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Effects of Climate ChangeIn British Columbia | Across Canada | Around the Globe
"The health status of millions of people is projected to be affected through, for example, increases in malnutrition; increased deaths, diseases and injury due to extreme weather events…"
-United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report
Evidence shows that our climate has changed over the past century, affecting both physical and biological systems.
- Average annual temperatures have warmed by between 0.5-1.7 degrees Celsius in different regions of the province during the 20th century. In fact, parts of British Columbia have been warming at a rate more than twice the global average.
- Over the last 50 - 100 years, B.C. has lost up to 50 per cent of its snow pack, and total annual precipitation has increased by about 20 per cent.
- Faster melts and increased precipitation have resulted in floods in the Fraser Valley, Interior and throughout British Columbia.
- Warmer winters have resulted in the mountain pine beetle epidemic, which has destroyed an area of pine forest equivalent to four times the size of Vancouver Island.
- The pine beetle has infested 13 million hectares of B.C.'s forests. By 2013, it is predicted that 80% of BC's pine forest will be "red and dead".
- Communities have been experiencing longer summer droughts as weather patterns grow increasingly erratic.
- Sea levels are expected to rise up to 30 cm on the north coast of British Columbia and up to 50 cm on the north Yukon coast by 2050.
- Glacier reduction could affect the flow of rivers, impacting tourism, hydroelectric power, and fish habitat.
An analysis of historical data also indicates changes in freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems that are linked to climate:
- Lakes and rivers are now free of ice earlier in the spring
- At least two large glaciers in southern B.C. have retreated by over a kilometre each.
- The Fraser River discharges most of its total annual flow sooner in the year.
- Sea levels rose by 4 to 12 cm along most of the coast, with high-water sea levels in the Vancouver area up 16-34 cm over the past century.
Current projections indicate that B.C. could experience a further warming of 0.9-1.8 degrees Celsius by 2080.
This climate change will affect water, fish, forests, range and other natural resources, along with the communities and ecosystems that depend on them. Assessment work at the national level has identified some likely B.C. impacts:
- Many areas will experience growing water shortages and increased competition among water uses, including municipalities, irrigation, industry, power generation, fisheries, recreation and aquatic ecosystems.
- The greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and related hazards, such as flooding and forest fires, will threaten key infrastructure (e.g., roads, ports) affecting BC communities and people’s health and well-being.
- The mountain pine beetle could expand its range to the north and east, with economic and environmental consequences for the forest industry, communities and ecosystems.
- While agriculture may enjoy longer, warmer growing seasons, more frequent and prolonged droughts as well as increased pest infestations could erode any benefit from climate change.
- Already stressed fisheries will face further challenges, in particular the highly important Pacific salmon species, which are sensitive to stream and ocean surface warming.
The Prairies: Most scenarios suggest that the semi-arid regions of the Prairies can expect an increase in the frequency and length of droughts. Average crop yields could fall by 10-30 per cent. Increased demand for water pumping and summer cooling and decreased winter demand due to higher temperatures, could push electrical utilities into a summer peak load position at the same time as hydropower production is reduced by decreased water flow. This could result in increased thermal power production with an increase in fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Semi-permanent and seasonal wetlands could dry up, leading to reduced production of waterfowl and other wildlife species.
The Arctic: Future winter temperature increases of 5-7° degrees over the mainland and much of the Arctic Islands and modest cooling in the extreme eastern Arctic are projected. Summer temperatures are expected to increase up to 5° degrees on the mainland, and 1-2° degrees over marine areas. Annual precipitation is expected to increase up to 25 per cent.
These changes in temperature and precipitation would reduce the tundra and taiga/tundra ecosystems by as much as two thirds of their present size. More than one half of the discontinuous permafrost area could disappear.
Wildlife would also be affected, with many species in fish and streams shifting northward 150 km for each degree increase in air temperature and High Arctic Peary caribou, muskoxen, and polar bears running the risk of extinction.
Eastern Canada: Anywhere from 3-8° degrees C average annual warming by the latter part of the 21st century, leading to fewer weeks of snow, a longer growing season, less moisture in the soil, and an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts.
Atlantic Canada: Atlantic Canada is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, whose impacts could include greater risk of floods; coastal erosion; coastal sedimentation; and reductions in sea and river ice.
According to the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change says we can expect to see as a result of climate change:
- Rising sea levels, decreased snowpacks and increased glacial melting
- Increased heat waves and drought occurrences, and
- Increased extreme precipitation events, leading to increased flood risks.
- The risk of decreases in global food production.
- The potential for the extinction of up to 30 per cent of the Earth's plant and animal species.