Climate change report outlines top risks facing Canada

July 04, 2019

A new report outlines 12 major areas of climate change risk facing Canada from a national perspective, all of which could involve significant losses, damages or disruptions over the next two decades.

Deborah Harford, executive director of the Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Environment, is among experts who worked on the report, Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks.

The panel of experts sought to provide insights into current knowledge on both the impacts and risks of climate change across the board, as well as adaptation approaches that are being tested or are proven both in Canada and around the world.

“Canada is already experiencing costly impacts of climate change for homeowners and businesses alike," says Harford, who is also an adjunct professor at SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management.

"We can reduce the damage if we act now, as well as invest for the long term in sustainable responses. ACT is engaged with many organizations and local governments that are leading the way.”

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat commissioned the report in April 2018 to create greater awareness about the risks posed by climate change in Canada, and to help guide policy and funding decisions taken by the federal government regarding its climate-change strategy. The report was released by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA).  

It identifies the following as major areas of climate change 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 report concludes that while all 12 risk areas have the potential to cause major harm in the coming decades, risks are most acute in these 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, the experts' panel added, saying the risks can be reduced through adaptation measures that lessen vulnerability or exposure.

Recent reports point out that Canada is warming at a rate roughly double that of the rest of the world. For northern parts of the country, the warming trend is nearly three times the global rate.

Understanding Canada’s top climate change risks and identifying how to manage and adapt to them will help reduce the impact of climate change on people in Canada, Harford says. She adds that the CCA convened a workshop comprising a diverse group of Canadians from across sectors and areas of expertise to identify the top risks and opportunities for adapting to climate change.