NRCan leads in areas of science necessary to improve the understanding of how climate changes impact terrestrial systems, including groundwater, erosion and deposition, permafrost changes, coastal dynamics, forest ecosystems and timber supply. The department has also been leading adaptation programs for over two decades to help businesses, communities and practitioners understand, assess and develop solutions to the climate change impacts they face. The programs develop the knowledge, tools, guidance and skills needed to help economic sectors — including wildfire resilience in the forestry sector, resilient housing, geoscience and geospatial data — understand and monitor impacts. As the lead of the Economy and workers system, NRCan will continue to convene and collaborate with experts, partners and stakeholders and to play a key role in advancing adaptation solutions for industries, businesses and communities.
To complement the Strategy, the Government of Canada Adaptation Action Plan sets out the federal role in preparing Canadians for climate hazards and outlines specific investments, programs and initiatives that are making Canada more resilient to climate impacts. The Action Plan includes $1.6 billion in new federal spending to support climate change adaptation. New funding is being provided to three federal programs that will be delivered by Natural Resources Canada for Canadians across the country, specifically:
- Boosting the Flood Hazard Identification and Mapping Program to advance nation-wide flood mapping coverage and share all accessible flood hazard information to help keep Canadians and communities safe.
- A Wildfire Resilient Futures Initiative to enhance the FireSmart Canada program and build wildland fire knowledge through research and pilot projects on fire risk reduction measures. A Centre of Excellence for Wildland Fire Innovation and Resilience will also be created to help transform wildland fire management in Canada and internationally through innovation, knowledge exchange and supports for Indigenous fire stewardship.
- The climate resilient coastal communities program to support systems-based approaches to adaptation actions in coastal regions. Pilot projects will involve governments, Indigenous rights–holders, businesses and other stakeholders to address key climate change risks such as those related to sea level rise, coastal erosion and permafrost thaw; and develop an integrated approach to planning and implementing regional-scale climate resilience.
The Government continues to work with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous organizations and communities, and other stakeholders to increase Canada’s resilience to a changing climate. The National Adaptation Strategy and Government of Canada Adaptation Action Plan will be updated regularly, and a measurement framework will be developed to ensure Canada is on the right track to increase resilience to our changing climate.
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