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Degrees of Change – Resource Industries

2.0 The NRTEE’s Degrees of Change diagram: Illustrating the Impacts of Climate Change in Canada

Resource Industries

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This category includes industry sectors that produce goods from natural resources. We highlight agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy (electricity, oil and gas), and mining, the primary activities of which together accounted for about 9% of Canada’s gross domestic product in 2008.[129] Significant manufacturing activity occurs in Canada with inputs from primary resource industries, including manufacturing and processing of food and beverages, wood products, pulp and paper, fuels, and mineral and metal products. The economic importance of specific resource industries at a regional level varies. Agriculture, forestry and/or fisheries activities are major sources of jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, employing over 5% of the labour force in each province. Mining and oil and gas extraction is a significant source of jobs in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, also employing over 5% of each jurisdiction’s labour force.[130]

Resource industries are sensitive to weather and climate. A changing climate is already affecting these industries, mainly in relation to changes in amount and timing of water availability and more intense and frequent extreme conditions and disturbances. Alongside global market forces, climate change is an important source of risk and opportunity for these industries into the future.


Figure 8: Resources Industries


What we can expect



A changing climate could potentially benefit agriculture in parts of Canada as a result of longer growing seasons and more available heat, and in some places, more precipitation. Already, growing degree days in southern Québec increased by 20% between 1960 and 2005, improving growing conditions for most crops.[131] Warm-season crops and higher-yielding varieties become viable with increased temperatures, contingent on adequate levels of moisture.[132] Recent projections show increases in crop yield potential in Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador of 40 to 170% with global temperatures about 2°C to 3°C above pre-industrial levels.[133] Carbon levels in the atmosphere also influence crop yields, at least in the short term: additional carbon promotes photosynthesis in some crop types and reduces water stress by shrinking leaf pores.[134]

However, warmer temperatures will also increase crop damage due to heat stress and pest problems, resulting in diminishing returns and declining crop yields. For some crops, such as wheat and potatoes, this threshold may take place once local temperatures increase more than 3°C to 4°C above a 1961–1990 baseline.[135]


Common now to most grocery stores across Canada, canola oil came to the market over three decades ago thanks to the Saskatchewan and Manitoba plant breeders who successfully developed rapeseed varieties to yield food-grade oil. Seeded in all provinces but Newfoundland and Labrador, 99% of canola (an abbreviation of “Canadian oil, low acid”) production occurs in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Peace River region of British Columbia. Canada is the second largest canola producer and fourth largest canola oil producer in the world, with much of our production going to export markets. In 2005, canola surpassed wheat as the country’s most valuable field crop.

The outlook for canola production in a changing climate is mixed. In general, agriculture in the Prairies, Ontario, and Québec could benefit from an extension of 3 to 5 weeks of frost-free seasons, and from larger areas suitable for crop production. However, warmer temperatures mean higher rates of evapotranspiration, leading to water deficits. We can also expect more variable precipitation patterns to result in severe seasonal moisture deficits, particularly in Ontario, and southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. A 2010 study on canola yields in Saskatchewan indicates potential losses of approximately 7% per degree increase in average temperatures over the growing season, 12% for every week (7 days) with maximum temperatures above 30°C, and gains of 2% for every 10mm of rain over the growing season. Some researchers in the Prairies are concerned about the potential for both more severe and frequent drought and unusually wet years, drawing attention to the fact that, between November 2009 and September 2010, much of the southern Prairies went from record dry to record wet conditions.

Sources: Motha and Baier (2005); Canola: a Canadian success story, Statistics Canada (2009);; Almaraz (2009); Kutcher et al. (2010); Sauchyn, D. Climate change risks to water resources South Saskatchewan River Basin. NRTEE / RCGS Panel Discussion, Saskatoon, 21 October, 2010. Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative. University of Regina


A changing climate increases the risk of crop loss associated with weather and climate extremes, including droughts and intense storms. We can look to loss estimates from droughts in the early 21st century to consider potential implications. The droughts of 2001–2002 resulted in $3.6 billion worth of lost agricultural production in the Prairies, and contributed to a zero or negative farm incomes in Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.[136] In Ontario, droughts in 2000–2004 caused the Ontario Crop Insurance program to pay out about $600 million.[137] Evidence from studies of expected future runoff trends,[138] agricultural droughts,[139] and crop modelling work[140] indicates that Canadian agricultural producers are likely to face increasing economic risk due to water stress and drought.

Future crop loss from agricultural pests and disease is also a concern. Throughout Canada, warmer winters improve survival rates of insects, including agricultural pests. [141] In some regions, such as Atlantic Canada, wetter and warmer conditions tend to favour a more diverse pest population.[142] One study examining three agricultural pests concluded that their ranges expanded significantly at a 2°C global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels.[143] The net effect of climate change on plant diseases is less clear, with some diseases expected to increase and others decline.[144] Overall, however, the combined effect of changes in pest and disease patterns is likely to adversely affect agricultural production.[145]


A changing climate affects forestry directly through impacts on tree growth, and indirectly via wildfire, insects, storms, disease, and harvesting conditions. Changing patterns of forest disturbances have already produced visible effects on Canada’s forests and related timber supplies.[146] Regional examples include the unprecedented outbreak of the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia and Alberta, the recent spruce bark beetle outbreak in Yukon, aspen dieback in the Prairies, high levels of fire activity in the western boreal forest, and record forest fire seasons in Yukon and British Columbia.[147] Forest stands affected by pests can result in relatively short-term increases in economic activity (salvaging pest-killed timber), followed by a sharp decline.

Warmer temperatures and increased carbon levels in the atmosphere at global temperature increases over 2°C could boost timber supplies by enhancing tree growth. The potential for productivity gains under a changing climate may only apply to easterly and northerly areas with relatively cool and moist climates; productivity could decrease in southern areas that are relatively hot and dry.[148] For example, we may see a decline in productivity of lodgepole pine in the foothills region of Alberta over the next century. Warmer and drier summers in southern British Columbia will likely reduce tree growth rates, regeneration success, and change wood quantity and quality. In addition, management of forest operations could become more challenging, as warmer winters affect access to the forest for logging and exacerbate ground disturbance from logging roads.[149]


Fish species that are already under stress and at or near their southern range limit are likely to be further distressed by changes in ocean temperature and chemistry and by warmer temperatures in spawning habitat.[150] A 1°C to 2°C global temperature increase could contract the range of Arctic char by 40% or more compared to today, with complete extirpation in some areas and local declines in abundance in others.[151] Arctic char could see its range restricted to Nunavut, northern Québec, and Labrador; it is currently present across the Arctic coast, in islands in Hudson Bay, in a few coastal locations as far south as Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and the lakes of southeastern Québec.[152]

Pacific salmon stocks from the Fraser Basin are likely to see significant decline at global temperatures 2°C to 3°C over pre-industrial levels, whereas stocks that are more northerly (Skeena and Nass) could increase in abundance due to greater ocean productivity.[153]

In Atlantic Canada, warmer temperatures projected over the next century are likely to create unfavourable habitat conditions for several commercial fish species.[154] Atlantic salmon is among the species facing greatest habitat losses, with ranges contracted in Cape Cod, the tail of Grand Bank, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Atlantic cod could increase in abundance at up to global temperatures 2°C to 3°C over pre-industrial levels, but potentially declining at greater temperatures.[155] One study finds a general increase in catch potential for a range of species in Atlantic Canada at high latitudes.[156]

In the Great Lakes, cold-water fish populations have decreased by 60% in the last 20 years, and warm-water populations have increased by a similar magnitude.[157] Future warming is likely to continue to provide suitable habitats for warm-water fish at the expense of cold-water species.[158]


Climate change is likely to alter supply of electricity from hydroelectric systems,[159] mainly related to changes in runoff and competition with other water users. British Columbia is already experiencing constraints on generating capacity related to runoff deficits.[160] Decreased hydroelectric generation due to lower water levels in the Great Lakes could lead to economic losses of up to $660 million per year.[161] Higher annual inflows in central Québec could result in increased hydroelectric production from reservoir and run-of-the river operations and therefore, economic gain.[162]


A changing climate alters accessibility to the oil, gas, and mineral resource potential of Canada’s North and to enhanced navigation options through increasingly open Arctic waters. A seasonally ice-free Northwest Passage would help accelerate the development of port and road infrastructure, stimulating additional resource exploration and extraction to meet growing demands from emerging economies.[163] However, increased access to the resource base and to marine distribution channels is one among several considerations in development decisions. Operational costs in a changing climate[164] — such as the need to shut down operations due to more frequent and intense storms — demand from global markets, environmental protection requirements, regulatory barriers, provisions for equitable distribution of resource revenues, among others, also influence the viability of new projects.

What we can do about it

In agriculture, adaptation to realize opportunities from increased heat involves adopting new varieties and new crops, particularly higher-value crops, which may require changes in inputs, resource use and management strategies.[165] Producers in most regions have strong adaptive capacity, because of a tradition of addressing drought and climate variability through short-term coping strategies. In the future, producers will need to adapt to increasing levels of moisture stress and changes in weather extremes. The forestry sector can adapt by planting tree species expected to thrive in the changing conditions for particular locations, and to adopt preventative strategies that attenuate the effects of wildfires, pests, and diseases.[166] Fishery regulators and businesses can adjust management strategies to the likely changes in fish populations. Decreasing fishing pressure, reducing stresses to fish populations unrelated to climate, employing spatial management such as marine protected areas, and changing fisheries targets and locations are all strategies to help promote the long-term viability of the fishing industry.[167] Sectoral planning can help avoid demand-supply mismatches for power, with climate change providing additional impetus to energy managers and regulators to diversify sources and promote energy efficiency. Strategies to promote regional economic development are important entry points for the integration of climate change considerations into plans and investments.


Some forest companies, such as Mistik Management Limited in Saskatchewan, are updating their long-term management plans to reflect a growing exposure to drought, wildfires, and pest outbreaks in a changing climate. Based on recorded cases of drought and damage from natural disturbances, the Mistik Forest Management Area is among the regions in the province most susceptible to climate risk, leading to disruptions in forestry operations (view forest disturbance animation at As a result and as a proactive response, Mistik Management Limited incorporated a 20-year Forest Management Plan for its operations in this area. This plan explicitly includes a manageable planning horizon and takes into account the expected increase in natural hazards under future climate change. The company has also voluntarily become third-party certified in sustainable forest management practices, illustrating the potential of nationally- and internationally-recognized certification standards for influencing corporate operations and practices. Adaptive planning such as this enhances the economic sustainability of the forest industry and the safety and livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.

Source: Shaw, A. on behalf of the Adaptation to Climate Change Team at SFU (2010). Towards a Policy Pathway for an Adaptive Canada: An Analytical Framework, report commissioned by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.




129 NRTEE estimates based on Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 15-001-X and Accessed August 1, 2010.

130 NRTEE estimates based on Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

131 Bourque and Simonet (2008) report this occurrence in southern Quebec, based on work by Yagouti et al. (2008).

132 Qian et al. (2009).

133 Agro-climatic modelling shows increases in yield potential in Eastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador (Pearson et al. [2008]) of 40–170% by the 2080s under a range of scenarios (B2, A2, A1) — although the study notes that gains in productivity may be countered by moisture deficits.  This work is largely consistent with older findings, e.g., de Jong et al. (1999), who reported 18% increase in wheat yields in the 2050s for a 2xCO2 scenario. To map this impact on Degrees of Change, we used the temperature range corresponding to B2, A2, and A1B scenarios for 2080s (likely range is 2.2-4.6°C). Since important thresholds may occur at lower temperatures, we position this impact statement towards the lower end of the scenario-driven temperature range.  These studies largely ignore climatic extremes, which may limit production increases; to be conservative, the statement on the diagram is restricted to the lower end of the crop yield range reported in Pearson et al. (i.e., “over 40%” rather than “40–170%”).

134 National Academy of Sciences 2010, page 128.

135 Figure 5.2 in chapter 5 of Parry et al. (2007) presents data suggesting that wheat yields are likely to decline once local temperatures increase more than 3–4°C; a mapping of a 4°C local temperature rise to a global temperature scale gives ~2.7°C global average temperature rise.  Potato yields are expected to decline before this, with Hijmans estimating declines in potato yields by the 2050s unless adaptive actions are taken (Hijmans [2003]).

136 Wheaton et al. (2005)..

137 Cudmore (2005); Wheaton et al. (2005).

138 e.g., Milly et al. (2005); Falloon et al. (2006); Martz et al. (2007).

139 Sauchyn et al. (2005).

140 Pearson et al. (2008).

141Boland et al. (2004).

142 Vasseur & Catto (2008).

143 Modelling conducted by Olfert & Weiss (2006) projects significantly expanded ranges of three agricultural pest species at 3°C of local temperature rise over current (1960–1990) climate normals. This can approximately be mapped to a 2°C global average temperature rise.

144 An expert assessment in Ontario (Boland et al. [2004]) found that some plant diseases are expected to increase as a result of climate change, but that more than half of those studied will decline. Chakraborty et al. (2000) suggest that the net effects of climate change on individual plant diseases are uncertain, and may be positive or negative.

145 Chapter 5 in Parry et al. (2007).

146 Williamson et al.( 2009).

147 Williamson et al. (2009).

148 Growth prediction models based on 2 x CO2 scenario (corresponds to approximately 550ppm CO2 at 2080s, which is about 2.6°C best estimate, 2–3.2°C range according to AR4 WGII Figure TS4 and represented relative to pre-industrial levels) suggest an increase in net primary productivity for forests in Eastern Canada (Price and Scott 2006). Williamson et al. (2009) conclude that the potential for productivity gains under a changing climate is applicable to northerly areas with relatively cold and moist climates; productivity is expected to decrease in southern areas that are relatively hot and dry.  For example, Chhin et al. (2008) project a decline in productivity of lodgepole pine in the foothills region of Alberta over the next century (based on A2 and B2 scenarios).  The net effect of tree growth in a changing climate is difficult to ascertain due to the many interacting factors (e.g., soil moisture, natural disturbance patterns, extended growing season); however, continued availability of soil moisture is likely to be the most important influence on growth (Williamson et al. [2009]).

149 Spittlehouse & Stewart 2003.

150 Harley et al.( 2006); Beamish et al. (2009).

151 Wrona et al.( 2005); Furgal & Prowse (2008); Chu et al. (2005) conclude that a changing climate may lead to a range contraction of Arctic char toward the northeast of the country. They project a 40% loss of their current range by 2020s and another 23% reduction by 2050s, with its range restricted to Nunavut, northern Quebec, and Labrador.  They used a IS92a emissions scenario for the analysis, the range of which we use here.

152 Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Underwater world.

153 Beamish et al. (2009) assessed the potential impacts on the fisheries by 2050 (about 2°C of global warming using a range of SRES scenarios; authors report potential impacts by 2050 without specifying associated changes in mean global temperatures).

154 Based on a study of 33 commercial species, Chmura et al. (2007) find that thermal range conditions decline for most commercial fish species in Atlantic Canada (the study is based on A2 and B2 scenarios over an 80 to 100-year horizon). Atlantic salmon is among the species projected to face greatest habitat losses (range contraction in Cape Cod, tail of Grand Bank, and Gulf of St. Lawrence).  We use a temperature range that considers the best estimate of B2 for 2050s and A2 for 2100 (2090s), as low and high end.

155 Drinkwater (2005) finds an increase in abundance of Atlantic cod stocks up to about 3°C of global warming above current levels (i.e., about 0.78 degrees C + 3 degrees C), declining at greater temperatures (see Figure 5).  Cheung et al. (2009) find a general increase in catch potential across a range of species in Atlantic Canada at high latitudes (60 degrees latitude and higher) by 2055 based on an IPCC A1B scenario. We use a temperature range based on the likely range for A1B scenario in 2050s (2-3°C).

156 Cheung et al. (2009).

157 Ongoing study by J.M. Casselman and P. Lehman “Water Resources, Fish, and Fisheries: Sensitivities, Impacts, and Adaptation to a Changing Climate”. For more information, see

158 Field et al. (2007) ; Okey et al. (2010).

159 Field et al. (2007).

160 Payne et al. (2004).

161 Buttle et al. (2004).

162 Bourque & Simonet (2008) summarize potential implications of changing hydrological regimes and other impacts of climate change on hydro-electric production in Quebec.

163 Furgal & Prowse (2008); Prowse et al. (2009); International Energy Agency (2008). Here we assume a seasonally ice-free Northwest Passage by 2050s (~2°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels).

164 Prowse et al. (2009).

165 Smit & Wall( 2003).

166 Spittlehouse & Stewart (2003).

167 Harley et al. (2006).