Climate change is a reality, and the global frontline runs directly through Canada?s North. Warming temperatures, changing precipitation and land ice conditions, melting glaciers and sea ice, earlier springs, increasingly volatile weather, and shifts in the distribution of animals and plants are all occurring. The impacts of climate change touch all regions of Canada, presenting environmental, social, and economic risks, and some potential opportunities. However, Canada?s North is particularly affected, with warming taking place at faster rates than throughout Canada as a whole, and more quickly than projected by climate models, even under the most pessimistic scenarios.
Adapting to the impacts of climate change, not just limiting the magnitude of future change through global mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, is essential for northern communities to be secure in the decades ahead. The impacts of climate change pose risks to a range of economic sectors and systems that northerners value. Chief among them is the region?s infrastructure, including its roads, buildings, communications towers, energy systems, and waste disposal sites for communities, and large-scale facilities and waste-containment sites that support the territories? energy and mining operations. The risk to infrastructure systems will only intensify as the climate continues to warm.
For several years now, governments in Canada have been studying the issue of adaptation with the assumption that citizens will adjust as the nature of the threat becomes clear, with little or no government intervention beyond the generation and provision of information. Coordinated and strategic action in support of Canadian preparedness remains largely lacking. This is risky in the long term. Several opportunities already exist to integrate climate change adaptation alongside compatible policy goals, like Canada?s Northern Strategy.
Recognizing the unique vulnerability of Canada?s North and the potential for climate change to compromise sustainable regional development, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy embarked on a policy research program to consider climate change adaptation in this part of the country. This policy report includes the findings, recommendations, and conclusions of our work, and serves two purposes. First, it raises the profile of climate change adaptation in Canada?s North and stresses the urgency of dealing with it. Second, it provides immediate and longer-term advice to all levels of government on adapting northern infrastructure.
Given the pace of climate change and considering the potential for economic development and accompanying infrastructure expansion in Canada?s North, the time to capitalize on the adaptation opportunity is now.
Here are some of our recommendations:
Through qualitative research and extensive stakeholder consultation, including the views of over 70 northern residents and experts, we examined the risks to northern infrastructure posed by climate change and opportunities in adaptation. The NRTEE evaluated three risk-based mechanisms that together influence the degree to which the infrastructure in Canada?s North can withstand the impacts of climate change, thereby ensuring continued provision of services that communities and businesses depend on: codes, standards, and related instruments; insurance; and disaster management. Although these three mechanisms do not cover the full spectrum of tools to improve the management of climate risks, they are already in place and there is an immediate opportunity to utilize them as part of a broader climate change strategy.
Codes, standards, and related instruments (CSRI) ? "sets the bar" on all phases of the infrastructure life cycle, from design to construction to maintenance to decommissioning, by specifying performance or material requirements.
Insurance ? a financial mechanism that allows society to pool the management of risks, as such it has the potential to foster a culture of risk reduction and provide incentives to change behaviours that increase vulnerability to climate change.
Disaster Management ? includes approaches to prevent disasters, increase a community?s preparedness and response capacity during a disaster, and help a community recover after a disaster.
Our research, analysis, and consultations focused on Canada?s three territories ? Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut ? yet, many of the NRTEE?s findings, conclusions, and recommendations are likely to apply to northern reaches of several provinces.
Our research found that northerners are concerned that a warmer climate is already having an effect on the region?s infrastructure. We heard that changing precipitation patterns, including changes in snow, rain, and freezing rain conditions; permafrost degradation; flooding and streamflow changes; sea-ice loss and coastal erosion and other climate-related changes are compromising the integrity of transportation systems, buildings, communications, energy projects, and containment structures for storing waste from mining operations.
Canada?s North already faces many challenges and dealing with climate change will only add to their number. They include coping with a growing population and a diversity of socio-economic conditions as well as new opportunities for economic development and evolving northern governance structures.
We believe all sectors of society have a role to play in adapting to climate change, including the modifications needed to maintain and improve our northern infrastructure. Governments, in particular, have a range of policy instruments at their disposal ? both to make direct changes and to encourage and support others to make ?climate-wise? decisions across the country. In Canada?s North, successfully adapting to the impacts of a changing climate will involve cooperation across all levels of government ? local, Aboriginal, territorial, and federal ? with the delineation of roles and responsibilities taking place as northern governance regimes evolve. The federal government, in particular, can play a critical role in shaping strategies for climate change adaptation. It has a direct role in the political and economic development of the territories, circumpolar obligations, and roles in forecasting weather and sea-ice conditions and in maintaining the knowledge base of Canada?s land mass. At the same time, infrastructure development and renewal has emerged as a policy priority, presenting an incredible opportunity to phase in climate change adaptation as infrastructure planning and investments unfold.
Canada is not alone in searching for solutions to enhance the resilience of built infrastructure to a changing climate. We can be ahead of the curve by developing
skills, technologies, and governance in support of climate change adaptation. Commercial
opportunities exist for Canadian entrepreneurs, such as codes and standards development bodies, and publicprivate institutes like the Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre, to promote tools and technologies for adaptation in domestic and export markets.
Our evaluation of three risk-based mechanisms ? codes and standards, insurance, and disaster management ? as potential vehicles for adaptation of northern infrastructure led to five main findings:
Our report shows clearly how improvements in the use of existing risk-based mechanisms can reduce infrastructure vulnerabilities and address climate risks into the future.
Integrating climate risks into existing government policies, processes, and mechanisms
The NRTEE recommends that:
Ensuring northern interests are represented and implicated in the development of climate change adaptation solutions
The NRTEE recommends that:
Strengthening the science capacity and information use in the North to support long-term adaptation efforts
The NRTEE recommends that:
Building community capacity to address climate risks to northern infrastructure and take advantage of opportunities
The NRTEE recommends that:
The above recommendations address two priorities: ?mainstreaming? climate change adaptation into current and future policy and decision-making processes; and building northern capacity to adapt to climate change. These priorities must be undertaken simultaneously over time if we are to organize ourselves to successfully make northern communities, businesses, and the infrastructure that sustains them, resilient and adaptive to the looming reality of climate change in Canada?s North.
1 ?Data? refers to raw measurements of physical conditions. They become an input into the generation of information. For example, the values used for design of infrastructure require significant data analysis in order to become relevant information for infrastructure design, codes and standards.