Climate change is a pressing issue that affects countries all around the world, and Canada is no exception. As one of the largest and most developed countries in the world, Canada has a significant role to play in combating the effects of climate change.
In this article, we will explore the current state of climate change in Canada, its causes and effects, and what the country is doing to address the issue.
Climate Change Statistics for Canadians
- The term climate refers to the weather conditions in an area over an extended period.
- Canada has a landmass of 9,984,670 km2, making it the second-largest country in terms of area and contains several climate regions.
- Canada has several ecozones all with their own weather patterns, wild life, and soil types.
- Canada’s overall climate is now 1.7°C warmer than one hundred years ago.
- The 2021 June heat wave saw a new record temperature of 49.6°C set in Lytton, British Columbia.
- Canada’s Arctic sea ice has decreased by about 13% every ten years since records began in 1979.
- Canada’s sea level has risen by 23 cm since 1900.
- The number of weather-related disasters had risen from 1.5 per year to 3.5 per year.
- Climate change related infrastructure damage could cost Canadians $21 billion and $43 billion per year by 2050.
- Climate change could lead to a 20% reduction in crop yields in some areas of Canada.
- Climate change could cost the Canadian healthcare system an additional $2-$5 billion per year by 2080.
What is Climate?
People often mistake weather for climate. However, there is a significant difference between them. The term weather is used to describe short-term conditions within the atmosphere of a specific region, while the term climate is used for weather conditions over an extended period of time, which include seasonal and long-term averages.
For example, there may be thunderstorms in Toronto for a few days in a row. This is what is happening with the weather. On the other hand, climate in Toronto, which is a continental climate, is determined through the mapping of the weather over several decades in the local as well as the surrounding areas.
Why is Canada’s Climate Significant?
Maintaining the consistency of the global climate is important for the preservation of life on the planet, including human life. When the climate changes too fast, countless species will not be able to adapt and will become extinct. It will also become increasingly challenging for humans to adapt to their place of residence due to, for example, rising waters, more extreme weather conditions, and wildfires.
Because Canada is the world’s second-largest country based on landmass, over 9,984,670 km2, climates in Canada range from the temperate to the extreme cold. The country has distinct climate regions with a lot of variation in terms of humidity and temperature. All of these regions contain ecosystems with countless organisms. The climate regions are distinguished by their own characteristics, which include temperature, precipitation, and type of soil, which all culminate in different types of plant and animal life.
Ecozones in Canada
Canada has several ecozones. Below are brief summaries of some of the main ecozones.
- Montane Cordillera – the most diverse ecozone in Canada in the region between the Rocky and Coast Mountains. Summers are dry while winters are wet with an extremely diverse offering of flora and fauna.
- Arctic Ecozones – the arctic ecozones in Canada include the Arctic Cordillera, the Southern arctic, and the Northern Arctic climates. They are cold and dry regions.
- Hudson Plains Ecozone – this area has many wetlands and bogs due to poor drainage and moderate precipitation.
- Prairies Ecozone – 95% of this region with diverse flora and fauna has been converted into farmland, leading to a disproportionate number of endangered species. The region has less precipitation and often high winds.
- Mixedwood Plains Ecozone – the most populous of Canada’s ecozones, containing cities such as Toronto and Montreal. It is also the smallest ecozone and a region with a big difference between the summer and winter weathers. This area faces extreme ecological degradation.
- Other Canadian ecozones include the Boreal Plains, Atlantic Maritime, Shield, Pacific Maritime, Taiga, and Boreal Cordillera Ecozone.
Climate Change in Canada
Canada has already experienced the impacts of global warming. These include rising temperatures, melting Arctic sea ice, and more frequent extreme weather events such as floods, wildfires, and droughts.
Temperature is one of the key indicators of climate change and Canada has already experienced a significant temperature increase. According to the Changing Climate Report, the average temperature in the country has increased by 1.7°C in the last century.
The global average is 0.8°C, meaning Canada’s temperature has increased more than double of the global average. The temperature increase in Canada has not been uniform with some areas experiencing far higher changes. The changes have been the most significant in the north of the country with some areas seeing temperatures rising by up to 3°C.
As well as increased overall temperature, Canada now has fewer extremely cold days. Days when the temperature falls below -30°C are considered extremely cold days in Canada and their number has decreased by nearly 50% in the last 60 years. In contrast, the number of extremely hot days, when the temperature climbs over 30°C, has increased by approximately 25% in the same period.
2021, which was the fifth warmest year since nationwide records began in Canada, saw a heat wave hit the western Canada in June. A new record of 49.6°C was set in Lytton, British Columbia, This was nearly 24°C hotter than normal.
Arctic Sea Ice
The Arctic region in Canada is particularly vulnerable to climate change. One of the most visible impacts is the Arctic sea ice melting. Since the satellite records began in 1979, there has been a decrease of approximately 13% per decade. Additionally, the thickness of the ice has reduced by about 65% since the same year.
There are numerous consequences to the melting of the Arctic sea ice, which include changes to weather patterns and rising sea levels. When the ice melts, darker ocean waters are exposed and these areas absorb more sunlight, which in turn warms the water further. This can lead to changes in ocean currents and weather patterns that can have a significant impact on the global climate.
Rising Sea Levels
The planet’s warming is leading to melting ice sheets and glaciers as well as thermal expansion of the oceans. This causes the sea levels to rise. According to the Changing Climate Report, the sea level has risen by approximately 23 cm since 1900 in Canada. This is higher than the global average, which is 19 cm. Over the last few decades the sea levels have risen faster. The average yearly increase has been about 3.5 mm since 1993.
The impact of rising sea levels will be most significant on Canada’s coastal communities. For example, rising sea levels can lead to erosion and increased flooding. About 30% of Canada’s population lives within 10 km of the coast, which means that millions of people in Canada are vulnerable as the sea levels continue to rise.
As well as rising temperatures and sea levels and melting of the Arctic ice, climate change is also evident in the increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, including floods, droughts, and wildfires.
In the last few decades, Canada has seen an increase in disasters related to weather. The average number of weather-related disasters was 1.5 from 1983 to 2007. From 2008 to 2017, the number had increased to 3.5 weather-related disasters per year. One of the most significant disasters caused by weather in Canada are wildfires such as the fire in 2016 which burned over 500,000 hectares in the Fort McMurray region.
The Cost of Climate Change in Canada
As the climate changes, it will also have a financial impact on Canadians ranging from fixing damages to infrastructure to healthcare costs.
Damage to the Infrastructure
Rising temperatures cause more frequent freeze-thaw cycles and floods and storms that can lead to the deterioration of bridges and roads. They can also lead to damage to buildings and water and sewer systems. The economic cost of climate change to the infrastructure in Canada could range between $21 billion and $43 billion per year by 2050. They could increase further, ranging between $40 billion and $93 billion per year by the 2080s.
Loss of Productivity
Climate change also affects productivity in Canada, particularly in the forestry and agricultural sectors. Changing weather patterns and rising temperatures affect the growth of forests and crop yields. By the 2050s, climate change could lead to a 20% reduction in crop yields in some parts of Canada. The risk to the forestry sector comes in the form of more frequent insect outbreaks and wildfires.
Productivity losses in the forestry and agricultural sectors could have severe economic impacts, which include job losses and reduced income. The government in Canada aims to mitigate the impact to these sectors by promoting sustainable farming and forestry practices and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure.
Climate change also has an impact on the overall health of Canadians, which leads to increased healthcare costs. For example, rising temperatures are increasing the potential of heat-related illnesses such as dehydration and heat stroke. In addition, more frequent extreme weather events can lead to more injuries and other health issues.
The economic costs of climate change on the healthcare system in Canada could be significant. The estimates say the costs could range from $2 billion to $5 billion per year by 2080.
Mitigating the Costs of Climate Change
The government in Canada is taking steps to transition to a low-carbon economy and to mitigate the costs of climate change. The government introduced the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change in 2016, which includes measures such as investments in clean energy and support for energy-efficient buildings.
In addition, the government is investing in climate-resilient infrastructure which includes flood protection. It is also promoting sustainable forestry and agriculture practices to reduce the impact of climate change within these sectors. The Canadian government has also set a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and is taking steps to reduce emissions from the transportation sector which is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
Climate change is causing significant changes across the globe and its impact is also evident in Canada. The country has seen rising temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, and faster melting of the Arctic sea ice in recent years.
Climate change is also causing serious economic and social costs in Canada, and these costs are expected to increase in the coming decades. The country is taking steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy. However, more needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the temperature increase and impact of climate change in Canada.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is climate change affecting Canada?
Canada is experiencing the effects of climate change, including rising temperatures, melting permafrost, more frequent and severe heat waves, increased forest fires, and more intense rainfall events. These changes are having significant impacts on natural ecosystems, human health, and infrastructure.
What is Canada doing to address climate change?
Canada has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The country has implemented various measures such as carbon pricing, investing in renewable energy, and supporting energy-efficient buildings and transportation systems.
What are some of the economic impacts of climate change on Canada?
Climate change is expected to have significant economic impacts on Canada, including the loss of agricultural productivity, increased insurance costs, and damages to infrastructure such as roads, buildings, and ports. It can also lead to reduced tourism, increased healthcare costs, and higher food prices.