New report on climate change describes challenges ahead for Atlantic Canada

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  • Climate Change
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An aerial view of the Chignecto Isthmus, the low-lying strip of land connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Climate change is considered a major threat to the area.  (Mike Dembeck - image credit)
An aerial view of the Chignecto Isthmus, the low-lying strip of land connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Climate change is considered a major threat to the area. (Mike Dembeck - image credit)

Hotter days, crumbling coastlines, rising seas and a reduction in timber supply: a new federal report paints a bleak picture of the impacts of climate change in Atlantic Canada in the coming decades.

The new Atlantic chapter of Canada in a Changing Climate, a rolling series of reports by the federal government, gives New Brunswick MLAs a lot to ponder as they begin work on a new provincial climate plan in early 2022.

"The report does highlight how varied the challenges are, and the solutions are, for each of the sectors, and also within each of the provinces," says University of Prince Edward Island climate scientist Stephanie Arnold, one of the lead co-authors.

Arnold says while policy debates focus on how to lower greenhouse gas emissions, there's been less attention to responding to impacts happening now.

"I think adaptation has maybe had less focus, but is equally important as we are dealing with a changing climate," she says.

"So this is a really good opportunity to show what needs to be done, what has been done, and also an indication of what more there is left to do."


The report describes regional challenges including "an inability to keep pace with the rate of change," "difficulties in coping with climate change impacts to natural systems," the complexity of multiple levels of governments seeking solutions, and a lack of adaptation planning in new development.

It points out a lack of land-use planning in some unincorporated areas of New Brunswick and a lack of climate risk assessments in most municipalities in the province.

In January the New Brunswick Legislature's committee on climate change and environmental stewardship will meet over two weeks to hear from experts on how to update the provincial climate action plan.

The federal government will also release its proposal for a clean electricity standard, including a net-zero-emissions electricity grid by 2035.

That will shape discussions about the Atlantic Loop, a plan to integrate electricity generation and transmission in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec to share hydroelectric power throughout the region.


New Brunswick will also release a major study on the flooding risk to the Chignecto Isthmus, the only road and rail link between Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada.

"There's a lot going on, which means the New Brunswick process shouldn't be a sleeper," says Louise Comeau of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

The new federal report is a synthesis of more than a decade's worth of climate science.

Among its projections:

  • Sea levels are expected to rise within 75 to 100 centimetres before the end of the century.

  • Some areas in the region, including the Northumberland Strait coast in New Brunswick, are particularly susceptible to erosion because of the type of sandstone and the location of many communities in low-lying areas.

  • The reduction in seasonal sea-ice cover is leading to extreme winter storms hitting coastlines harder.

  • Daily temperatures are increasing. In Fredericton, there were an average of nine days each year with 30-degree-or-higher temperatures in the 1980s. That will increase to 16 days a year this decade and to 53 days per year in the 2080s.

  • Key forest species are projected to decline in growth or abundance, which could hurt the forestry sector and communities that rely on forestry jobs.

  • While farmers could benefit from a longer growing season and a chance to cultivate "higher-value crops," farms will face a higher risk of crop damage from extreme weather and new pests and diseases.

Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press

"Adaptation funding has often manifested as a higher 'cost of doing business' through reactive measures," the report says. "However studies show that the benefits of planned actions to adapt to climate change in Canada generally exceed the costs."

The Higgs government's capital budget for 2022-23 includes increased infrastructure spending on climate adaptation and mitigation, and its local government reform includes bolstering land-use planning province-wide.

"We do need our land-use planning to move beyond indications of 'consider climate change' to 'you will not build here,'" Comeau says.

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