Adaptation and climate resilience

The impacts of climate change are already being felt across Canada. These changes are being magnified in Canada’s Arctic, where average temperature has increased at a rate of nearly three times the global average. They pose significant risks to communities, health and well-being, the economy, and the natural environment, especially in Canada’s northern and coastal regions and for Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples are among the most vulnerable to climate change due to their remote locations and reliance on wild foods. The changes already being experienced are both dramatic and permanent, with significant social, cultural, ecological, and economic implications.

Inuit and climate impacts: Inuit and Inuit Nunangat, the homeland of Inuit in Canada, are experiencing significant climate change impacts, as highlighted in Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s recent report on Inuit Priorities for Canada’s Climate Strategy. More than 70 per cent of Canada's coastline is located in the Arctic and it is defined by ice. Average sea ice thickness is decreasing and sea ice cover is now dominated by younger, thinner Ice. Some models are projecting that summer sea ice cover could be almost completely lost before 2050. These changes are already impacting access to wild foods and contributing hazards and risks on ice.

Taking action to adapt to current and future climate impacts will help protect Canadians from climate change risks, build resilience, reduce costs, and ensure that society thrives in a changing climate. Developing adaptation expertise and technology can further contribute to clean growth by creating jobs and spurring innovation. Adaptation is a long-term challenge, and it requires ongoing commitment to action, leadership across all governments‎, strong governance to assess and sustain progress, adequate funding, and meaningful engagement with, and continued leadership by, Indigenous Peoples. Federal investments (see Annex I) will support key adaptation measures.

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments have identified new actions to build resilience to climate change across Canada in the following areas:

  1. Translating scientific information and Traditional Knowledge into action
  2. Building climate resilience through infrastructure
  3. Protecting and improving human health and well-being
  4. Supporting particularly vulnerable regions
  5. Reducing climate-related hazards and disaster risks

Translating scientific information and Traditional Knowledge into action

Canadians need authoritative science and information to understand current and expected changes. This includes changing conditions (e.g., rainfall, temperature, and sea ice) and the impacts of climate change across Canada. Long-term monitoring and local observations are also key. Data, tools, and information need to be widely accessible, equitable, and relevant to different types of decision-makers in different settings.  

Translating knowledge into action takes leadership, skilled people, and resources. The Government of Canada’s Adaptation Platform supports collaboration among governments, industry, and professional organizations on adaptation priorities. Building regional expertise and capacity for adaptation will improve risk management; support land-use planning; help safeguard investments; and strengthen emergency planning, response, and recovery. Decision-making by all governments will be guided by consideration of scientific and Traditional Knowledge.

Information and tools for adaptation decisions: Decision-makers in five Quebec coastal municipalities collaborated with researchers, notably from the Université du Quebec à Rimouski and from Ouranos, a regional climate and adaptation consortium, to explore solutions to repeated damage of coastal infrastructure. Projections of future erosion, studies of sea ice and coastal vulnerability due to climate change, and cost-benefit analyses provided the foundation for the municipalities to make decisions on an adaptation solution.

The approach to information, knowledge, and capacity building will include (1) providing authoritative climate information and (2) building regional adaptation capacity and expertise.

Ensuring Canadians across all regions and sectors have the capacity to make informed decisions and to act on them provides the foundation for advancing adaptation in Canada. Indigenous-led community-based initiatives that combine science and Traditional Knowledge can help guide decision making. Including this information in regional and national impacts and adaptation assessments can further advance understanding of climate change across the country.

New actions

1. Providing authoritative climate information

The federal government will establish a Canadian centre for climate services, to improve access to authoritative, foundational climate science and information. This centre will work with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous Peoples and other partners to support adaptation decision making across the country.

2. Building regional adaptation capacity and expertise

Governments will work with regional partners, including with Indigenous Peoples through community-based initiatives, to build regional capacity, develop adaptation expertise, respectfully incorporate Traditional Knowledge, and mobilize action. Canada’s Adaptation Platform and regional consortia and centres support the sharing of expertise and information among governments, Indigenous Peoples and communities, businesses, and professional organizations and support action on joint priorities.

Building climate resilience through infrastructure

Climate change is already impacting infrastructure, particularly in vulnerable northern and coastal regions, as well as Indigenous Peoples. Climate-related infrastructure failures can threaten health and safety, interrupt essential services, disrupt economic activity, and incur high costs for recovery and replacement.

The approach to building climate resilience through infrastructure will include (1) investing in infrastructure that strengthens resilience and (2) developing climate-resilient codes and standards.

Traditional built infrastructure (e.g. roads, dykes, seawalls, bridges, and measures to address permafrost thaw) can address specific vulnerabilities. Additionally, living natural infrastructure (e.g. constructed/managed wetlands and urban forests) can build the resilience of communities and ecosystems and deliver additional benefits, such as carbon storage and health benefits.

Considering climate change in long-lived infrastructure investments, including retrofits and upgrades, and investing in traditional and natural adaptation solutions can build resilience, reduce disaster risks, and save costs over the long term.

Adaptation infrastructure: The Red River Floodway was originally constructed in 1968 at a total cost of $63 million. It was recently expanded in 2014, at a cost of $627 million. Since 1968, the Floodway has prevented over $40 billion (in 2011 dollars) in flood-related damages for the City of Winnipeg.

New actions

1. Investing in infrastructure to build climate-resilience

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments will partner to invest in infrastructure projects that strengthen climate resilience.

2. Developing climate-resilient codes and standards

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments will work collaboratively to integrate climate resilience into building design guides and codes. The development of revised national building codes for residential, institutional, commercial, and industrial facilities and guidance for the design and rehabilitation of climate-resilient public infrastructure by 2020 will be supported by federal investments.

Protecting and improving human health and well-being

Climate change is increasingly affecting the health and well-being of Canadians (e.g. extreme heat, air pollution, allergens, diseases carried by ticks and insects, and food security). Indigenous Peoples and northern and remote communities in particular are experiencing unique and growing risks to health and vitality.

The approach to protecting and improving human health and well-being will include (1) taking action to address climate change-related health risks and (2) supporting healthy Indigenous communities.

Adaptation actions with an inclusive view of well-being (e.g. social and cultural determinants of health and mental health) will keep Canadians healthy and reduce pressures on the health system.

New actions

1. Addressing climate change-related health risks

Governments will collaborate to prevent illness resulting from extreme heat events and to reduce the risks associated with climate-driven infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease. Federal adaptation investments will support actions including surveillance and monitoring, risk assessments, modelling, laboratory diagnostics, as well as health-professional education and public-awareness activities. Efforts will also continue to advance the science and understanding of health risks and best practices to adapt.

2. Supporting healthy Indigenous communities

The federal government will increase support for First Nations and Inuit communities to undertake climate change and health-adaptation projects that protect public health.

The federal government will also work with the Métis Nation on addressing the health effects of climate change.

Food Security and sustainability – planning for climate change impacts in Arviat, Nunavut. With the goal of promoting and providing access to healthy foods, a community-based project in Arviat, Nunavut involved researchers and community youth to monitor and collect data on optimal growing conditions in the community greenhouse and to build capacity for its ongoing operation.

Supporting particularly vulnerable regions

The Indigenous Peoples of Canada, along with coastal and northern regions are particularly vulnerable and disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. Unlike rebuilding after an extreme event like a flood or a fire, once permafrost has thawed, coastlines have eroded, or socio-cultural sites and assets have disappeared, they are lost forever.

The approach to supporting vulnerable regions will include (1) investing in resilient infrastructure to protect vulnerable regions; (2) building climate resilience in the North; (3) supporting community-based monitoring in Indigenous communities; and (4) supporting adaptation in coastal areas.

Action taken to support adaptation in vulnerable regions can help communities, traditional ways of life, and economic sectors endure and thrive in a changing climate. The knowledge, expertise, technologies, and lessons from adaptation actions in vulnerable northern and coastal regions can benefit other vulnerable regions and sectors.

New actions

1. Investing in resilient infrastructure to protect vulnerable regions

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments will work together to ensure infrastructure investments help build resilience with Indigenous Peoples as well as in vulnerable coastal and northern regions.

2. Building climate resilience in the North

Federal, territorial, and northern governments and Indigenous Peoples will continue working together to develop and implement a Northern Adaptation Strategy to strengthen northern capacity for climate change adaptation. Federal investments to build resilience in the North and northern Indigenous Peoples will support this work.

3. Supporting community-based monitoring for Indigenous Peoples

The federal government will provide support for Indigenous Peoples to monitor climate change in their communities and to connect Traditional Knowledge and science to build a better understanding of impacts and inform adaptation actions.

Collaborating to address climate impacts in the North: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon hosted the Pan-Territorial Permafrost Workshop in 2013, which brought together front-line decision makers and permafrost researchers from each territory to share knowledge, form connections, and look at possibilities for adaptation in the future.

4. Supporting adaptation in coastal regions

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments will support adaptation efforts in vulnerable coastal and marine areas and Arctic ecosystems. Activities will include science, research, and monitoring to identify climate change impacts and vulnerabilities; the development of adaptation tools for coastal regions; and the improvement of ocean forecasting. This knowledge will help inform adaptation decisions related to fisheries and oceans management and coastal infrastructure. Federal adaptation investments will help advance this work.

Supporting vulnerable coastal communities: Through the Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions Project, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick partner together and with Indigenous communities, regional non-profits and industry to develop practical tools and resources to help vulnerable coastal communities consider climate change in planning, engineering practices, and water and resource management. Examples include land-use planning tools, best practices, and risk assessments.

Reducing climate-related hazards and disaster risks

Climate change is impacting the intensity and frequency of events such as floods, wildfires, drought, extreme heat, high winds, and winter road failures. Recognizing this reality, Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Emergency Management are updating emergency management in Canada including work to mitigate disasters, review the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, develop build-back better strategies, and collaborate on public alerting. Additionally, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers is working on the establishment of the Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy, with climate change highlighted as a key challenge.

The approach to reducing climate-related hazards and disaster risks will include (1) investing in infrastructure to reduce disaster risks; (2) advancing efforts to protect against floods; and (3) supporting adaptation for Indigenous Peoples.

Disaster risk-reduction efforts and adaptation measures can reduce the negative impacts of these events, some of which have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples.

New actions

1. Investing in infrastructure to reduce disaster risks

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments will partner to invest in traditional and natural infrastructure that reduces disaster risks and protects Canadian communities from climate-related hazards such as flooding and wildfires.

2. Advancing efforts to protect against floods

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments will work together through the National Disaster Mitigation Program to develop and modernize flood maps and to assess and address flood risks.

Flood and drought protections through wetlands restoration: Alberta’s Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program provided a grant to Ducks Unlimited to restore approximately 558 hectares of wetlands in the South Saskatchewan River basin for the purposes of water storage for flood and drought protection. Using historical imagery and LiDAR data to identify drained wetlands, project leads then work with and compensate landowners to restore wetlands on private land.

3. Supporting adaptation in Indigenous Communities

Governments will work in partnership with Indigenous communities to address climate change impacts, including repeated and severe climate impacts related to flooding, forest fires, and failures of winter roads. The federal government will provide support to Indigenous communities for adaptation.

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