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Canada’s top climate change risks

Over the next 20 years, Canada can expect to see increasing impacts of climate change, from more frequent and severe hot extremes, to thawing of permafrost, to increases in extreme precipitation, according to a report released today by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA).

These types of changes put a range of natural and human systems at risk, prompting governments to intensify their efforts to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gases, it says.

The report was commissioned by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, which asked the CCA to examine the top climate risks for Canada and their relative significance. The Council of Canadian Academies is a not-for-profit that completes evidence-based, expert panel reports to inform public policy development in Canada.

Other studies have examined climate change risks at the sectoral and departmental level, but few have taken government-wide approach designed to help prioritize government responses.

To address the question, the CCA convened a multidisciplinary panel of seven experts with backgrounds in economics, human health, earth sciences, social sciences, and climate change adaptation and risk assessment. An additional 17 experts contributed their knowledge and insights at an expert workshop. The report’s findings emerged from the judgment, experience, and expertise of the workshop participants and expert panel members, informed by published evidence.

“Climate change is increasingly leading to costly and disruptive impacts, and current projections suggest the warming in Canada and globally will continue, regardless of the trajectory of global emissions,” said L. John Leggat, PhD, FCAE, Chair of the Expert Panel, in a news release. “Understanding our top climate change risks and the role of adaptation in reducing these risks can help to support an effective response.”

Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks identifies the top risk areas based on the extent and likelihood of the potential damage, and rates the risk areas according to society’s ability to adapt and reduce negative outcomes. These 12 major areas of risk are: agriculture and food, coastal communities, ecosystems, fisheries, forestry, geopolitical dynamics, governance and capacity, human health and wellness, Indigenous ways of life, northern communities, physical infrastructure, and water.

The report describes an approach to inform federal risk prioritization and adaptation responses. The Panel outlines a multi-layered method of prioritizing adaptation measures based on an understanding of the risk, adaptation potential, and federal roles and responsibilities.

“Canada’s unique geographic, environmental, and social identity shapes the hazards that it faces and its exposure to climate-related risks,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “This report represents a high-level approach to prioritizing those risks, which we hope will help inform decision making about adaptation strategies.”

The Question

What are the top climate change risks facing both Canada and the federal government, and their relative significance, and which have the most potential to be minimized by adaptation measures?

Key Findings

Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks identifies 12 major areas of risk: agriculture and food, coastal communities, ecosystems, fisheries, forestry, geopolitical dynamics, governance and capacity, human health and wellness, Indigenous ways of life, northern communities, physical infrastructure, and water. The Expert Panel concluded while all 12 risk areas have the potential to cause major harm in the coming decades, risks are most acute in six domains: physical infrastructure, coastal communities, northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems, and fisheries. Climate change risks are complex and interconnected, and consequences can multiply through natural and human systems in ways that are difficult to anticipate.

All 12 areas of risk considered by the Panel can be meaningfully reduced through adaptation measures that lessen vulnerability or exposure.

Federal government planning and prioritization for adaptation to climate change can be informed by a comprehensive understanding of the nature of the federal role in each risk area across three main categories: coordination and collaboration, capacity building, or managing government assets and operations.

 

Figure 1.1: Negative Climate Change Impacts in Canada
Canada is experiencing a wide range of negative effects from climate change, which vary by region. This figure includes some illustrative examples.

Visit www.cca-reports.ca to download the report.

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