OTTAWA—When Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) released Canada’s Changing Climate report in 2019, the question most asked was ‘what do these changes actually mean to the people in Canada?’ Canada in a Changing Climate: National Issues Report, released on June 28, offers a national perspective on how climate change is impacting our environment, economy and other aspects of our daily lives, and how we are adapting to these impacts.
A key finding of the report is that all communities are being impacted, in terms of infrastructure, health and well-being. This is especially acute for small, rural and remote communities with limited access and means. The economic impacts of climate change are substantial and increasing but many impacts are intangible, things like loss of identify and impacts on culture. While many of these impacts are widespread, pervasive and increasing it is clear that the impacts will be and are being felt unequally across society. Adaptation needs to be viewed through a social equity lens because those who are struggling will be hit the hardest by climate change.
While climate change will have some potential benefits, it will at the same time impose increasing economic costs. Average annual insured losses from climate related extreme weather events have topped more than $1.9 billion in the last decade. That compares to $0.4 billion in the decade prior to that. Many climate change costs are intangible and don’t yet have a clearly assigned value. There is no price tag on cultural erosion, loss of heritage sites and other important places or loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.
Paul Kovacs, co-founder and executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss, was lead author for the chapter on climate disclosure, finance and liability. He noted the business community is increasingly seeing climate change as a business issue and is beginning to understand the need to transition to a low carbon future and are considering how to adapt to climate doing damage to their business and their homes, as well as embrace opportunities. “One of the opportunities we’ve included in the chapter on disclosure is this greater information that is starting to emerge, organization by organization, in the private sector and in the public sector about what climate risks are, what can be done about them and what is planned, what is coming forward.”
“Agriculture is one of the things that could potentially increase,” said Dr. Catherine Lafleur, research scientist with NRCAN and a co-author of the sector impacts and adaptation perspectives chapter. “Tourism as well. In some cases, it will be ‘last chance’ tourism for people to see things like icebergs and polar bears while they’re still available. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword.” There will be longer tourism seasons in some areas and longer growing seasons also. “Everything comes with caveats,” she said. “There is some benefit, but those benefits can only be realized if people do adapt and look at what the future climate conditions are.” For example, winter tourism could potentially take a big hit but by planning ahead, people can use their ski hills for summer recreation as well. “Planning ahead is really key in terms of realizing some of the potential benefits. Another benefit you can think about is in the forest sector. By combining urban island heat effects and adding more urban forests, you’re looking at co-benefits of bringing in those trees,” she said. This can contribute to reducing heat, improving air quality, and removing carbon from the air—all of these are nature-based solutions.
The nice piece about nature-based solutions is that utilizing nature to adapt to climate changes is also quite valuable in terms of mitigation, said Michelle Molnar of the David Suzuki Foundation and lead author of the ecosystem services chapter. “An intact ecosystem, whether it’s forest, peatlands or coastal vegetation, can also help with mitigation by sequestering and storing carbon over the long run. In addition, you have this range of co-benefits we can realize through nature-based approaches that include everything from the provision of food to the regulation of our water as well as helping to stave off drought, to those intangible benefits like providing people with a sense of place.” There is a growing interest in nature-based solutions as part of the solution to climate change, she said.
The comprehensive 700 plus page report discusses current knowledge of climate change impacts and highlights adaptation efforts underway to address them through a series of case studies. Search for National Issues Report at nrcan.gc.ca for the full report and an interactive map of case studies. More than 200 experts compiled the information and 106 peer reviewers helped ensure that the report content was both accurate and relevant. Regional perspective reports will be released on a chapter by chapter basis. The first, on the prairie provinces, was released in December 2020. This fall, there will be a separate report on health which is being led by Health Canada. A report on Indigenous resilience is expected in 2022.