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Feature Series | Part II of IV

Canada in 2030: What on Earth is happening?

Isabella O'Malley
Digital Writer/Climate Change Reporter

Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 7:07 AM - Fatal heat waves, invasive alien species, shrinking forests, and struggling farmers - the reality of a changing climate in Canada is becoming harder to ignore, and the United Nations has stated that it is the biggest systematic threat to humanity.

In Water, Fire, Earth, Air - a four-part series - we will look at how climate change will affect different regions in Canada by categorizing the regions by element to provide a unique and comprehensive understanding of how Canadian life could change, assuming our carbon dioxide emissions continue along a business as usual scenario.

Majority of Canadians live within in 160 km of the United States

Over 65 per cent of Canadians reside in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, yet these provinces make up just under 30 per cent of Canada's total land area.

Modern land use patterns leave many parts of these provinces unrecognizable compared to photographs of them 100 years ago. Majority of the populations live within 160 kilometres of the United States border in urbanized cities that consume lots of energy and produce lots of waste. The surrounding natural resources from all provinces are critical components of Canada’s economy that are processed by farming, agriculture, lumber, mining, and manufacturing.

In 2016 Ontario and Quebec were the second and third highest carbon emitting provinces and despite their decrease of carbon dioxide emissions over the years, drastic strategies have to be implemented to reduce emissions by approximately 200 megatonnes to meet the national target of 523 megatonnes by 2030 - this reduction is equivalent to the entire province of Alberta producing zero carbon dioxide emissions for an entire year.

Credit: Government of Canada

The goal to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 raises the question, how will Canada change during this short period of time if the country doesn’t reach its goal?

Fast Facts

● Extreme weather events will be become more severe, unpredictable, and expensive to recover from

● Food supply will change - more crops could be wiped out by unusual weather at the beginning of growing seasons, different crops that favor warm weather will benefit while traditional crops will become more unreliable

● Forests across Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec could move northward, shrink in size, and suffer from increased pathogens and invasive alien species

● Public infrastructure is at increasing risk for damage and will cost taxpayers more money for repairs

● Warming is happening faster in Northern regions of provinces and impacting these communities faster than in southern regions

Manitoba - Challenges for farmers and Northern communities

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the province's auditor general has stated that Manitoba is currently lacking a central policy to assess how climate change will impact the province's critical resources, such as roads, bridges, power supplies, and agriculture. 

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Warming temperatures will upset the balance of forests, farms, and insects. Persistent high temperatures will alter soils and cause the top layer to become dry and susceptible to erosion by strong winds. Without moist soils vegetation will dry out and decay, which could increase flood risk as bushes and other plants help manage heavy rainfalls and reduce flooding risks. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, and storms could release larger amounts of precipitation which not only presents a physical threat to humans, but could cause floods that harm livestock and carry bacteria, fertilizers, and sewage into waterways and aquifers.

Some jokingly refer to Winnipeg as 'The Mosquito Capital of Canada', and unfortunately these pesky bugs will continue to swarm in as temperatures rise. Climate determines the range of insects like mosquitoes, and warmer temperatures will create new and favourable environments for insects that carry infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

Credit: Flickr

While mosquitos and ticks are moving in, forests are moving out - numerous tree species are struggling with warmer temperatures and forests have begun to inch north to cooler regions. The northern latitudes of Manitoba are expected to warm faster than the southern regions of the country - winters could be between warmer by 6 to 12 degrees Celsius, which could cause portions of the province's boreal forests range to shift north by 150 to 200 kilometres. Arctic soils could prevent further growth northward, so the southern portions of the forests that contain economically significant species, such as hardwoods like aspen, could shrink as drought-intolerant species might not be able to withstand warmer, drier conditions.

Traditional crops like wheat have been struggling to deal with drought and severe storms, and some farmers have begun planting new crops that favour warmer temperatures to ensure a stable income in spite of the changing climate. Decades ago minimal amounts of soy was grown in Manitoba, but now the province supplies over 20 per cent of the entire country's soy production.

Temperature warming is threatening the reliability of winter roads in Manitoba's Northern communities, which are essential for access to food, supplies, and transport. Roads, housing and other infrastructure that is built on permafrost is at risk for instability and collapse as it begins to melt and alters the shape of land.

So what will happen by 2030?

● Increased rates of vector-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease and West Nile virus, will affect more people and regions that have never before dealt with this problem. Greater investments will have to fund more monitoring and reporting of pathogen risks and outbreaks.

● Persistent warm temperatures could trigger drought conditions and could put a strain on communities that rely on agriculture. Extreme weather events could cause mass fatalities of livestock, flooding, soil erosion, and could destroy an entire growing season’s progress. Foreign pests could invade grasslands and harm crop species and reduce their nutrient qualities.

● Traditional crops like wheat will be increasingly replaced by heat-tolerant crops like corn and soy.

● Northern communities will face greater challenges with accessing food and other supplies - fluctuations in temperatures during the winter could melt and destroy winter roads that took significant resources to construct and are a critical means for accessibility.

● Forest ranges could change by moving northward, shrinking, or become more susceptible to drier, warmer conditions.

Ontario - Damaging storms and blackouts

Extreme weather is costing cities hundreds of millions of dollars, particularly in Toronto which is Canada’s biggest city and tied with Vancouver as the most expensive Canadian city - a severe ice storm in December 2013 caused $200 million in property damage and left thousands without power and heat in the depths of winter, and wind storm this past May caused $380 million in property damage and three deaths. Aging infrastructure will become increasingly susceptible to damage, and the cost to repair them to a standard that is resilient to future, more intense storms will be high.

Ice storm in Toronto, 2013. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Widespread power outages caused by raging storms are forcing power utilities to prepare for more storms, who will have to install equipment that can handle extreme winds, or are located in strategic places where they cannot be knocked down by falling trees. Some recent storms have caused power outages to last for over a week, and homeowners will have to stock up on flashlights, batteries, and other emergency items needed in power outages. The overall increase in energy demand also strains utility providers. The Urban Island Heat Effect is the result of high rise buildings, dark pavements, and vehicle exhaust causing temperatures in cities to be between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius warmer than rural regions, where trees, grass, and soil have a cooling effect. Growing cities will need more record-breaking amounts of power to stay cool during the heatwaves that are becoming hotter and more frequent.

Shifting seasonal cycles can cause plants to bloom earlier than expected, change the patterns of pollinators, and can present harsher weather that threatens the survival of the plants and animals. Early blooms of fruit crops, such as apples and grapes that will be used to make wine, threaten the entire harvest. In 2012 apple trees bloomed earlier than normal due to unusually warm temperatures in March followed by a severe frost two months later, which caused 80 per cent of the fruit to die. Just three years later a sudden freeze killed off half of Ontario's apple crop. The province's apple crop industry is worth over $60 million and the extreme weather not only affects the success of an economically significant industry, but the livelihoods of Canadian farmers and their families. The wine industry in southern Ontario is also particularly affected by fluctuating weather - in the winter of 2014 extensive crop damage occurred in merlot, sauvignon blanc, and syrah varieties caused by extremely cold weather.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Invasive alien species are thriving in many regions of Ontario, and are costing millions to remove. Zebra mussels, emerald ash borer, asian carp, and giant hogweed moved in with few predators and plenty of resources to expand their population, but are causing serious problems such as deforestation, uncontrollable population in lakes, and could change entire ecosystems. As temperatures, forests, and landscapes change, these invaders could threaten loss of biodiversity, worsen soil quality, and devastate habitats of native animals.

So what will happen by 2030?

● Food prices will increase and availability will be more unpredictable - extreme weather and changing seasonal cycles could wipe out Ontario-grown crops, and more expensive food will have to be imported from other provinces or internationally.

● Fighting invasive alien species will cost millions annually, with some efforts being ineffective. Biodiversity will continue to be threatened and lost, particularly pollinating bees that are critical for the farming industry.

● Property damage and insurance premiums will be more expensive - home owners will have to invest in improving the resilience of their homes and technologies for heating or cooling in extreme temperatures.

● Public infrastructure, such as roads and highways, will cost cities more money to maintain and repair them from extreme weather - or will worsen over time without repair depending on the distribution of taxes.

● Electricity grids will face more blackouts when trying to provide energy during extreme weather events - it could become the norm to have a power outage affect hundreds of thousands of people during storms, and returns of energy will take longer due to increased power customers.

Quebec - Adjusting homeowners the struggling ski industry

The recent extreme heat wave in Quebec resulted in over 74 deaths and the list of total fatalities is still being updated. The number of deaths has been unprecedented - a morgue in Montreal became so overcrowded that they had to partner with a local funeral home to create enough spaces for bodies. In 2009 approximately 80 per cent of homes in Ontario had a central air conditioning system, compared to only approximately 45 per cent in Quebec. Increasing temperatures and heat waves over the next few years could prompt cities to consider improved alert systems and protocol, and an increasing trend of central air conditioning and other temperature-controlling technologies in homes and buildings.

Credit: Trying to stay cool in a heat wave. Wikimedia Commons

While climate change is forcing people to purchase fans and air conditioners, other are having to abandon their homes. Heavy winter storms have eroded coastlines along Sept Îles, Rimouski, and Percé, where several homes have been destroyed by giant waves that used to be blocked by sea ice before it began to melt. As reported by Montreal Gazette, ten residents have already had to relocate and the program has a program that pays displaced homeowners a compensation of up to $150,000, which some say is not enough to purchase new a house.

Many visitors enjoy the warm summers and cold winters, but the ski industry is threatened by warming temperatures that are forcing hills to close for multiple days in a row in the middle of winter. The historically long skiing seasons are becoming shorter and shorter, which spells serious trouble for the industry that had total revenues of $295 million from 2016 to 2017. Quebec is one of the most popular destinations for skiing in Canada and attracts millions of national and international visitors each year, which significantly boosts the economy. The ski season in southern Quebec could shorten by as much as half and technologies used for snow production on ski hills would have to increase by over 130 per cent to guarantee a 100-day ski season by 2050.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the summer, visitors could be offered more opportunities for sighting new and unfamiliar animals - warming temperatures will cause massive shifts in biodiversity in protected areas that cover over 600,000 square kilometres in the province, particularly southern regions. Close to half of the protected regions could see a species turnover, the disappearance and new arrivals of species, close to 80 per cent. Species could shift their ranges northward and the warmer climate could welcome species that had never existed in Quebec before - species will be forced to co-exist, which will prompt competition for habitats and resources, and could lead to extinction for some native species while new species thrive.

So what will happen by 2030?

● Homes will have to become more resilient to climate change - temperature-controlling technologies will have to be purchased, especially for demographics that are sensitive to extreme temperatures such as the elderly

● People that live along eroding shorelines will have to extensively evaluate their risk of flooding, and many will have to relocate as sea level rises

● The skiing industry will see increasingly fluctuating profits as the number of snow days becomes fewer and less consistent

● Biodiversity will rapidly change - new species could move in from other provinces or countries (e.g. the United States) and could outcompete other species and cause them to go extinct

Sources: Winnipeg Free Press | Government of Manitoba | Climate Change Connection | CBC | Nature 

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