July 4, 2019

Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks

The Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential


The climate is changing, with temperatures in Canada rising at twice the global average. Over the next 20 years, we can expect to see increasing impacts of climate change, from more frequent and severe hot extremes, to thawing of permafrost, to increases in extreme precipitation. These types of changes put a range of natural and human systems at risk, prompting governments to intensify their efforts to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.

While many Canadian governments have studied climate change risks at the sectoral and departmental level, few have current, government-wide assessments that could help prioritize their response to risks across their activities and operations. Seeking a comprehensive examination of climate change risks from a whole-of-government perspective, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat asked the CCA to examine the top climate risks for Canada and their relative significance.

To address the question, the CCA convened a multidisciplinary panel of seven experts with backgrounds in economics, human health, earth sciences, social sciences, and climate change adaptation and risk assessment. An additional 17 experts contributed their knowledge and insights at an expert workshop. The report’s findings emerged from the judgment, experience, and expertise of the workshop participants and Expert Panel members, informed by published evidence.

The Sponsor:

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

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The Question

What are the top climate change risks facing both Canada and the federal government, and their relative significance, and which have the most potential to be minimized by adaptation measures?

Key Findings

Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks identifies 12 major areas of risk: agriculture and food, coastal communities, ecosystems, fisheries, forestry, geopolitical dynamics, governance and capacity, human health and wellness, Indigenous ways of life, northern communities, physical infrastructure, and water. The Expert Panel concluded while all 12 risk areas have the potential to cause major harm in the coming decades, risks are most acute in six domains: physical infrastructure, coastal communities, northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems, and fisheries. Climate change risks are complex and interconnected, and consequences can multiply through natural and human systems in ways that are difficult to anticipate.

All 12 areas of risk considered by the Panel can be meaningfully reduced through adaptation measures that lessen vulnerability or exposure.

Federal government planning and prioritization for adaptation to climate change can be informed by a comprehensive understanding of the nature of the federal role in each risk area across three main categories: coordination and collaboration, capacity building, or managing government assets and operations.


Figure 1.1: Negative Climate Change Impacts in Canada



Figure 2.3: Panel Assessment of Consequences and Likelihood for Major Areas of Climate Change Risk



Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential