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Polar Bear on tabular iceberg, Isabella Bay, Baffin Bay, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. (Ralph Lee Hopkins)
Polar Bear on tabular iceberg, Isabella Bay, Baffin Bay, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. (Ralph Lee Hopkins)

The unfrozen north, circa 2067 Add to ...

Along with the heat will come more precipitation across the whole of Canada – a rise of 6 to 10 per cent annually for the most populated parts of the country. Depending on exactly how and when that precipitation occurs, flooding events like those experienced last year in Calgary and Ontario’s cottage country are expected to become increasingly common.

“Water is a big part of what’s changing in our climate and what’s expected going forward,” says Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), based in London, Ont., and a lead author on the North America chapter of the IPCC report.

When it comes to forests, warmer winters have already increased the survival of various beetles that can infest trees. And despite more precipitation on average, the IPCC notes, the growing severity of dry spells will increase outbreaks of wildfires.

Farmers will feel the impact too – as well as some of the potential benefits of longer growing seasons as temperatures rise. The benefits are undeniable, says Barrie Smit, an emeritus professor of geography at the University of Guelph. Farming will likely push northward in those locations where soils allow it, while the arrival of varieties of grapes and specialty crops previously unable to grow in Canada will be a boon to winemakers, among others.

But the upside may be offset by increased risk elsewhere, particularly on the prairies, where periodic dry spells could mean long-term trouble for grain growers, potentially overwhelming irrigation capacity and driving up prices.

When it comes to farming, “the issue is not average temperature at all. It the frequency and severity of droughts,” Dr. Smit says.

Fortress Canada?

In Canada, the rate of warming will be most pronounced in the North, where Dr. Fenech’s analysis shows average temperatures climbing by 5 to 6 degrees mid-century in a high-emissions scenario. This startling shift will be the nail in the coffin for summer sea ice, and it guarantees profound changes for Arctic wildlife and the people who depend on it as a food source.

“The big thing is how will animal species be affected. … We just don’t really know,” says James Ford, a geographer at McGill University who studies climate change in the North.

At the same time, a warming Arctic will bring opportunities to the North in the form of resource development and jobs. Whether the region comes out ahead will depend on how well it can adapt to changes such as the loss of permafrost. This is a huge matter for a community like Tuktoyaktuk, which is built on a frozen river delta that may all too soon melt away into the sea.

Yet, the biggest climate challenges facing the prime minister in 2067 may be the ones that originate outside Canada.

By then, with a population somewhere around 60 million, Canada will likely be adapting to a warmer world, bearing the costs while enjoying whatever short-term gains aggressive climate change may bring.

But as the planet rapidly warms in the high-emissions scenario just as the world’s population nears 10 billion, the situation for much of the rest of the world will be less rosy.

“That’s when you’re starting to see areas that are already pretty hot pushing the threshold of habitability,” says Damon Matthews, a climate scientist at Concordia University in Montreal.

In the developing world, climate change spells food shortages and extreme poverty as rising sea levels and environmental stress overwhelm countries that do not have the resources to adapt. It is unlikely that Canada, a wealthy northern nation that could well be seen as having played a disproportionate role in causing the climate problem, will escape being drawn into a larger global crisis.

As Canadians cope with the climate’s impact at home, they may also be increasingly called upon to provide direct aid, some form of compensation, or to relieve affected countries by taking in economic refugees. The alternative will be no less troubling – become an isolated fortress while the rest of the world bakes in misery.

During his centennial-year address, Lester Pearson said that Canada had found “unity in diversity,” a model that mankind as a whole would need to emulate “if we are to survive the perils of the nuclear age.”

In 2067, when another prime minister prepares to address the nation, a different set of perils will be in play. On a national scale, it will have altered the weather and changed ways of life. On a global scale, it could challenge the meaning of what it is to be Canadian.

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