Exchanging Ideas on Climate
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
Exchanging ideas on Climate

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True North: Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change in Northern Canada

Message from the Round Table

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Climate change is not a future, theoretical prospect. Across Canada and the world, the impacts of climate change are evident now.

Canada?s North is the frontline in the global climate change challenge. Nowhere else in our country, or on our planet, are the early effects of climate change so plain. Nowhere else in Canada are communities and traditional ways of life so clearly at risk due to climate change.

Canada?s security ? national, economic, social, and environmental ? is impacted by climate change. Rapidly melting sea ice is opening Canada?s North to new challenges and opportunities. Access to rich resource lodes is becoming more inviting and feasible. Opportunities in tourism and fisheries are expanding. New shipping lanes may bring new sovereignty challenges. Fragile and unique ecosystems will face new stresses as a result.

Canada?s last frontier is more than an icon or image. ?From sea to sea to sea? is more than a motto. It reminds us, as Canadians, of just how vast and daunting our land and sea remains. It stretches our imaginations and challenges our endurance. However remote to most Canadians, it is home to a special group of Canadians who need our attention and our commitment to help them combat the looming threat of climate change while taking advantage of new economic opportunities.

The one force dominating Canada?s North today is accelerating change - physical, biological, cultural, economic, and political. This includes the physical reality of changing permafrost and sea ice, shifts in the distribution of animal and plant species, more frequent marine visits and the search for oil and gas.

Canada?s North provides a policy context different from any other region of the country. It faces a unique gap between myth and reality; a gap between southern perceptions of the North and the reality of northern circumstances. In the south we like to talk about ?the True North Strong and Free?, romantic perceptions of northern peoples, the vision of a pristine wilderness, and popular images of polar bears and caribou. But the reality is of land, sea, communities, and peoples facing both lingering and new pressures on economic growth, social conditions, and environmental integrity.

The past few years have seen fresh, positive, and timely attention paid to Canada?s North. The federal government is embarking upon a comprehensive new strategy for northern Canada. But no strategy can be complete without climate change adaptation as a key plank. And no climate change adaptation plan can be complete without a core focus on infrastructure.

Infrastructure in the North connects communities and fosters security like no other place in Canada. Climate change adds a major new level of risk. Melting permafrost is undermining building foundations, and threatens roads, pipelines, and communications infrastructure. Storm surges, wildfires, floods, blizzards, and changing wind and snowstorm patterns all pose risks to remote and vulnerable communities.

Canada?s North is too much an afterthought when it comes to national rules and processes influencing infrastructure decisions. Codes and standards for buildings reflect little of what it takes to design, build, and maintain infrastructure in the North, let alone a North facing climate change challenges. Insurance coverage for failures and disasters is not adequately tailored to northern risk profiles. Community planning for disaster management is uneven and lacks resources.

True North highlights the risks to northern infrastructure posed by climate change and the opportunities in adaptation. It casts a light on one of the most critical aspects of adaptation ? ensuring the infrastructure is resilient over its lifespan in the face of climate change. Our report shows clearly how we can use existing risk management tools to reduce infrastructure vulnerabilities and adapt more effectively to climate change in Canada?s North.

To do so, we need to do two things: first, make climate change adaptation more of a ?mainstream? issue than ever before and, second, build northern capacity to adapt to climate change. We can help achieve this by undertaking four priorities:

1. Integrate climate risks into existing government policies, processes, and mechanisms;

2. Ensure northern interests are represented and implicated in the development of climate change adaptation solutions;

3. Strengthen the science capacity and information use in the North to support long-term adaptation efforts;

4. Build community capacity to address climate risk to northern infrastructure and take advantage of opportunities.

Climate change adaptation is at its heart, a security issue for Canadians. Making the roads we travel, the buildings we work and live in, the pipelines that carry our energy and wealth ? all these and more ? secure in the face of looming climate change is not just a challenge to Canada?s North, but an obligation to us all.

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