Climate Change

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, stated:

"Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture."

The improved scientific understanding of the anthropogenic influences on warming and cooling of the climate has led to a high level of confidence that the global average net affect since 1750 has been one of warmingEvidence of a warming climate is observed in the increase in global average air and ocean temperatures, the widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea-level.

Atlantic Canada is expected to experience rise in sea level, due to climate warming. Sensitivity here means the degree to which a coastline may experience physical changes such as flooding, erosion, beach migration, and coastal dune destabilization. It is measured by a sensitivity index that is obtained by manipulating scores of 1 to 5 attributed to each of seven variables: relief, geology, coastal landform, sea-level tendency, shoreline displacement, tidal range, and wave height. For details on the index refer to J. Shaw, R.B. Taylor, D.L. Forbes, M.-H. Ruz, and S. Solomon. 1998. Sensitivity of the Coasts of Canada to Sea-level Rise. Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 505. Ottawa.

Regions of high sensitivity include much of the coasts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Small areas of high sensitivity occur in Newfoundland and Labrador. The full map for Canada can be viewed in an  at Natural Resources Canada's Atlas of Canada Site.

Global sea level rise is influenced by two major processes, thermal expansion as ocean temperatures rise and the transfer of water from snow and ice reservoirs e.g. glaciers to the ocean.

In addition as seen on the map in purple hatching, in almost all of Atlantic Canada, regional sea level is influenced by submergence caused by glacial isostatic adjustment (i.e. the process whereby the Earth's shape is modified in response to the large scale changes in surface mass load that have attended the glaciation and deglaciation of the planetary surface.  The last deglaciation event ended approximately 5000 years ago.)

In recent years there has been considerable change in the level of future global sea level researchers have been projecting.

One of the most recent reports (October 2009) published by the Government of New South Wales in Australia (Derivation of the NSW Government’s sea level rise planning benchmarks)  estimates an increase in global sea level of 30 cm by 2050 and 59 cm by 2100. If the impact of potential accelerated ice melt is included the 2100 number increases by 20 cm. The report uses numbers in the upper range of predictions which can be considered wise due to the uncertainty in these predictions.

Batterson and Liverman (2010) project between 30 and 40 cm rise in sea level in Newfoundland and Labrador by 2049 and 70 cm to more then 100 cm on the Avalon Pennisula by 2100.

The Province of Nova Scotia’s State of the Coast report states “Researchers expect an additional increase [in sea level] from 70 to 140 cm over the next century.”

The Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Division (CCIAD) of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) facilitates the generation and sharing of knowledge, tools and mechanisms to integrate adaptation into policy, plans and projects. CCIAD works in collaboration with a range of stakeholders, including technical experts and practitioners, across all levels of government, industry and non-governmental organizations (such as ACASA - see below). The Impacts and Adaptationsection of the NRCan website contains many relevant resources on adaptation.


CCIAD is facilitating the establishment of Regional Adaptation Collaboratives. The Regional Adaptation Collaboratives (RACs) Climate Change Program is a three year, $30 million, cost-shared federal program to help Canadians reduce the risks and maximize the opportunities posed by climate change. The Program helps communities prepare for and adapt to local impacts posed by our changing climate. The goal of the program is to catalyze coordinated and sustained adaptation planning, decision-making and action, across Canada’s diverse regions. The RACs Program is a collaboration between the federal government, provinces and territories, working with local governments and organizations. 


On April 23, 2010, the Governments of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick announced joint funding for Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions, a series of projects to help communities adapt to climate change. The website for the Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions (ACASA) escribes the projects in each province.  


The Federal government's Policy Research Initiative partnered with the Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Directorate (CCIAD) of Natural Resources Canada to undertake a study of the adaptive capacity using the experiences of 19 research projects that had been funded by CCIAD that contributed “to understanding and enhancing adaptation and adaptive capacity” and supported “climate change decision-making and policy development in Canada.” The research projects synthesized in: Understanding Climate Change Adaptation and Adaptive Capacity: Synthesis Report identified five main themes and four common barriers to adaptation.

The common themes to adaptation include:

  • the need for adaptive management;
  • mainstreaming climate change adaptation;
  • emphasizing collaborative approaches;
  • requiring a tailored approach to adaptation; and
  • viewing mitigation and adaptation as complementary. 

 The common barriers to adaptation include:

  • the perceived lack of leadership by governments on climate change;
  •  existing governance and institutional arrangements; 
  •  policy and regulatory issues;
  • and  the uncertainty and lack of understanding of climate change.

Atlantic Canada is affected by two main types of storms: the tropical cyclone (e.g. hurricanes) and the extratropical cyclone (e.g. Nor’easters).

 Tropical cyclones develop in southern latitudes in the warmer months of June to November. These storms can track northward along the eastern North American seaboard where they usually weaken, but from time to time they affect Atlantic Canada as hurricanes, tropical storms or post-tropical storms. Hurricane Juan is an example of one storm which struck Nova Scotia in September 2003.


According to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) it is likely that future tropical cyclones (i.e. hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. Analyses of model simulations suggest that for each 1°C increase in tropical sea surface temperatures, hurricane surface wind speeds will increase by 1 to 8% and core rainfall rates by 6 to 18 % according toWeather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, Regions of Focus: North America, Hawaii, Caribbean, and U.S. Pacific Islands.


Extratropical cyclones (ETC) develop in mid-northern latitudes,between approximately 30°N-60°N,along a boundary between warm and cold air masses. These storms aremost frequent and intense between October and March. Over land or near populous coastlines, strong or extreme ETC events generate some of the most devastating impacts associated with extreme weather and climate, and have the potential to affect large areas and dense population centers. Over the ocean, strong ETCs generate high waves that can cause extensive coastal erosion when combined with storm surge as they reach the shore, resulting in significant economic impact. Rising sea level extends the zone of impact from storm surge and waves farther inland, and will likely result in increasingly greater coastal erosion and damage from storms of equal intensity.


According to the US Climate Change Science Program in their 2008 Synthesis and Assessment Product Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, Regions of Focus: North America, Hawaii, Caribbean, and U.S. Pacific Islands,the balance of evidence suggests that there has been a northward shift in the tracks of strong low pressure systems (storms) in the North Atlantic basin and that over most regions, precipitation is likely to be less frequent but more intense, and precipitation extremes are very likely to increase. There are likely to be more frequent deep low-pressure systems (strong storms) outside the tropics, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.

Famous examples of this type of storm are the Groundhog Day storm of February 1976, the Halloween Storm of 1991 and the "Storm of the Century" in March 1993.

For examples of storm impact in Atlantic Canada visit:

For Coastal zones:

Increases in sea level rise and frequency of extreme weather events and storm surges result in:

  •  Increased coastal erosion
  •  Increased coastal flooding

 For Infrastructure:

  • Infrastructure (power lines, buildings, ports, roads) may be affected by sea-level rise, more extreme events, changes in precipitation, and warmer temperatures.

 For Water Resources:

  •  With increased risk of flooding, there is a greater risk of drinking water contamination (with agricultural, sewage, industrial, and road runoff into watersheds, and salt water intrusion into groundwater) 
  • With changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, the amount surface water in watersheds may be affected as well

 For Marine areas and Fisheries:

  •  Changes in ocean temperatures may affect fish migration patterns and reproduction, which may result in unstable fish populations 
  • Ocean acidification may affect fish stocks while putting marine ecosystems at risk 
  • Increases in severe weather and storm surge events may damage the fleets and wharves of an already tenuous fishing industry
  • Increased risk of pest problems for wild and farmed species through disease and invasive species migrating north 

For Human Health

  • Ocean and freshwater environments may be more susceptible to toxic algal blooms and proliferation of harmful microbes and bacteria.

The Climate Change Action Plans (containing impacts)

New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador

Nova Scotia

Prince Edward Island

Selected Relevant Links

Impacts of Sealevel Rise and Climate Change on Southeastern New Brunswick

Review of Academic Literature on Climate Change Impacts for Newfoundland and Labrador

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), climate change mitigation is any effort to "reduce or prevent emission of greenhouse gases. Mitigation can mean using new technologies and renewable energies, making older equipment more energy efficient, or changing management practices or consumer behavior. It can be as complex as a plan for a new city or as a simple as improvements to a cook stove design. Efforts underway around the world range from high-tech subway systems to bicycling paths and walkways. Protecting natural carbon sinks like forests and oceans, or creating new sinks through silviculture or green agriculture are also elements of mitigation."

UNEP has several publications on the importance of ecosystems in climate change mitigation. It is recommended that as a key part of mitigation strategies for governments around the world, resources should be allocated to maintain and restore "blue carbon sinks" as healthy marine ecosystems play an integral part in carbon storage. The World Bank Environment Department notes the importance of coastal and wetland areas, and their potential for carbon storage and sequestration. It also points out the potential for these areas to become significant emission sources if damaged or left to degrade.

A National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) report proposes that Canada should better synchronize their climate policies with the US in order to "avoid delay in emissions reductions and maintain economic competitiveness." (Parallel Paths: Canada-U.S. Climate Policy Choices). To date, the Government of Canada has a target of “reducing Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 through a sector-by-sector approach aligned with the United States, where appropriate.” (Government of Canada: Canada’s Action on Climate Change)


Mitigation objectives are included in the provincial climate change action plans or strategies that are available from the four Atlantic provinces:

Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador

Prince Edward Island

When it comes to regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) the methods of carbon taxation or cap-and-trade are the most popular. Both methods provide incentives for major polluters to decrease their emissions, but are different in their execution. A carbon tax would place a fee on GHG emissions. Polluters would simply need to decrease emissions in order to save money. A cap-and-trade agreement would set a limit on emissions which would decrease every year. Polluters needing more emissions than were allocated to them could then buy or bid on unused emission quotas from other polluters or the government. There are pros and cons to both systems. The David Suzuki Foundation offers this explanation on their page concerning the subject:

“Cap-and-trade has one key environmental advantage over a carbon tax: It provides more certainty about the amount of emissions reductions that will result and little certainty about the price of emissions (which is set by the emissions trading market). A carbon tax provides certainty about the price but little certainty about the amount of emissions reductions.

A carbon tax also has one key advantage: It is easier and quicker for governments to implement. A carbon tax can be very simple. It can rely on existing administrative structures for taxing fuels and can therefore be implemented in just a few months. In theory, the same applies to cap-and-trade systems, but in practice they tend to be much more complex. More time is required to develop the necessary regulations, and they are more susceptible to lobbying and loopholes. Cap-and-trade also requires the establishment of an emissions trading market.”


The BioCarbon Fund by the Carbon Finance Unit of the World Bank funds projects that promote the conserving of carbon in forest and agricultural ecosystems. "The Fund, a public/private initiative administered by the World Bank, aims to deliver cost-effective emission reductions, while promoting biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation."

Blue Carbon refers to the carbon absorbed by coastal or marine organisms and stored in the habitat. The coastal habitats such as, sea grass beds, mangroves and salt marshes are able to sequester the carbon and store it. Plants can capture CO2 during photosynthesis, convert it to carbon-rich carbohydrates, use it to grow and when they die, part of the carbon in the plant is stored in the soil. Carbon is stored long-term in the plant materials or sediment, and increasing such storage, can be viewed as a way of mitigating atmospheric CO2. 


Based upon the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios the following phenomena and future trends are projected:

  • Warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas (virtually certain);
  • Warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas (virtually certain);
  • Warm spells/heat waves. Frequency increases over most land areas (very likely);
  • Heavy precipitation events. Frequency (or proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls) increases over most areas (very likely);
  • Area affected by droughts increases (likely);
  • Intense tropical cyclone activity increases (likely); and
  • Increased incidence of extreme high sea level excluding tsunamis (likely).

published by the Government of Canada in 2008 presented the following key findings for Atlantic Canada:

Atlantic Canada will experience more storm events, increasing storm intensity, rising sea level, storm surges, coastal erosion and flooding.  Coastal communities and their infrastructure and industries, including fisheries and tourism, are vulnerable to these changes. Impacts on coastal infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and energy facilities, have already affected trade and tourism in the region, and some coastal communities have started experiencing saltwater intrusion in their groundwater supply. Future disruptions to transportation, electricity transmission and communications will have widespread implications, including increasing the susceptibility of some communities to isolation.


Water resources will come under pressure as conditions shift and needs change. 

  • Seasonal and yearly variations in precipitation will combine with higher evapotranspiration to induce drier summer conditions, especially in Maritime Canada. Limited water resources would affect municipal water supplies and challenge a range of sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, tourism and energy.


For marine fisheries, impacts will extend beyond fish species to include numerous aspects of fishery operations, including transportation, marketing, occupational health and safety, and community health.  

  • Harvesters of wild marine resources are constrained in their potential responses to climate change by the existing regulatory regimes. Integration of climate change into assessments and policy development would allow more effective management of marine resources.


Although higher temperatures and longer growing seasons could benefit agriculture and forestry, associated increases in disturbances and moisture stress pose concerns.

  • Changes in climate have implications for management of agricultural production and farm water usage. Re-examination of cropping systems and improved water management would help the agricultural sector to adapt, although non-climatic factors, such as socioeconomic and demographic trends, may limit adaptive responses. In some areas of the Maritimes, forested areas will be affected by drier summers, potentially leading to reduction or loss of species that prefer cooler and wetter climates. Options for short-term adaptation, although limited in the forestry sector, are likely to focus on minimizing other stresses and preserving genetic diversity.


Vulnerability to climate change in the Atlantic region can be reduced through adaptation efforts focused on limiting exposure and through careful planning. 

  • Identifying vulnerable infrastructure, incorporating river and coastal flooding in land-use policies, revising emergency response measures, and accounting for sea-level rise when planning and building infrastructure would reduce damage to infrastructure and the environment, and lessen the risk to human health and well-being. Other effective adaptation measures include managing development in coastal areas, preventing construction in areas of known vulnerability, and protecting coastlines around significant sites. In some communities, low adaptive capacity due to aging populations and average annual incomes lower than the national average will make adaptation challenging to implement.

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