Building the Momentum

The role and importance of adaptation are becoming more widely recognized among scientists and governments (e.g. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b; Pielke et al., 2007), and some media reports have cited the necessity for adaptation (e.g. CBC News, 2007; Graham, 2007; Harrison, 2007; Shimo, 2007). This is evident both within Canada and internationally. Current adaptation initiatives in Canada are promising indications of the determination of Canadians, from individuals to community groups, industry and government, to adapt to the changing climate.

Building on the momentum provided by these existing initiatives requires envisioning where we want and need to go. Although specific goals will vary based on their timeframe (e.g. short, middle and long term) and the groups involved, one of the commonly cited objectives is to have climate change integrated, or 'mainstreamed', into relevant decision-making processes (e.g. Klein et al., 2005, 2007). This means that climate change is not considered in isolation from the numerous other factors that influence decision-making, but rather is considered as one element of integrative analysis and policy development. One example of mainstreaming is the manner in which climate change is addressed in the environmental assessment process for major projects, such as mines and pipelines in northern Canada (see Chapter 3). Although this represents important progress, there are limitations to a project-by-project approach. While such an approach contributes to reducing the vulnerability of the person or agency implementing the action, it also has the potential to inadvertently increase the vulnerability of others. Therefore, it is important to think about adaptation to climate change in a more collective and strategic way in relation to Canada ’s future development (Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2006).

The following four building blocks for strengthening the momentum to undertake adaptation are addressed in this section:

  • maintaining and strengthening the knowledge base
  • synthesizing and sharing knowledge
  • removing barriers to action
  • reviewing and contributing to international initiatives.


To cope effectively with climate change there must be a strong understanding of the issue. This requires knowledge of potential impacts and vulnerabilities, of projected changes in climate and of adaptation processes and decision-making. It is important to recognize key gaps in present knowledge, as well as the need to maintain sources of data.

A large component of the climate change impacts and adaptation literature is devoted to the concept of vulnerability, its assessment and qualitative or quantitative measurement. Vulnerability is a function of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity (see Chapter 2), and is therefore influenced by both climatic and non-climatic factors. Vulnerability is generally considered greatest where adaptive capacity is low (due to limited economic resources, poor access to information and technology, or weak social networks; see also Chapter 2); where economic activities are highly climate sensitive; where present livelihoods are close to the limits of tolerance or viability; and where ecosystems, social systems and economies are fragile because they lack diversity or have limited resilience (e.g. Burton and van Aalst, 1999; Adger et al., 2004; Downing and Patwardhan 2005). Identifying systems, activities and populations that are currently vulnerable to climate impacts provides one basis for determining short-term priorities for adaptation measures.

Although knowledge of future climate change is based in part upon historical climate trends, it is primarily dependent on analysis using Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs), Regional Climate Models (RCMs) and statistical downscaling techniques (see Chapter 2). There have been significant advances in all of these methods in recent years, which have led to higher confidence in model projections, particularly those of mean temperature. There is, however, less confidence in projections of precipitation and other variables that are relevant to the development and selection of specific adaptation options. There is also less knowledge of likely changes in climate variability and extremes. Uncertainties will always be inherent in climate projections, as analyses are dependent upon assumptions of future development pathways and associated greenhouse gas emissions (see Chapter 2), as well as the relative strengths of positive and negative feedback effects and non-linear changes in biophysical systems. This is not uncertainty regarding whether climate will change, but rather about the speed and magnitude of climate change over time. Adaptation is about how to deal with an uncertain climate as well as a changing climate.

There is an ongoing need for research on climate impacts. While considerable progress has been made in modelling impacts, there remain gaps with respect to the sensitivity of physical, ecological and human systems to critical parameters and thresholds. An important recent development in impacts research is the derivation of probability density functions that capture the continuous distribution of impacts as a function of a range of future climate trends and variability (Carter et al., 2007).

With respect to adaptation decision-making, there are generic reasons to be confident that Canada can adapt well, although analysis of the costs associated with such adaptation remains a major knowledge gap. This confidence stems from the fact that Canada is comparatively well endowed with respect to the broad determinants of adaptive capacity: it is a wealthy society with a highly skilled population and access to technology, and has strong and effective institutions. However, there is a difference between having the capacity to adapt and having the will and motivation to adapt (Burton, 2003). High adaptive capacity does not necessarily translate into strong or effective adaptation (e.g. Field et al., 2007).

In any particular situation, there is a long list of possible adaptive response options (see Chapter 3, Table 14 for an example in the forestry sector). Such lists generally include technical, administrative and behavioural actions that could be implemented by different groups, including governments, industry and individuals. Which response, or combination of responses, is chosen depends upon costs, estimates of the risk, available technology, social and institutional constraints and opportunities, and expected benefits. For example, adaptation choices to deal with drought at the farm level are influenced by financial institutions, producers of farm inputs (seeds, fertilizers, machinery and equipment) and several kinds of government programs (e.g. crop insurance). Ultimately, the choices made will reflect the specific circumstances of the decision-makers, including how they perceive the risks and the opportunities.

Dealing with uncertainties and non-specific predictions can present challenges for gaining consensus on adaptation decision-making. Risk management techniques are often used to address decisions under uncertainty (Bruce et al., 2005). Generally speaking, the resolution to these challenges lies in strategies that will be robust against a range of different climate scenarios (e.g. Risbey, 1998; Cohen and Kulkarni, 2001).


The rapidly evolving nature of the climate change issue and the large scope and quantity of research on climate change impacts and adaptation necessitate the undertaking of periodic science assessments and the effective transfer of knowledge to decision-makers. This report, From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007, represents the second national-scale assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation in Canada, the first being the 1998 Canada Country Study (Environment Canada, 1998). The spatial scale of national assessments allows demonstration of the breadth and seriousness of the climate change issue, but limits their application to detailed adaptation planning. Therefore, it is also desirable to have assessments at local and regional scales, and assessments that focus on specific sectors. At present, there are ongoing assessments being undertaken in Quebec (Ouranos Consortium, 2007) and Alberta (Sauchyn et al., in press). A sectoral assessment for health (Seguin, in press) is also underway.

Consideration should be given to undertaking specific local and community-based assessments (places, sectors, risks) on a regular basis, with major integrating assessments more widely spaced in time. For example, the European Union (EU) has proposed undertaking semi-decadal syntheses based on results of EU and national research programs (European Commission, 2007a). Ongoing updates of relevant science and observational data and trends are also valuable for monitoring evolving climate and the first-order impacts against the projections that inform adaptation planning. Assessments can provide a foundation for the development of government, business and community adaptation strategies and measures. Assessments also help to direct future research, by identifying knowledge gaps and stimulating new ideas.

Although periodic assessments provide a vehicle for integrating large volumes of scientific information, the transfer of the resulting knowledge to a wide range of decision-makers, including the general public, is also critically important. Raising awareness of risks and opportunities that climate change presents to Canadians, and the role that adaptation can play in responding to climate change, represents the first communication task.

There is also much that can be learned through sharing of information and experiences outside of formal assessment processes. Places that are anticipating water stress in the future can look to places already experiencing such challenges, such as the Okanagan Valley (Cohen and Neale, 2006) or the Prairies, for ideas on how to adapt. Although there are relatively few examples of the effective sharing and transfer of such knowledge, there are considerable opportunities for improving the use of web-based interfaces for information dissemination and exchange.


Many barriers to adaptation have been identified in the preceding chapters of this assessment, including lack of awareness, regulatory or legislative barriers, and societal expectations. Limitations in access to relevant information, and the lack of tools to facilitate integration of existing knowledge into decision-making, prevent existing information from being used as effectively as possible. The focus of public and media interest on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has contributed to a lack of recognition of adaptation and an underestimation of its potential value.

A great deal of scientific knowledge about climate change in Canada is held and advanced by government departments and agencies, other government-supported centres and programs, universities, think-tanks, professional organizations and non-government organizations. This information could be made more accessible and user friendly and its use promoted more vigorously. Specific information is needed on potential impacts for localities and sectors, including the timing of expected changes. Interactive discussions on adaptation measures would also facilitate effective and timely choices. As with many other issues, informing key audiences and engaging them in a proactive way would likely lead to an expansion of adaptation. Ensuring widespread access to knowledge and experience, facilitated by different levels of government acting together, would be an effective way of enhancing Canada's resilience to a changing climate. Appropriate institutional mechanisms for making information on climate change available and engaging Canadians in consideration of their adaptation options could be devised.

Access to decision-support tools and data sets to support such analytical methods is also important. Climate scenarios, an area of active research in Canada, represent one important category of data delivery (Climate Change Scenarios Network, 2007; Ouranos Consortium, 2007). A recognized need with respect to scenarios is more detailed information on the probability distribution of impacts. In addition, although compilations of existing adaptation methods and tools at the international level are readily accessible (Feenstra et al., 1998; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2005), the majority of these tools are directed towards the measurement and assessment of impacts, rather than facilitating adaptation decision-making.

As noted previously, risk management approaches are the basis for most current adaptation decision-support tools. Efforts highlighted in several of the regional chapters of this assessment (e.g. Chapters 4 and 8) could lead to prototypes for decision-making in communities across the country (Mehdi et al., 2006). Adaptation modelling, a concept that is currently in development by a number of research groups worldwide (Herrod-Julius and Scheraga, 2000; Hope, 2006; Burton, 2007; Dickinson, 2007) may eventually result in formalized, quantitative methods for evaluating potential adaptations for a particular location.


Much can be gained by reviewing and contributing to international initiatives, and through a conscious effort to draw upon such opportunities. Most of the challenges facing Canada are not unique to our country, and many regions of the world have experience dealing with climate impacts similar to those Canada is expected to see in the future. A 2006 review (Gagnon-Lebrun and Agrawala, 2006) concluded that the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands were the most advanced in implementing adaptation measures.

Workshops and conferences to share research results, experience and tools, and participation in international initiatives are all mechanisms for the transfer of knowledge. Such sharing is one of the primary goals of the Nairobi Work Program on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2007). In addition, there are growing opportunities for the Canadian business community to play active and constructive roles outside our borders on issues of climate change adaptation (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2003; Mitchell and Tanner, 2006). The same applies to those engaged in research and development and in technical and social innovation.

Canada also has a responsibility to help other countries (Gardiner, 2004), especially those most severely impacted by climate change and least able to adapt (Burton et al., 2006, see Chapter 9). This can take the form of engagement in multilateral negotiations and contributions under the UNFCCC and other forums, as well as direct bilateral assistance, and would complement efforts of multilateral agencies that highlight the importance of incorporating climate change considerations within development policy frameworks and programming (World Bank, 2006).

In addition to research initiatives and experience with implementing adaptation measures, Canadians can also learn from the experiences of other countries as they start to develop policy frameworks and tools to assist adaptation (Box 2).


Learning from others

European countries have generally been the most active with respect to adaptation policy initiatives, and a number now have adaptation plans in place or under development.

The European Union (EU) 'Climate Change Programme II: Impacts and Adaptation' has a mandate of “exploring its role and the scope for a policy strategy to adapt to the impacts of unavoidable climate change and how best to assist local, regional, and national efforts ” (European Commission, 2007b). The program published a report entitled Building National Adaptation Strategies (European Climate Change Programme, 2006). A green paper examining options for EU actions emphasizes the need to develop a coherent policy response to reduce costs and enable complementary actions based on joint partnerships at the most appropriate level (European Commission, 2007a).

Within the EU, steps are being taken by several member countries, including the following:

France passed a national adaptation strategy in November 2006. The strategy takes a crosscutting approach involving initiatives based on sectors (agriculture, energy and industry, transport, buildings and habitat, tourism, banking and insurance), environment (urban, seashore and oceans, mountain, forest) and resources (water, biodiversity, health, risks). France is now implementing the recommended actions in this strategy.

The Netherlands has drafted a ‘National Programme for Spatial Adaptation to Climate Change’ (ARK) with a strong emphasis on spatial planning and addressing issues associated with sea-level rise. It contains several key elements, including the role of the government, the integration of adaptation decisions into financial processes and instruments, and the design of physical structures.

Finland completed an adaptation strategy in 2005. The strategy identifies impacts and adaptation measures for all key sectors. It identified six priorities for implementation in the period 2006 –2015: 1) integrating climate change impacts and adaptation into sectoral planning; 2) improving capacities to address extreme weather events; 3) including climate change aspects into long-term investments; 4) enhancing observation and monitoring systems; 5) strengthening and focusing research and development; and 6) relating this work to the international development agenda.

The United Kingdom is developing an ‘Adaptation Policy Framework’ (APF) that incorporates feedback from public consultations held between November 2005 and January 2006. The APF will set out a structure for the roles and activities of different organizations (from central government to individuals) to ensure a comprehensive and coherent approach to adaptation and to prevent adaptation in one sector from having negative impacts upon another sector. This policy initiative complements work in the United Kingdom on tools to support adaptation decision-making (e.g. Willows and Connell, 2003; Shaw et al., 2007).

Spain has established a Climate Change Policies Co-ordination Commission, which in July 2006 approved a ‘National Plan for the Adaptation to Climate Change’ (PNACC). The plan provides a general reference framework for evaluation of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.