A guest document developed for parliamentarians by the Library of Parliament
This publication is one in a series to support parliamentarians at the start of the 43rd Parliament. It is part of the Library of Parliament’s research publications program, which includes a set of publications, introduced in March 2020, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Library of Parliament Background Papers provide in-depth studies of policy issues. They feature historical background, current information and references, and many anticipate the emergence of the issues they examine. They are prepared by the Parliamentary Information and Research Service, which carries out research for and provides information and analysis to parliamentarians and Senate and House of Commons committees and parliamentary associations in an objective, impartial manner.
Unprecedented global warming has been observed in recent decades. Around the world, mean air and water temperatures have increased, amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea levels have risen. Canada is no exception: our mean temperature has increased by more than twice the global average temperature.
A warming climate will likely have short- and long-term effects on people’s lives. Many aspects of our society are governed to some extent by climate. Here in Canada, climate change is likely to have an impact on human health, human rights, migration, food security, the economy, employment, national security and transportation.
Political, social and economic institutions will have no choice but to adapt to the societal disruption brought about by climate change, but they can also find ways to take advantage of new opportunities. That means taking climate change into account in public policy planning.
CLIMATE CHANGE: ITS IMPACT AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS *
Scientists have observed unprecedented global warming in recent decades. Around the world, mean air and water temperatures have increased, amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea levels have risen. 1
In Canada, the effects of climate change have been particularly acute, with our average temperature rising by more than twice the global average increase and, in the country’s Arctic region, by an even more dramatic amount. 2 The data show that, in recent decades, there have been more extreme hot days and fewer extreme cold days than there were 70 years ago. 3 Rainfall amounts may be rising. 4 Scientists have observed an increase in mean water temperature and wave height in Canada’s oceans, as well as warming permafrost and shrinking ice caps in the Canadian Arctic. 5
In 2016, countries agreed to take steps to limit global average temperature increases to between 1.5ºC and 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. The goal of this target is to reduce the risks and impacts associated with climate change. Consistent with this commitment, Canada implemented the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which includes measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of climate change in this country. 6
Despite these efforts, it is clear that climate change will have short- and long-term effects on people’s lives. 7 Climate influences many aspects of our society, including agricultural production, the prevalence of certain diseases, and building and infrastructure design. Over time, climate change may also disrupt health, social and economic conditions. 8
In the face of these disruptions, our political, social and economic institutions must demonstrate resilience and adaptability. To do so, they must recognize and eliminate barriers to adaptation: the laws, regulations and public policies that may prevent us from implementing strategic approaches to adaptation in the future. 9 Integrating climate change into public policy planning now will ensure that our institutions – and our people – are prepared to face the challenges climate change will present in the future 10 and even to take advantage of new opportunities that arise as a result of climate change. 11
This paper deals with the impact of climate change on eight aspects of our society: health, human rights, migration, food security, the economy, employment, national security and transportation. The impact of climate change on human beings and public policy is addressed in each case. The purpose of the paper is to help Canadian parliamentarians take the impact of climate change into account in their deliberations.