Science

New climate change report highlights rising danger, costs for Canadians

Global warming is already costing Canada billions, from wildfires in the West to reduced seafood harvests in the East, says a new report from the world's top climate change research body.

Report says costs of climate change impacts have been rising in Canada since 1983

Thick smoke fills the air and nearly blocks out the sun as a property destroyed by wildfire is seen in Monte Lake, B.C., in August 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Global warming is already costing Canada billions, from wildfires in the West to reduced seafood harvests in the East, says a new report from the world's top climate change research body.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a new summary report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Intended to guide political decision-makers, it holds grim warnings for Canada.

"The costs of climate change impacts have been rising in Canada since 1983, from an average of about $0.4 billion to $1.9 billion annually," says a briefing document prepared from the report.

The report, which is the result of two years of work from 330 scientists around the world, covers the globe. But it does look at what rising levels of greenhouse gases specifically mean for Canada.

"Wildfires are a top threat to Canada," the briefing says, drawing from research conducted by agencies such as Natural Resources Canada.

It quotes a 2016 report that concludes annual fire suppression costs could reach $1 billion annually. The federal government has already reported that cost has been reached in six of the last 10 years.

By 2080, the report predicts cumulative forestry losses from fire, pests and other climate-change factors could add up to $459 billion. 

A ripple of consequences

Atlantic Canada will also suffer, experiencing above-average sea level rise. The report points out that one Mi'kmaq community is already looking into relocation options.

Fisheries will also suffer.

Climate change has already nearly wiped out kelp beds off the Nova Scotia coast, an important habitat for fish. Ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide will harm squid, cod and halibut. If emissions remain high, snow crab landings could decline by up to 16 per cent and shellfish and lobster by up to 54 per cent.

Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port in West Dover, N.S., in 2019 as the lobster season on Nova Scotia's South Shore began. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian heartland is at risk of drying out, says the report. While farmers could enjoy a longer growing season and warmer temperatures, those benefits are likely to be outweighed.

"By the 2050s, parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Ontario and the Northwest Territories will experience water scarcity in the growing season," the briefing document says. 

Climate change will also damage the North, says the report. Melting permafrost and ice thaw will damage infrastructure and transportation networks, as has already happened with the rail line to Churchill, Man.

Nor will Canada be immune to what's happening in the rest of the world. 

Extreme weather worsened by climate change will disrupt international supply chains, markets, finance and trade, reducing the availability of goods in Canada and increasing their price and damaging markets for Canadian exports.

"While Canada will be impacted by the effects of climatic changes within its border, it will also be deeply affected by the consequences of changes that happen elsewhere," the document says. 

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