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The Canadian transportation system is massive, and its planning, construction and use endure over many decades. It is therefore necessary to consider how future economic, social and physical conditions, reflecting both future changes in climate and other factors, are likely to impact transportation, and what types of adaptation strategies would increase resilience of the system. From a physical perspective, climate change is likely to create both challenges and new opportunities for transportation systems in Canada.
Until the late 1980s, there had been virtually no attempt to understand the implications of climate change for transportation, either in Canada or globally. Significant progress has since been made. The research community has begun the tasks of identifying and characterizing the potential impacts on those components of the transport system that are most vulnerable to a changed climate. These include northern ice roads, Great Lakes shipping, coastal infrastructure that is threatened by sea level rise, and infrastructure situated on permafrost. The climatic sensitivity of northern landscapes has partly contributed to relatively greater attention, to date, being given to infrastructure and operations issues in northern Canada. This has occurred despite the fact that transportation in southern Canada accounts for the vast majority of domestic and cross-border movement of freight, and more than 90 percent of domestic passenger trips. The limited work that has been done suggests that milder and/or shorter winters could translate into savings, but the state of knowledge is not adequate to make quantitative estimates. Furthermore, higher temperatures and/or changes in precipitation, including changed frequencies of extreme climate events, may exacerbate other weather hazards or inefficiencies. Nonetheless, it appears at this time that the potential impacts of climate change on transportation may be largely manageable, providing that Canadians are prepared to be proactive and include climate change considerations in investment and decision making.