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Climate change adaptation in Canada

Canada’s climate is already changing. Higher temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, extreme weather events and rising sea levels are just some of the changes already affecting many aspects of our lives.

Changes in climate will persist and, in many cases, will intensify over the coming decades. That will have significant impacts on Canadian communities through our economy, social well-being (health, culture, etc.) and environment. We must understand these impacts and the options available to us if we want to build resilience through adaptation, reduce the associated risks and costs of climate change’s impacts, and support sound decision-making.

What is climate change adaptation?

Climate change adaptation is any activity that reduces the negative impacts of climate change or helps people cope with them, or one that takes advantage of new opportunities that result from climate change.

Mitigation activities reduce the rate and magnitude of climate change, while adaptation addresses impacts from climate change that cannot be avoided. Successful adaptation doesn’t mean that negative impacts won’t occur, only that they are less severe than without adaptation.

Adaptation involves making adjustments in our decisions, activities and thinking because of changes in our climate. As part of our focus on adaptation, we’re working to understand what climate change means for those living in Canada, which approaches to climate change impacts and adaptation are most effective, and where gaps in knowledge and action remain.

Areas affected by climate change in Canada

Because of its northerly location, Canada experiences climate change at twice the rate of the world’s average. That makes adaptation particularly important in certain Canadian sectors, if we are to make them more resilient to — and able to take advantage of — the effects of climate change. Explore the research and work that’s happening at Natural Resources Canada to learn more about climate change and potential adaptation strategies in Canada’s North, for coastlines and for Canadian forests.

Canada’s North

Canada is warming faster than the world as a whole — at more than twice the global rate — and the Canadian Arctic is warming at about three times the global rate. Due to this rapid warming, sea-ice deterioration and changes in permafrost are expected to put communities and infrastructure in the North at risk. Understanding current permafrost and sea-ice conditions, and how they may evolve in response to a changing climate is essential for the assessment of climate change impacts and the development of adaptation strategies in northern Canada. The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) conducts geoscience research to inform land-use planners, local governments and community leaders, industry and regulators who need to adapt to changing environments in Canada’s North. They use this information to create more resilient communities and infrastructure, and respond to opportunities to develop natural resources.

Coastlines

Canada is surrounded by oceans on three sides: Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic. Climate change will impact a number of ocean properties, such as temperature, sea ice, sea level, acidity and dissolved oxygen. Sea-level rise and more extreme high-water events will increase the risk of coastal flooding in some coastal communities. These changes will result in greater impacts on cities in the future, unless appropriate adaptation and risk management are implemented. The GSC has produced relative sea-level projections for Canada to support planning and adaptation tools like Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Canadian Extreme Water Level Adaptation Tool.

Forests

Canada’s forests cover a greater land area and store more carbon than do the forests of almost any other nation. How Canada manages its forests is therefore a global concern. That’s why the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) is working to identify options so Canada’s forest sector can adapt to climate change. New knowledge is helping forest managers reduce the risks of climate change negatively affecting ecosystems and the forest sector. It’s also helping managers optimize what benefits may come from climate change. The CFS is also working with provinces, territories, universities and industry to develop decision support tools for managers and policy makers.

Moving forward on climate change adaptation

Good adaptation practices continue to emerge, but large gaps remain in Canada’s preparedness for climate change. We’re seeing the result in natural disasters, such as floods and wildfires, as a result of extreme weather events.

It’s critical to Canada’s economic and social well-being that we take rapid action on adaptation. That includes work here at home as well as looking beyond our borders at the climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation occurring elsewhere in the world, which can strongly affect food availability, trade and immigration here at home.

That’s why Natural Resources Canada, together with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Public Safety Canada and Infrastructure Canada, is developing a national adaptation strategy that will be used to help protect Canadians across the country from extreme weather and emerging climate risks. This strategy is part of the strengthened climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy.

In Budget 2021, the Government of Canada committed $1.4 billion over 12 years for the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, $63.8 million over three years to complete flood maps in high-risk areas, $100.6 million over five years to enhance wildfire preparedness in Canada’s national parks and $28.7 million over five years to increase the mapping of areas in northern Canada at risk of wildfires.

The Government continues to work with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous organizations and communities, and other stakeholders to increase Canada’s resilience to a changing climate.

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