Canada’s Climate: Last Chance Tourism

By CHRIS WOOD 

More or less as yesterday’s blog post (on Risky Business and Climate-Smart Development) was emerging from my keyboard, Canada’s federal government very quietly uploaded to the website of the Department of Natural Resources the closest thing Canadians have seen since 2008 to a comprehensive survey of Canada’s climate change vulnerabilities. In fact, Canada in a Changing Climate is avowedly an update on that earlier report — with little of significance added. 

546px-Polar_Bears_Play_fight

Polar bears play-fighting. Creative Commons, via Wikimedia

The nearly 300-page report confirms that all the climate trends apparent in 2008 continue: Canada is getting warmer and wetter — although droughts can still occur; big storms are more common; ice and snow are melting pretty much everywhere. “Further changes in climate are inevitable.” Adaptation is necessary, and holds opportunities for some but, “there will also be cases where maintaining current activities is not feasible and/or cost-effective.”

The report examines three economic sectors likely to be the most immediately affected by climate change: farming, fishing and certain industries. Its findings are underwhelming. The report is heavy on contextual statistics — the value of mineral production by province in 2010 — and generalized forward-looking observations not much changed since 1989. It better connects some of the dots from climate change effects to impacts on specific sectors’ activities. But its evidence is anecdotal (Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories spent an extra $11 million flying in fuel because its ice road melted early), and it makes no attempt to estimate aggregate future costs or opportunities across industries.

A clear take-away however, is that Canada is dragging its feet in preparing for a changed climate. The report admits it can find “relatively few examples of concrete, on-the-ground adaptation measures being implemented specifically to reduce vulnerability to projected changes in climate.”

The report offers case studies of adaptation efforts it has found. The federal government is notable by the near-absence of its initiatives. (Unless you get excited by its examining tax changes that might help farmers weather even wilder weather.)

Nonetheless there is evidence of the authors’ suppressed yearning for a more activist government role. It offers as a case study of successful historic adaptation the Depression-era Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (passed under the Conservative government of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, as it happened), which provided federal support to reclaim farmland devastated by drought and wind erosion.

“Several factors can help accelerate the transition between awareness [of climate threat] and action,” the authors note, “including leadership, targeted awareness-raising and supportive strategies or policies.” Here, they manage to imply, the federal government has “opportunities.”

On the other hand, the report does hold some gems of perspective revealed, surely, only when resource researchers are obliged to describe their world in terms they hope that leaders blinded to all but book-to-market variables might understand.

Among the potential negative impacts from climate change on Canada’s “destination image,” the authors report, is “the threat of a loss of 40 per cent of tourism if Churchill’s polar bears ‘appear unhealthy’ (very skinny), which is already beginning to occur.” On the upside, there is a growing opportunity for “‘last chance tourism’, where additional tourists are drawn to see either changing landscapes or certain features (e.g. glaciers or certain wildlife species) before they decline or disappear.”

There’s a silver lining to everything.

Copyright Chris Wood 2014

Further reading:
Canada in a Changing Climate is available here: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/earthsciences/pdf/assess/2014/pdf/Full-Report_Eng.pdf
Natural Security, Chris Wood’s bimonthly Facts and Opinions column , is here. (Subscription)

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