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Future Directions

Barriers to adaptation action need to be addressed, including limitations in awareness and availability of information and tools.

Although several examples of recent and ongoing adaptation initiatives are highlighted in this assessment, the number of such actions is small relative to the scope of adaptation needs. As the rate of climate change increases, so does the urgency for adaptation action. Meeting this need will require addressing some of the existing barriers to adaptation actions, such as access to knowledge, data and decision-support tools; specific regulations or legislation that may limit adaptation options; and societal expectation. Some of these barriers to adaptation are jurisdiction or sector specific, involving regulations or application of best practices. Other barriers crosscut regions and sectors. These are best addressed through engagement of industry (including business and professional organizations), community groups, individuals and all orders of government, all of whom can serve as both facilitators and implementers of adaptation actions (Chapter 10). The crosscutting nature of climate change impacts (Figure SR-6) is a challenge in ensuring effective adaptation.

The crosscutting nature of climate impacts and adaptation, exemplified by lower water levels in the Great LakesSt. Lawrence basin. Adaptation decisions in one sector will have significant consequences in several other sectors (Lemmen and Warren, 2004).

Figure SR-6: The crosscutting nature of climate impacts and adaptation, exemplified by lower water levels in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence basin. Adaptation decisions in one sector will have significant consequences in several other sectors (Lemmen and Warren, 2004).

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Figure SR-6

Flow chart demonstrating the cross-cutting impacts of climate change. Lower water levels in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence impacts numerous sectors. Transportation could potentially be impacted by the decreased depth of navigation channels, stranded docks and harbours. Tourism and recreation may suffer aesthetic issues, less access to marinas and lake front while the number of beaches may increase. Fisheries may have to endure a loss of species and habitat and increased contamination. Less water for industrial operations and hydropower will likely affect industry and energy. Municipalities would face increased water quality problems inciting water-use restrictions. Agriculture would likely face shortages for irrigation and farm operations. Health may be affected due to lesser quality and water contamination. The overall result would consist of supply-demand mismatches and issues of apportionment between different sector and levels of government, jurisdictions, economic uses and ecosystem needs.

Moving forward on adaptation in Canada will involve building on the momentum established by existing initiatives, and taking new steps to promote and implement adaptation measures. Awareness-raising will be important for overcoming some barriers to action (Chapters 4, 5, 7 and 8). Many decision-makers need a clearer understanding of the risks that climate change presents, and of the local and regional benefits that adaptation provides. Mechanisms to enhance access to, and the sharing of, knowledge and experience contained within industry, academia and government would help to facilitate adaptation decision-making, as would the development of tools to integrate climate change in planning and development processes (Chapters 2 and 10). Strategic approaches to adaptation would help maximize synergies and reduce potential for conflict between and within sectors, industries and regions. In some cases, decision-makers may choose to mandate and regulate consideration of climate change adaptation within their programs and policies (Chapter 10).

Although further research will help to reduce uncertainties and to address specific knowledge gaps and adaptation planning needs, existing knowledge is sufficient to start undertaking adaptation activities in most situations.

The chapters of this assessment reveal several research needs to support adaptation decision-making, including:

  • quantitative economic analysis, including costs and benefits of impacts and of adaptation options;
  • analyses of adaptation processes;
  • climate and socioeconomic scenarios at spatial and temporal scales appropriate for impact assessment and adaptation decision-making, as well as understanding of uncertainty associated with those scenarios;
  • improved understanding of thresholds within both natural and human systems, beyond which adaptation is either ineffective or prohibitively expensive; and
  • development of methods and tools to assist mainstreaming of climate change adaptation into sectoral planning processes.

The need for more research and the associated scientific uncertainties do not justify inaction. This is demonstrated by the fact that there are numerous examples of anticipatory adaptation in Canada and globally. Adaptation measures that focus on reducing vulnerability to both current and future climate represent a logical first step that delivers benefits regardless of the rate of future climate changes. For example, adapting building and infrastructure design to reflect both recent climate trends and future projections, implementing water and energy conservation strategies to reduce demand, and reducing reliance on climate-sensitive sectors through economic diversification are actions that will produce both short- and long-term benefits, and enhance the resilience of communities and industry.

Adaptation is an ongoing process that requires greater attention in Canada and globally. In many cases, the responses needed to adapt to changing climate can be accomplished through existing processes and operations. The urgency for action depends on the vulnerability of the system, and the magnitude and life-cycle of investments being made. For example, billions of dollars are invested annually in Canada in climate-sensitive infrastructure that must function effectively and safely for many decades. Similarly, many industries and local governments are engaged in development planning extending 20 to 50 years into the future. Recognition that the climate of the future will differ from that of the present, and designing resilient systems to accommodate ongoing change, will enhance the value of these investments and the sustainability of development efforts.


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