There have been significant advances in impacts, adaptation and vulnerability research during the past decade, with levels of interest and the volume of scientific literature growing significantly. These advancements are reflected in the global-scale assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and such multi-country initiatives as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (see Chapter 3; Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2005). The literature increasingly reflects the integrated nature of adaptation issues and the importance of analyses that crosscut both biophysical and social sciences. One of the most important developments is that the value of traditional knowledge in enhancing understanding of climate change impacts and adaptation has been recognized (e.g. Furgal et al., 2006; Nickels et al., 2006; Riewe and Oakes, 2006). Recognition that the local scale of many adaptation issues and applied nature of some research necessitates the early and frequent engagement of practitioners and stakeholders at the community scale also represents noteworthy progress. Despite these major advances, there remain significant shortcomings in the knowledge base, including the scarcity of quantitative analysis of the costs of both impacts and adaptation (see Stern, 2006).
Canada's first national-scale assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation, The Canada Country Study, was completed in 1998 (Environment Canada, 1998). The resulting eight-volume report (six regional volumes, one national sectoral volume and one volume on crosscutting issues) concluded that the environmental, economic and social costs in Canada related to both the impacts of, and adaptation to, climate change would be large. The accompanying national summary for policy makers also noted that there was a limited understanding of the range and extent of climate change impacts in Canada, and considerable work was required to refine that understanding and develop workable adaptation approaches (Maxwell et al., 1997). In 2004, the report Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: a Canadian Perspective provided an update to The Canada Country Study through a sector-based summary of recent studies. Contrasting the knowledge gaps and research needs highlighted in the two reports reflects an increasing appreciation of the need to better understand adaptation (Box 1).
Reflecting global trends in research related to climate change impacts and adaptation, Canadian research has become increasingly integrative, with more work crossing disciplines and economic sectors. In recent years, greater emphasis has been placed on understanding vulnerability to both current and future climate, and on understanding the social factors that influence adaptation. This trend is evident in comparing the research needs identified in The Canada Country Study (1998) with those of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: a Canadian Perspective (2004). While the research needs of The Canada Country Study focused primarily on baseline data, modelling capabilities and first-order impacts (Maxwell et al., 1997), the 2004 report highlighted the need to better understand interactive effects (climatic and non-climatic), the linkages between science and policy, and current and future adaptive capacity (Lemmen and Warren, 2004). This evolution reflects the growing involvement of a wide range of disciplines in climate change impacts and adaptation research.