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Adaptation Basics

biking in a flooded street

What is it?

Adaptation refers to any modification in a system or process established by communities in order to address uncertainties related to climate change. Adaptation does not mean that the negative impact of climate change can be avoided completely-only that the impact will be less severe than if no planning had taken place. 

Adaptation can include any activity that anticipates or responds to the negative effects of climate change, as well as any initiative designed to take advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves.

Why is it important?

Variations in weather conditions generally follow certain patterns, based on cyclical and seasonal changes in climate. The difference between weather and climate is time. "Weather" refers to current conditions, and "climate" reflects atmospheric trends over longer periods.

Investments in community infrastructure, emergency planning and resource management (urban forests, source water) are all based on expected variations in weather conditions, in response to climate data collected over time. A changing climate means that expected patterns of variability in the weather-temperature, precipitation, extreme storms and other events-no longer apply. Under such conditions, infrastructure fails to performs as it should; new forest pests can migrate and decimate local urban forests; frequent heat waves put vulnerable populations at risk-and the list goes on. Local governments are left to deal with the social, environmental and economic consequences of these changes to their communities, often at high cost. Timely adaptation can improve community resilience and reduce the severity of these effects over time.

What are the potential effects?

The ways in which climate change affects local governments will vary across different landscapes, communities and economies. The effects of climate change will be influenced by local weather patterns, topography, nearby bodies of water, development patterns and many other factors.

Anticipated challenges across Canada include increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events (e.g., heat waves, floods, coastal storm surges and droughts), more smog episodes and outbreaks of disease, thawing permafrost, loss of northern pack ice, and rising sea levels.

These challenges will affect local governments large and small, urban and rural. They will also have both a positive and negative impact on many aspects of daily life and the municipal services upon which people rely, as listed below.

  • Buildings, facilities and housing
  • Transportation networks, roads, and public transit systems
  • Water supply, storm water and sewage 
  • Electricity and power distribution
Social and Economic Systems
  • Public health and safety
  • Emergency management (including floods, fires, and coastal inundation)
  • Economic development and competitiveness
  • Primary industries and agriculture
  • Recreation
Natural Environments
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Habitat degradation
  • Invasive species 
  • Hydrological profiles
Page Updated: 05/10/2017