Northern communities face one of biggest climate change risks, study says

“The need for action on climate risk is increasingly urgent”

A family walks back from a swim in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on an unusually hot day. A new report from the Canadian Council of Academies says Canada’s northern communities face one of the top three risks in the country when it comes to climate change. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

A new report from the Canadian Council of Academies says Canada’s northern communities face one of the biggest risks when it comes to climate change.

The report, released on July 4, listed the top 12 climate change risks, with infrastructure, coastlines and northern communities taking the top three spots.

The council, made up of Canada’s leading academics and researchers, prepared the report for the federal government at the request of the Treasury Board.

Because Canada’s North is experiencing the effects of climate change more rapidly than the rest of the country, the risks associated with climate change are automatically heightened as well, the report says.

For example, climate change increases risks to northern food security and poverty.

“Northern residents already report that environmental changes are impacting their livelihoods, their relationship with the land, their culture, and their mental health and wellbeing,” the report says.

The report also notes that climate change can increase the risk of food and waterborne illness in the North.

“Increases in rainfall and snowmelt have been followed two to four weeks later with increased visits to health clinics for diarrhea and vomiting in some communities.”

Along with threats to food, warming temperatures and changing weather patterns also cause problems for sea ice and ice roads.

“Using semi-permanent trails in Nunavut is becoming more dangerous and less dependable due to changes in snow, ice and precipitation patterns, making it more difficult to predict weather conditions, conduct harvesting activities, or travel,” the report says.

However, the report highlights that, over the last 30 years, warming of more than two degrees Celsius in the North did not lead to an overall reduction of trail access in Inuit regions. Access to sea-ice trails declined over that time, while access to land and water trails increased.

“The critical factors for trail access appeared to be users’ level of knowledge and risk tolerance, along with their equipment, rather than climate change.”

And as temperatures rise and the summer season in the Arctic grows longer, so does ship traffic and tourism.

But for communities unprepared for an increasing number of visitors, this can cause social and economic disruptions.

For example, as the report states, transit of the Northwest Passage has increased by 70 per cent since 2006.

The increased traffic also raises the risk of marine accidents, which can have disastrous environmental results including oil spills, contamination of wildlife, contamination of habitats and long-term transport of oil under sea ice.

“Few communities have basic oil-spill response kits, and mobilization for response to such disasters in the North requires more time than in more southern locations,” the report states.

The report also notes that thawing permafrost in the North has significant impacts on northern infrastructure.

For example, in 2008, heavy rain and flooding in Pangnirtung caused thermal erosion on the banks of the Duval River and surface cracks up to seven metres deep.

As a result, two bridges that connected residents to essential services were damaged, costing more than $5 million in repairs, the report says.

And in 2013, permafrost degradation resulted in damage to the runway at Iqaluit’s old airport.

The report concludes the risks at the national level are most acute in six areas: physical infrastructure, coastal communities, northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems and fisheries.

“None of the major areas of climate change risk reviewed by the panel can be ignored or deferred,” the report says.

While adaptation measures have the potential to offset many of the negative impacts caused by climate change, the report stresses that actions must be taken quickly.

“The need for action on climate risk is increasingly urgent…. The set of risks that has emerged from this process is undoubtedly paramount for Canadian society.”

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Eski on

    If only the Trudeau Government donated the $223 millions they sent to other countries to combat climate change went to Nunavut instead, but we have to beg for money from the Liberals.

    • Posted by Pmartin on

      I won’t bash the current Govt on this one as far as spending and commitments go. Better than any previous efforts by Govt although admittedly not enough. The North needs other Canadians as allies to bring attention to the problem in it’s entirety. By the way $223 Million won’t make a dent in Arctic infrastructure. It’s enough for 4-5 small structures in the Arctic, a few hockey rinks, a small harbour upgrade, or one bridge.

    • Posted by As if on

      As if the Conservatives are any better… Any and all Southern parties will always think of the north last. Whether they wear a red tie or a blue tie, they don’t care about us in the north.

      We should have a northern party to care for northern interests, not just northerners running for a southern Canadian party. The politicians may genuinely want to help the north, but ultimately their southern party politics will only see us as a place to make money and take cute photo ops. And once a northerner goes down south, the southern party interests are expected to come before concerns for northern constituents.

    • Posted by Jim MacDonald on

      We all know climate change is real. It’s the funky name change from global warming to climate change because there was no warming, a plateau or even cooling. Look to the sun and decreasing sunspots for a reason.

      But forget that, it’s on with the Club Of Rome program of climate fear. To accept the increasing power of the United Nations bureaucracy, corporate-owned NGO’s, and so-called environmentalists aligned with UN for world domination, control.

      June 10, 2019, Trudeau Gov gives $9 Billion to Sub-Saharan Africa, because concerned about their health and welfare. As the “first postnational state,” as Trudeau calls our country, and one with no core identity, Canada has no problem giving taxpayer dollars, $7 billion-plus yearly to foreign countries like its candy. Or joining in playing the climate emergency, 12 years to live fear porn to children. Instead of helping Canadians build a strong, prosperous country.

      The sad part is, Canadians must join in the climate-change-con-game. Having to say climate change is real, and is getting worse, as the only way to assess money to help its people. Though many of the solutions will take us backward, not forward.

  2. Posted by Farmer John on

    You can still find the petrified remains of huge trees on Ellesmere Island.
    Climate keeps changing, no matter what we do or do not do.
    If the earth warms up again we will be able to grow wheat in Nunavut.
    If the earth warms up a lot, we will be able to grow corn here in Nunavut.
    In either case, Nunavut will have an export crop to sell.
    The downside will be that some very rich people will lose their beach-front homes to flooding.
    But you know what, other people will find that their houses have become beach-front home.

    • Posted by Denier by definition on

      Climate change is horrible because… oil! give our government money so they can stop the heat from reaching our north.
      I don’t understand why people are so afraid of change. Our ancestors had to endure the worst of it. Can you imagine global cooling?
      They went from living among trees to enduring the Holocene Little Ice Age.

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