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Global Issues


Geographic Equity

Climate change involves a classic case of inequity between the rich and the poor of the world. The people and countries that have grown wealthy through economies driven by fossil fuels are visiting upon the poorest countries damaging changes in the form of disasters and threatened water and food supplies, due to a changing climate. These poorest and most vulnerable countries contribute least to the global greenhouse gas burden (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 1994; Stern, 2006). The disparity between rich and poor due to social and economic factors is likely to be exacerbated by climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001c).

Coastal communities may also suffer disproportionately from climate change because some of the most pervasive impacts are those arising from warming of the global oceans. This contributes to sea-level rise, more intense and long-lived tropical cyclones, and redistribution of fish populations. Impacts on coastal areas and nearshore communities include erosion of beaches and shorelines, loss of coral reefs, and more frequent and severe flooding of low-lying areas during storms. Without significant adaptation measures, an additional 80 million people are at risk of flooding in coastal areas by the 2080s, and the problem is only going to increase with time (Parry et al., 2001).

Impacts on human health through changes in water availability and quality, spread of tropical diseases, impacts on food systems, and natural disasters also affect most seriously the poorest communities, those least able to adapt (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001b, 2007b). Subsequent sections outline some of the ways in which Canada can support adaptation in less developed countries. Sustainable development pathways can help significantly to reduce the impacts associated with climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b).

Intergenerational Equity

In addition to concerns over geographic inequity, the climate change issue is also characterized by inequity over time. Emissions now, will have impacts, mostly adverse, on many future generations. For example, if greenhouse gas concentrations were stabilized at 2006 levels (379 ppm CO2), sea level would continue to rise for more than 500 years due to thermal expansion and for thousands of years due to melting of ice on land (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007a). Adaptation measures in coastal regions require long-term strategies.


Extreme weather events can become natural disasters when they strike vulnerable communities that are unable to manage the risk and unprepared to cope with the hazard. People in Canada can be affected by natural disasters in other countries through indirect impacts on the availability and cost of goods and services, changes in financial markets, and requests for donations of money, clothing and food. An example was the spike in oil and gas prices in Canada following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the storm's impact on Gulf oil production (Kovacs, 2005).

The potential impacts of climate-related trends, and their continuation under the changing climate, have important implications for the insurance industry, as well as human suffering. These trends also indicate an increasing need for humanitarian emergency assistance abroad, and the importance of assisting developing regions with disaster-loss-mitigation projects as an adaptation to climate change.

Changing Conditions

As the global population continues to grow, and exposure of infrastructure to weather-related disasters increases, economic losses are also expected to increase. However, there is evidence that losses from climate/weather events have been rising at a greater rate than would be expected from changes in exposure alone. It is also evident that the frequency of severe weather events resulting in major losses, such as storms, floods and droughts, has also been rising. The global number of severe damage-causing storms has increased from an average of 150 per year in the early 1980s to between 250 and 300 per year in the period 2000 to 2004 (Mills, 2005). Total property losses (excluding health impacts) have been rising twice as fast as would be expected due to growth in world economies and population (Mills, 2005). Thus, a portion of the growth in disaster losses is attributable to a changing climate, as demonstrated by the increase in climate extremes of various kinds (see Section 1.2), and is consistent with climate model projections (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001a, 2007a). This has occurred despite attempts in many countries to reduce losses through, for example, tougher building codes, better warning systems and flood-loss-reduction projects. Nevertheless, the improved warning systems have resulted in fewer fatalities in the 1990s than in the 1970s, even as affected populations have risen dramatically.

In 1975, worldwide economic losses due to severe weather disasters, adjusted for the effects of inflation, were US$4 billion; 30 years later, losses in 2005 were more than US$200 billion, representing a fifty-fold increase (Munich Reinsurance, 2006). Property damage payments by insurance companies also increased fifty-fold during this period, from US$1.6 billion to US$83 billion, again adjusted for the effects of inflation. Although the insurance industry has been in business for more than three hundred years, seven of the ten most costly disasters affecting the industry have occurred since 2001 (Mills, 2005). Data from the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters indicates that 80% of all natural disasters in the decade from 1996 to 2005 were meteorological or hydrological, and that more than 1.5 billion people worldwide were affected by weather- and water-related disasters between 2000 and 2004 (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2006).

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2004) studied 3000 natural disaster events that occurred around the globe between 1994 and 2003. More than 80% of these were high-impact weather-related events. During this period, 580 000 fatalities and economic losses of US$680 billion were recorded, and an average of 250 million people per year displaced from their homes. More than 95% of the damage to property was recorded in affluent or moderate-income countries, with the largest losses in the United States. In contrast, more than 90% of the disaster fatalities and 98% of the people displaced by disasters lived in moderate- or low-income nations, primarily in Asia and Africa (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2004). High-impact weather is largely an economic shock in affluent countries like Canada, but severe weather in poorer countries is also a significant threat to life, health and safety.

In highly developed countries, the average number of deaths per disaster is 23, whereas the number increases dramatically to more than 1000 deaths per disaster in less developed countries (World Meteorological Organization, 2006). Although the absolute dollar costs of disasters in highly developed countries are large, they are usually much less than the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country (Handmer, 2003). Although Hurricane Katrina caused large losses, it was a small fraction of the United States GDP. In contrast, losses from the hurricane in 1998 in Honduras amounted to more than 75% of its GDP. In Central America and the Caribbean, damages from hurricanes can set back national economic development for years by diverting investments from growth to recovery (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2005a).

International Assistance

Canadians have long supported international disaster-relief efforts, and this support has increased in recent years. The tsunami in south Asia, drought in Africa, and hurricane damage in the Caribbean, Central America and the United States are some recent events that have led to significant support from people across Canada.

International and Canadian assistance to disaster victims has been growing for several decades with the increase in extreme events. An important challenge is to look beyond disaster relief and begin to build resilient communities that are better able to cope with the threat of high-impact weather. The period of rebuilding following a natural disaster can be an ideal time to invest in disaster-resilient infrastructure and buildings, as well as relocation, rather than put people and infrastructure back in harm's way. In addition, this is a period appropriate for investment in non-structural disaster-risk-reduction activities, such as improved warning and preparedness systems and appropriate land-use changes. These concepts are important for disaster-loss-reduction assistance.

International Insurance

The global insurance industry provides the primary mechanism used to value and pool the threat of property damage due to high-impact weather.

The cost of insurance for homes and businesses has increased in recent years in regions where new research shows that the expected future damage is higher than historical damage. This has been evident in Florida and along the Gulf coast of the United States. In most markets, however, the cost of property insurance has been stable or declining when measured relative to the value of the property. Some severe weather events did not affect the cost of insurance. For example, the 1998 ice storm, the most costly event faced by Canadian insurers, did not result in higher rates because it was generally viewed by the industry as a risk that has not changed in likelihood. Moreover, more than 90% of the factors affecting the cost of insurance (e.g. frequency of theft or urban fires, or vehicle repair costs) are not related to weather, so increases in severe weather damage may have only a modest impact on the overall cost of comprehensive insurance policies.

Some companies insure insurance companies; this is called reinsurance. Much of the cost of repairing property damaged by severe weather events is borne by the reinsurance industry, through the payments it makes to insurance companies. The reinsurance business is volatile. Insurance companies are paying more for reinsurance in regions where there is a growing risk of severe weather events, such as the Caribbean and the Atlantic coastal region of the United States. This has placed the cost of insurance beyond the reach of many less well-off citizens of these affected regions. To date, however, the cost of reinsurance has been stable for insurance companies in Canada.

Supply of International Goods and Services

Extreme climate events affect the availability and cost of goods and services purchased by Canadians. The impact of Hurricane Katrina on gasoline supplies and prices was noted above (Kovacs, 2005). Severe weather has, at times, affected the harvest of such crops as coffee and oranges. Increased hurricane activity has disrupted Canadian vacation plans to Mexico, the Caribbean and the United States. Many Canadian individuals and companies own property at risk, especially in Florida, the Gulf States and the Caribbean, and have faced major increases in insurance premiums.

Large disasters can influence international financial markets, in which many Canadians invest. Such disasters have impacted certain sectors, particularly energy and food, as in the case of Hurricane Katrina. These shocks frequently have an immediate impact on the Canadian financial markets, even if the disaster struck in a distant location.


Canada, perhaps more than any country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has good reason to ask how climate change might affect its patterns of international trade, since trade occupies an exceptionally strong position in the national economy. Canadian exports and imports as a percentage of gross domestic product stood at 70% in 2006, and trade directly contributed 12.8% to GDP (Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, 2006).

The most likely impacts of climate change on international trade stem from its potential to fundamentally alter the basis for comparative advantage - one of the key drivers for trade. These impacts may manifest themselves by:

  • altering the competitiveness of Canadian producers (for better and for worse);
  • similarly altering the competitiveness of foreign firms that compete with Canadian producers, both in the Canadian market and in third-country markets; and
  • leading to policies that will, in turn, impact competitiveness in foreign markets.

The third factor (impacts of policies) lies outside the scope of this analysis. The first two factors are illustrated below by exploring climate change implications for some of Canada's key export sectors: forestry, agriculture and fisheries. Energy is dealt with in Section 4.2.

It is not possible to say with certainty what the impacts of climate change will be for Canada's trade patterns in any of these sectors. In many cases, there is still some uncertainty regarding the regional and local changes in climate, and about the dynamics of the linkages between those changes and biophysical impacts (e.g. on net primary productivity). Moreover, some types of impacts (such as extreme weather events) can at best only be expressed in terms of probability. And, although the literature focuses most heavily on supply-side issues, highly speculative assumptions about mid- to long-term demand for Canada's exports are required to translate this research into price impacts. Finally, there is a range of climate change models, sectoral models and assumptions about mitigation and adaptation from which to choose, resulting in a range of plausible scenarios.


Forestry is one of Canada's leading export sectors. Forest products amounted to more than 10% of Canada's total merchandise exports, averaging $45 billion per year in the five years ending 2005 (Table 1). The forest sector as a whole creates direct employment for more than 370 000 people (Natural Resources Canada, 2001) and an estimated 555 000 indirect and induced jobs (Natural Resources Canada, 2005).

The biggest export market by far is the United States, which takes some 85% of Canada's forest product exports and is where Canadian softwood producers compete directly with American producers. China, Japan and the European Union are the other important export markets. Pulp and paper products dominate the export picture, accounting for roughly half the value of merchandise trade (Table 2). Primary wood products and wood fabricated materials roughly split the remaining half. Most production is centred either in the east (Quebec and Ontario) or the west (British Columbia and Alberta), the former accounting for more of the processed exports and the latter accounting for more primary exports. Exports of wood paneling have steadily increased during the last decade, now displacing the once prominent newsprint exports that, along with wood pulp exports, have steadily declined during the same period (Natural Resources Canada, 2005).

TABLE 1: Canada's major global export sectors (millions of 2005 dollars; Industry Canada, 2006).
Sector Value (millions of 2005 dollars) Percentage
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005  
Mineral products 61 560 53 826 64 996 72 373 92 651 21.3
Vehicles, aircraft, vessels and
other transportation equipment
97 394 98 988 90 107 91 199 89 676 20.6
Machinery: mechanical, electrical,
and electronic appliances or equipment
56 785 52 601 47 764 51 589 54 286 12.5
Base metals and articles of base metals 24 946 26 591 24 934 30 690 32 613 7.5
Wood pulp, paper 27 769 26 471 24 102 24 677 23 707 5.4
Products of the chemical or allied industries 16 275 16 890 16 877 20 106 22 881 5.3
Wood and wood articles 19 127 19 023 17 694 22 003 20 316 4.7
Plastics, rubber and articles made from
these materials
15 628 16 180 15 791 17 088 18 210 4.2
Live animals and animal products 11 274 11 830 9 701 9 912 10 522 2.4
Vegetable products 10 284 9 013 9 118 10 258 9 480 2.2
Food products, beverages, spirits,
tobacco products
8 436 8 912 9 207 9 523 9 176 2.1
Total exports 404 085 396 381 381 000 411 840 435 641 88.0


TABLE 2: Canada's forest products exports by region (Statistics Canada, 2004)
  Value in 2004(millions of current dollars) Percentage
Quebec Ontario Alberta British
Other Canada
Primary wood products
(mostly softwood logs)
4 580 3 204 1 902 9 174 2 189 18 860
24.3 (%) 17.0 (%) 10.1 (%) 48.6 (%) 10.4 (%)  
Wood-fabricated materials
(lumber, plywood)
7 246 5 653 1 467 4 954 3 343 19 321
37.5 (%) 29.3 (%) 7.6 (%) 25.6 (%) 14.8 (%)  
Pulp and paper products
(pulp, paper, newsprint)
11 896 8 978 3 399 14 693 5 601 38 966
30.5 (%) 23.0 (%) 8.7 (%) 37.7 (%) 12.6 (%)  

Climate change will affect the productivity, distribution and species composition of North American forests (Shugart et al., 2003; Lemmen and Warren, 2004). Studies tend to consider either the impacts on forest productivity (the results of temperature change and increased CO2 fertilization) or the impacts of disturbances, such as fires, pests, drought and storms. There are, unfortunately, only a handful of studies that integrate these two research streams.

Studies of the first type tend to predict that more timber will be available during the next century as a result of increased productivity - the result of a longer growing season, increased precipitation (in places) and increased CO2 fertilization (Medlyn et al., 2000; Irland et al., 2001; Sigurdsson et al., 2002), although there is still some uncertainty on whether the latter would have more than a short-term impact. Specific effects will vary by region as a function of differing climate changes, pre-existing conditions and forest type. For example, although increased temperature generally leads to greater productivity, it may mean more drought conditions for the western aspen parklands, resulting in significant dieback (Hogg et al., 2002).

Studies of forest disturbances frame predictions in terms of lost forest area. Modelling by Sohngen et al. (2001) estimated that some 1.6 million ha of the forest decline that occurs annually in North America is attributable to climate change. A number of insect pests expand their range as winter temperatures increase (Hogg et al., 2002; Williams and Liebhold, 2002; Carroll et al., 2004). The boreal forest, where insect damage may constitute up to twice the damage done by fires, is particularly vulnerable (Volney and Fleming, 2000). Fire hazard is also a significant problem, with a number of studies predicting longer, more severe Canadian fire seasons under climate change scenarios (Li et al., 2000; Flannigan et al., 2001, 2005; Brown et al., 2004; Gillett and Weaver, 2004). Most predict higher risks in western Canada and lower risks, due to projected increased precipitation, in the eastern boreal forests. Flannigan et al. (2005) saw the possibility of a doubling of annual area burned in Canada by 2100. Lightning strikes and forest area burned are projected to increase in the United States as well.

The combined effects of increased moisture stress, increased fire hazard and increased pest activity seem most likely to adversely affect British Columbia and Alberta. British Columbia's mountain pine beetle infestation is already affecting trade, causing accelerated salvage harvest and presaging a supply crunch in the medium term (Natural Resources Canada, 2005; see also Chapter 8). It has now begun to spread east, with about 2.8 million trees affected in Alberta as of spring 2007 (Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, 2007). Quebec and Ontario are the other two major producers of forest products, with a strength in pulp and paper, and they may experience the benefits of both increased precipitation and increased productivity in some subregions of the provinces. Potential gains in regions of Ontario, however, would be tempered by losses in other parts of the province resulting from reduced soil moisture and drought stress (see Chapter 6).

One of the few global analyses to include both the effect of increased productivity and that of disturbances is Sohngen et al. (2001). Although this study predicts a net expansion of Canadian (and North American) forests by 3 to 4%, it notes that dieback in North America will be more pronounced than that experienced by our global competitors (28 -29% versus 6-14%, respectively). The economic result of increased North American supply is predicted to be lower prices for forest products, not compensated for by increased sales (Sohngen and Sedjo, 2005). Moreover, increases in productivity in North America will be less pronounced than for other producers (e.g. 17% versus 32 -42% respectively; Sohngen et al., 2001). This single study suggests that there will be lower world prices (depending on assumed demand) and a smaller share of the global market for Canadian (and North American) producers.

In the final analysis, prices for Canada's exported forest products seem likely to fall as supply increases. In western Canada, this may be a short-term phenomenon, driven by accelerated salvage harvesting (see Chapter 8). The increased productivity of global competitors will add to this effect, particularly as it concerns non-American export destinations. The increased volumes exported may not be sufficient to compensate for lowered prices.


Agriculture is another important export sector for Canada, averaging 5% of total merchandise exports over the five-year period ending in 2005 and more than $20.2 billion in annual sales (Table 1). Canadian producers are keenly aware that they will be impacted not only by changing climate within Canada but also by climate events in other parts of the world, as reflected by the following headlines in The Western Producer (2006): 'U.S. wheat struggles in drought' and 'Australian drought alters auction business' (Duckworth, 2007).

Grains and oilseeds, and products thereof, dominate this sector in Canada, accounting for some 40% of the value of merchandise exports (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2005). Live animal and red meat exports, mostly to the United States, have traditionally also been strong in this mix at around 25%, but have dropped to 20% since the 2003 trade bans in key export markets resulting from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The United States was the destination for more than 60% of Canada's agricultural exports in 2004, with Japan and the European Union the next most important markets at 9.4% and 6%, respectively. Wheat is Canada's largest crop in terms of both area planted and export value; it is the single largest agricultural earner of export revenue, at $3.8 billion in 2004 (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2004).

As noted in the various regional chapters in this volume, the agricultural sector in Canada can expect both positive and negative impacts from climate change. Positive impacts include longer growing seasons, increased productivity from warmer temperatures and CO2 fertilization and, in some areas, decreased moisture stress. Negative impacts include increased moisture stress in many areas, increased losses from pests, more difficult crop planning due to increased climatic variability (with wrong choices resulting in crop losses) and increased crop damage from extreme weather events (e.g. heat waves, hail, floods, drought). Impacts on water availability - a key issue in arid areas such as the Great Plains (the location of most wheat production) and the interior valleys of British Columbia - will be a function of small changes in rainfall and heat-induced increases in evapotranspiration.

The net impacts on Canadian agriculture are uncertain (Lemmen and Warren, 2004). At a general level, the effects of increased temperature and increased CO2 concentrations are understood: they will bring increased net primary productivity and increased moisture loss. Less clear are other key variables: water availability and incidence of weeds, pests and disease. These uncertainties are largely a function of limitations in modelling of local/regional climate changes (e.g. changes in precipitation patterns, variability/predictability of climate behaviour, incidence of extreme weather events).

In the case of the United States, Thomson et al. (2005a, b, c) derived greater certainty from their assessments. Areas such as the American midwest and southwest, where water resources are a limiting factor, may experience problems as water becomes more scarce and interannual variability of water supply increases significantly. For example, wheat yield potential was adversely affected by the 2005 drought, when Oklahoma and parts of Texas had deficits of more than 50 cm from normal rainfall averages (The Western Producer, 2006). Irrigated winter wheat is expected to increase in acreage, while irrigated soybeans and corn are expected to decrease. But these results do not consider a host of complexities, such as regional/local effects, pests and weeds. The model also ignores extreme weather events such as flooding, which some researchers assert would significantly alter standard modelling results (Rosenzweig et al., 2002).

At the global level, in a study covering four major crops and five regions, Parry et al. (2004) predicted that climate change will probably exert a slight to moderate negative impact on yields, but this assumes no negative impacts from the types of disruptive stresses noted above. In scenarios involving high-end temperature increases, they found that cereal yields decreased much more in developing than in developed countries. Canada would experience slight increases in productivity, although local/regional effects are not well mapped.

Rosenzweig and Iglesias (1999), using models that similarly ignore many potential negative impacts, found that Canada's production of grains and protein feed could increase by a mean (across three models) of 15.7% and 20.7%, respectively, at 550 ppm of atmospheric CO2 and with some adaptive actions; the corresponding figures for the United States are -4.7% and 0%, respectively. Wheat exports stand to do particularly well under most scenarios, with Canadian productivity increasing while most other countries would see declines. Only New Zealand's wheat production performs as well as Canada's in these models, with China and the Commonwealth of Independent States also experiencing large gains. Latin America and the Middle East experience huge losses, with Africa also losing significantly. More recent studies suggest that crop production increases in mid to high latitudes are likely to become decreases with average global temperature increases greater than 3 °C (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b).

A final layer of complexity is added to the agricultural sector results by the unpredictability of adaptive actions. Countries' capacity to adapt will significantly affect the results: for example, African yields in many scenarios drop, but poor adaptive capacity may mean that the impact there will be far worse than for other regions with similar projected declines in yield (Parry et al., 1999).

In Canada, the climate would become more favourable for fruit and vegetable production in several regions, potentially lessening dependence on imports. Canada's competitive advantage may increase in the growing of wine-producing grapes over hotter, drier regions of Australia and California, for example. In the end, most models predict increased productivity for Canadian growers across a range of crops relative to global competitors. Those models are limited in scope, however, and the survey by Lemmen and Warren (2004) probably yields the most reliable results, ending on a note of uncertainty. The impacts of a number of potentially negative influences are not well enough known to fully understand the productivity effects. Long-term price impacts will therefore be similarly difficult to predict.

In the final analysis, it is possible to predict with some certainty the broad-brush effects of climate change in the short term: increased Canadian agricultural productivity, particularly in cereals such as wheat, relative to trading partners in developing countries but to a lesser extent relative to United States producers. It is not yet known, however, to what extent these general trends will be moderated by disruptive negative influences, such as extreme weather events and pests.


Fisheries exports, valued at $4.3 billion in 2005 (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2005), contribute less to the Canadian economy than forestry and agriculture, but they are still significant and account for a disproportionate amount of income in certain communities. A little over half of the value in this sector is shellfish exports, dominated by lobster, crab and shrimp. Another 15% of the export value is salmon, with some two-thirds of that being Atlantic salmon.

The fisheries sector is addressed in detail in Section 3, and also in the regional chapters. Fish stocks are known to be vulnerable to climate change. However, they are also subject to a host of other influences that make climatic impacts difficult to isolate. Direct effects stem from increased water temperatures and altered oceanic circulation. Indirect climate effects include altered freshwater temperatures and runoff patterns, disruptions to other links in the food chain (i.e. changes in food and nutrient supply), contributions to toxic algal blooms, and the synergistic effects of climate change and such forces as human predation, pollution and ozone depletion.

Although the precise nature of the impact of climate change on Canada's global fisheries trade is not known, the potential for disruption is well illustrated by the collapse of the Atlantic cod fisheries - formerly a major export stock. There is evidence that climate change (in tandem with overfishing) played a significant role in that collapse (Rose, 2004). There is also concern that climate change -induced reductions in snowpack may reduce stocks of Pacific salmon (Mote et al., 2003). Section 3 notes the threats to sockeye salmon populations from a warming trend in the eastern North Pacific, and also the possibility that such anadromous species will alter their range to put them out of the reach of Canadian fishers. Fisheries, and particularly pelagic fisheries, are an international management issue; the dynamics of climate change -induced impacts, such as altered distribution and abundance of fish stocks, will make that management challenge much more difficult (Miller, 2000; Jurado-Molina and Livingston, 2002; Harley et al., 2006).

Other Issues

Trade in environmentally sound technologies for adaptation (Klein et al., 2006), such as disaster proofing and low -water usage techniques, as well as in low-greenhouse gas (GHG) technologies, is expected to increase. To take advantage, companies in Canada should be encouraged to develop such technologies for adaptation as well as for mitigation. The impact on Canada's auto sector, whose main market is the United States, may depend on the fuel efficiency of vehicles manufactured here, or on which parts are manufactured here. Although there maybe concern regarding potential disputes over trade and environmental laws and agreements, surveys of the potential conflicts (Charnovitz, 2003; Cosbey et al., 2003; Magnusson, 2004) tend to agree that, for the most part, there are few conflicts that cannot be avoided by careful drafting of environmental measures.

Research Gaps

The uncertainties and data gaps relevant to this section's discussions on fisheries, agriculture and forestry are addressed elsewhere in this volume, as well as being touched upon above. It was noted that few global forestry studies managed to integrate a focus on productivity with a focus on disturbances, such as fires and pests. The same sort of gap exists in agriculture, where none of the global studies surveyed considered the impacts of extreme weather events or pests. With respect to trade in these sectors and the economic impacts that climate change might have on Canadian interests, there are a few key research gaps. The few outputs from global-level models have not yielded information specifically relevant to Canada, tending to aggregate Canada and the United States into a single North American entity. Any assessment of the economic and trade impacts on Canada will necessarily involve a greater degree of complexity, and differentiation between Canada and the United States.


This section offers an overview of the potential impacts of climate change on Canada's international trade patterns. Although it seems clear that there will be significant effects, further analysis is needed to better understand the breadth of potential impacts. Furthermore, additional study is needed to clarify the nature of these impacts.

That said, there are good indications regarding the general direction of change. From an economic perspective, the impacts on the forestry sector are likely to be most significant, as productivity in Canada may decline relative to that of overseas competitors and prices could decline as a result of increased global supply. Agricultural impacts are also likely to be significant, as Canadian productivity in important export grain crops increases relative to world trends (but potentially less so relative to United States producers). It should be stressed that any predicted outcome makes assumptions about adaptive behaviour (even if implicitly assuming it does not take place) and that appropriate adaptation will be key in ensuring that the risks and opportunities identified above are adequately addressed in the Canadian context.


The impacts of climate change can make life in an affected region more difficult and even render areas uninhabitable. Regions may experience higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, desertification, sea-level rise, and more frequent and/or severe extreme weather events due to climate change (Brooks, 2004). These impacts can, in turn, threaten food production, reduce freshwater supplies, lead to loss of land and infrastructure, and increase the incidence of disease (Barnett and Adger, 2003). Such changes can induce migration, which may occur peacefully or may generate conflict.

The causes of many conflicts are very difficult to isolate. Very few are considered to be mainly due to environmental stresses. Nevertheless, environmental stress and related issues of scarcity may contribute additional stress to political, social, economic, ethnic, religious or territorial conflicts, or conflicts over resources or national interests (cf. Gleick, 1990; Lonergan, 1998).

The number of active armed conflicts increased to more than 50 in the early 1990s, and then declined to fewer than 30 in 2003 (Human Security Centre, 2005). The increase and subsequent decline were entirely the result of conflicts within countries, which account for more than 95% of all armed conflicts. One of the major reasons for the decline in the number of armed conflicts is a dramatic increase in international activities designed to stop existing conflicts and prevent new ones (Human Security Centre, 2005). These activities include preventive diplomacy missions, peace-making missions, peace-keeping operations and sanctions by the United Nations and other groups (Ackermann, 2003; Human Security Centre, 2005). Canada has a history of contributing to such efforts.

Although future impacts of climate change could lead to new conflicts and/or exacerbate conflicts caused by non-climatic factors, this relationship is unclear. Empirical research confirms that environmental scarcity causes large population movements, which can, in turn, cause conflicts (e.g. Baechler, 1998). Where armed conflicts result, these tend to be persistent, diffuse and subnational rather than between states (Homer-Dixon, 1991; Baechler, 1998). There would be value in Canada and other countries giving further consideration to how foreign policy and development resources can best be used to mitigate the potential for such conflicts, in recognition that climate change may serve as a contributing factor.


Canada has been a destination for international migrants throughout its history. Immigration is governed by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2002 and its regulations. The act makes a clear distinction between the basic social, cultural and economic goals of the immigration program and the humanitarian goals of the refugee protection program. During the past decade, immigration to Canada has fluctuated between 175 000 and 250 000 per year, including between 22 000 and 33 000 refugees. In 2005, 32.0% of the refugees came from Africa and the Middle East, 33.1% from Asia and the Pacific, 21.3% from South and Central America and 11.2% from Europe (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2006).

Migration on all scales - rural to urban, between urban areas within a country and internationally - is driven by a combination of 'push' factors associated with the origin and 'pull' factors associated with the destination (Castles and Miller, 1993). The adverse impacts of climate change will exacerbate existing conditions of environmental degradation and contribute to internally displaced persons and migrants (Stern, 2006). Gradual changes, such as reduced crop yields or water supplies, induce migration because the affected area becomes less attractive. People will be drawn to locations with better opportunities, relatives and friends, and other perceived advantages (Cragg and Kahn, 1997; Deane and Gutmann, 2003). Historically, migration due to the impacts of climate change has been overwhelmingly within the same country (Baechler, 1998). There is no reason to expect this pattern to change. Friends and relatives within the immigrant community could make Canada an attractive choice for some international migrants.

Under international law, refugees are defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as individuals who flee their country because of fear of ethnic, religious or political persecution, or to escape conflict, and cannot rely on the protection of their own government (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2006). The UNHCR notes that "accurate use of the term 'refugee' implies a need for international protection" (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1993, Chapter 1, p. 3). The global number of refugees was about 14 million at the end of 2004: about 4.8 million Palestinian refugees and 9.2 million refugees of concern to the UNHCR in other countries (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2005).Footnote 1 The number of refugees of concern to the UNHCR has declined steadily from about 12.1 million at the end of 2001 (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2005). In Africa, there were just over 3 million refugees, mostly located in countries bordering countries with internal armed conflicts.

El-Hinnawi (1985) defined 'environmental refugee' as a person forced to leave his/her traditional habitat due to an environmental disruption that jeopardized his/her existence and/or seriously affected the quality of his/her life. Although the term 'environmental refugee' is used in some climate change literature, it is controversial. People displaced by environmental changes need assistance but generally do not need protection, and therefore do not fit the definition of refugee. It may be more appropriate to refer to persons displaced by environmental degradation.

Estimated recent numbers of persons displaced by environmental degradation, and future projections that consider impacts of climate change, are presented in Table 3. There is limited empirical support for these estimates (Black, 2001), although it is widely accepted that environmental change contributes to internal and international migration, and that the number of migrants may be large. Myers and Kent (1995) projected the number of 'environmental refugees' in 2050 at 150 million, with about 100 million being from low-lying coastal areas, 50 million from agriculturally dislocated areas and 1 million from island states. Myers (2005) has since increased his estimate of the total to 200 million. Most of the people displaced by environmental change are expected to be in Africa and Asia, geographically remote from, and hence less likely to migrate to, Canada. Closer to home, rural land degradation and desertification are a significant cause of migration within and from Mexico (Leighton, 1998).


TABLE 3 : Estimates of 'environmental refugees' (persons displaced by environmental degradation).
Estimate of environmental refugees Date(s) covered
by estimate
About 10 million 1980s Jacobson (1988)
About 64 million 1980s Lonergan (1998)
About 15 million 1990 Westing (1992)
Up to 25 million, whom 25 of 33% are international and the balance internal: 16 million for Africa, 6 million for China and 2 million for Mexico 1990 Myers (1993)
About 150 million 2050 Myers and Kent (1995)
About 200 million 2050 Myers (2005)
8.6 million forced migrants due to 1 m rise in sea level   Tol (2002)

By making life in a region difficult or impossible, the impacts of climate change will cause internal and international migration (McLeman and Smit, 2005). These impacts are most likely to affect rural areas of poor countries geographically remote from Canada. The risk that 'waves of environmental refugees' will spill across Canada's borders, with consequent destabilizing effects on domestic order and international relations, is low (Homer-Dixon, 1991). Nevertheless, climate change could lead to pressure on Canada to accept more immigrants and refugees.Footnote 2


Canadians are influenced by health issues abroad, including changes in abundance and virulence of diseases in countries with significant travel, tourism and trade to and from Canada. Other health issues, such as those due to a rise in the number and severity of natural disasters, result in increased calls on Canada for assistance (see Section 2.2).

In many regions of the world, malaria, hemorrhagic dengue fever, malnutrition and diarrheal diseases are on the rise for several reasons, including changing climate. Using data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been estimated that climate warming to 2004 contributed to more than 150 000 deaths and 5 million illnesses per year (Patz et al., 2005). This same study projected a doubling of these tolls by 2030 as a result of climatic and other changes (e.g. population distribution, water pollution). The greatest threats are increased malnutrition and malaria in Africa, more diarrheal cases in southeast Asia and natural disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean. The following sections expand on some of these issues. Poorer countries of the world are the most vulnerable to such impacts (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b). Technical assistance and humanitarian aid programs in Canada will likely be pressured by these trends.


Diseases such as cholera follow warm spells, such as warm El Niño episodes in South and Central America, and would likely spread in a warming world. Some tropical and subtropical diseases transmitted by ticks, insects and wildlife are an increasing threat to Canada in a warming climate (see regional chapters in this report). Vector-borne diseases, including malaria, dengue fever and Lyme disease (transmitted by ticks) may expand their ranges in North America (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001b). To date, active disease prevention programs have virtually eliminated diseases such as malaria from Canada, but continued vigilance will be needed, as will assistance to reduce impacts abroad.

Diarrheal diseases represent another significant health risk, resulting in thousands of premature deaths in poorer countries with inadequate food and water treatment and inspection, especially in Africa, southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean (Campbell-Lendrum et al., 2003). It has been estimated that, globally, a 5% increase in the number of cases of diarrhea occurs per degree Celsius of warming (Campbell-Lendrum et al., 2003).

Temperature Extremes

Increases in the length and intensity of heat waves will impact heat-related illnesses and mortality. Warm night-time conditions, which allow little relief from the heat, are an important component of heat waves. Global-scale analysis indicates that more than 70% of the global land area experienced a significant increase in the annual occurrence of warm nights during the period 1951 to 2003, with especially high increases in the number of warm nights per decade occurring in western Africa, Eurasia, northern South America and western North America (Alexander et al., 2006).

The heat wave in August 2003 resulted in the greatest climate impact on mortality in European history - from 27 000 to 40 000 excess deaths (Kovats and Jendritzky, 2005). Premature mortality and increased hospital admissions in heat waves are expected to be more frequent in many regions, although a reduction in severe cold-related deaths is anticipated in temperate and subpolar regions. Several cities around the world, including some Canadian cities, have instituted adaptation measures to reduce the impact of heat waves, including heat warnings and preparedness services, and 'green roofs' with vegetation on large buildings to reduce the heat-island effect of cities (see Chapters 5 and 6).

Food Security

Health problems and mortality due to more severe drought and famine are increasing in some regions and decreasing in others due to the changing climate. Although the relationships between crop productivity and climate are complex (Easterling et al., 2007), most studies project decreases in crop yield potential at low latitudes, even for very small increases in mean temperature (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b). Concerns are raised by studies such as that of Peng et al. (2004), who, through controlled experiments, reported a 10% decline in rice production for each degree Celsius increase in night-time temperature.

Of particular concern are health impacts resulting from the unavailability of adequate food supplies in Africa. The rapid decline in Africa began about 1970, roughly corresponding to the start of rapid global temperature warming. The trend in climate drivers and production decline is likely to continue, resulting in increasing demand for food production from countries such as Canada to help make up the shortfall. The majority of people at additional risk of hunger due to climate change are in Africa (Parry et al., 1999).


There are both immediate health effects from coastal and inland flooding, including injuries and loss of life, and longer term impacts, resulting from contaminated water and food. Provision of clean water supplies as soon as possible after the disaster is essential for reducing health impacts.

A combination of sea-level rise, rapid population growth in coastal zones worldwide and more intense storm surges associated with more severe winter and tropical storms will increase the numbers of people at risk from coastal flooding. Regions likely to be especially affected by coastal flooding include small islands and Asian megadeltas, such as the Ganges-Brahmaputra and the Zhujiang (Adger et al., 2007). The low-elevation coastal zone (LECZ; <10 m above mean sea level) contains about 10% of the world's population while only accounting for 2.2% of total land area (McGranahan et al., 2006). Asia has by far the greatest population in the LECZ, and 19 of the 215 countries studied by McGranahan et al. (2006) have more than 50% of their population in the LECZ (see also McGranahan et al., 2007). The greatest impacts proportional to population size will likely be on low-lying small island states in the Caribbean, southwestern Pacific and Indian Ocean.

One-sixth of the world's population is subject to floods that are due in part to snowmelt, and may therefore experience lower flood peaks on average as a result of climate change (Barnett et al., 2005). Nevertheless, in regions affected by tropical cyclones (e.g. Central America, the Caribbean and the southwestern Pacific), observed increases in severity and duration of these events (Webster et al., 2005) have resulted in more floods and landslide disasters. It has also been shown that high-intensity rains have become more frequent and heavier in many parts of the world, including the eastern United States and southeastern Canada, northern Mexico, eastern South America, southern Africa, Europe, India and eastern Asia (Groisman et al., 2005). Such rains can result in flash floods, often without adequate warning to protect people and property, and increasingly frequent urban flooding due to overtaxing of drainage facilities. Escherichia coli (E. coli) and other contaminants in drinking water supplies are most often washed into wells or surface waters by high-intensity rains, which are becoming more frequent throughout much of the world. In the United States, it is estimated that 68% of all health outbreaks from contaminated water occurred after heavy rain events (Patz, 2001).

Potential Implications for Canada

Most of these trends affecting health and mortality abroad can be reduced by adaptation measures, both internationally and within Canada. Initial responses by Canada to these needs have been made (see Section 5).

Canada and other developed countries may be able to further reduce health-related vulnerabilities in other countries through programs that involve assistance to:

  • strengthen public health services in affected regions;
  • take actions to reduce standing waters, which breed dengue- and malaria-bearing mosquitoes;
  • improve water treatment systems; and
  • improve warning systems for coastal and riverine floods, heat waves and impending drought conditions.

Potential actions within Canada may involve:

  • ensuring that immigration policies are designed to take into account refugees from these health- and disaster-related trends;
  • improving surveillance programs on movement of climate-related diseases; and
  • improving border health controls for climate-sensitive infectious diseases.


Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors in the world. In 2004, tourism represented 1.5 to 2.0% of Canada's GDP (Canada Tourism, 2005; World Tourism Organization, 2005; Statistics Canada, 2006). Over 19 million tourists (overnight visitors) came to Canada, more than 15 million of them from the United States (Canada Tourism, 2005; World Tourism Organization, 2005). In addition, there were 19.7 million day visitors. About 55% of the tourists came for leisure, recreation and holidays (World Tourism Organization, 2005). Foreign tourists spent an average of 6.4 nights per visitor in Canada and accounted for about 30% of the total nights in accommodation establishments (World Tourism Organization, 2005). In addition to their domestic travel, 19.6 million Canadians travelled to foreign countries, mainly the United States, for overnight stays. Foreign tourism to Canada peaks during the summer, whereas Canadian travel abroad peaks during the winter (Canada Tourism, 2005).

Most studies addressing the impacts of climate and climate change on tourism have been published since 2000 (Scott et al., 2005). Hamilton et al. (2005) distinguished three strands of literature:

  • studies that build statistical models of the behaviour of certain groups of tourists as a function of weather and climate;
  • studies that relate the fates of particular tourist destinations to climate change; and
  • studies that try to define indicators of the attractiveness to tourists of certain weather conditions.

Available studies in the first category apply almost exclusively to warm-weather vacation choices by Europeans: the significance of weather and other amenities in the destination preferences of British, Dutch, German, Italian and other European tourists (Agnew and Palutikof, 2001; Maddison, 2001; Lise and Tol, 2002). No studies of the destination choices of Canadian tourists have been found that explicitly include weather or climate as a factor in the choice. However, winter travel to Hawaii, Arizona, Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico is clearly motivated by a desire for warmer conditions.

During the past two decades, numerous studies have been undertaken of the potential impacts of climate change on tourist destinations in Canada, covering various types of outdoor tourist activities across most of the country (Scott et al., 2004; Jones and Scott, 2006). These studies suggest that skiing and other winter activities will be adversely affected, despite additional snowmaking. The length and quality of the summer tourist season is expected to improve in most regions, although adjustments, such as better water management for golf courses, may be needed. Adaptation to lower flows and water levels for water-based activities will be required in some regions. Tourism impacts and adaptation are also discussed in the regional chapters.

Although such studies can provide important insights into the impacts of climate change on a specific destination, tourist traffic will depend on how climate change and associated environmental changes affect the attractiveness of that destination relative to its competitors.

The third strand of literature adopts the premise that travel behaviour is motivated by two sets of factors: one set that influences a person to consider travelling and another set that attracts that person to a particular destination (de Freitas et al., 2004; Scott et al., 2004; Amelung and Viner, 2006). Such analyses use various direct indicators, such as temperature and humidity, or indirect indicators, such as beaches, of the attractiveness to tourists of certain weather conditions.

A simulation model of global tourism, projecting arrivals and departures for 207 countries on the basis of population, per capita income and climate, suggests that tourism growth is driven by increases in population and income, and so is larger in Asia and Africa than Europe and North America (Hamilton et al., 2005). Global tourism increases at 3.2% per year between 1995 and 2075 in the base case.

Climate change shifts tourism toward the poles and from lowlands to highlands. As countries closer to the poles become more attractive to their own residents, they tend to generate fewer international tourists (Hamilton et al., 2005). In addition to the higher temperatures, countries nearer the equator may be rendered less attractive due to loss of beaches and coral reefs, and damage due to more intense tropical storms (Loftus, 2005).

Climate change is projected to benefit Canadian tourism more than any other country over the period to 2025 (Hamilton et al., 2005). Climate change would increase Canada's share of global arrivals (i.e. more tourists coming to Canada) and reduce Canada's share of global departures (i.e. fewer Canadians travelling abroad). Canadians would take more vacations at home, so domestic travel would grow relative to international travel (Hamilton et al., 2005). The authors caution that the model is very simplistic, with a crude representation of climate change, so the focus should be on the qualitative results. The model also excludes a number of variables likely to influence tourist flows (Gössling and Hall, 2006).

In summary, summer tourism in Canada is likely to benefit from climate change, although some activities may need to adapt. This will attract more foreign tourists and keep more Canadians at home. Winter tourism in Canada may suffer despite efforts to adapt, but the milder winters are projected to reduce travel by Canadians to warm destinations.


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