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Degrees of Change – Service Industries

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

Service Industries

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This category includes industry sectors that provide services that are highly valued — movement of goods and people, and access to culture, leisure, and recreation. Here we highlight water transport as a mode for freight activity. Despite the growth in trucking as a mode of transport in recent decades, freight transport via coastal shipping, the Great Lakes, and inland waterways remain an important input into the economy, conveyor of trade, and source of jobs. In 2008, water transport infrastructure handled approximately one in twenty tonnes of domestic freight.[168] Tourism and recreation are major contributors to the Canadian economy,[169] also providing spiritual and cultural value and opportunities for physical exercise. Every year, upward of 20 million foreign travellers come to Canada for leisure, in addition to the millions of trips made by Canadians within the country.[170] In 2008, each Canadian household spent an average of about $4,000 on recreation.[171]

The service industries we highlight here are sensitive to weather and climate in a few dimensions. Weather and climate affect operating costs, including the efficiency of supply chains and logistics. For tourism and recreation, weather conditions and factors such as snow quality influence consumer preferences for particular activities and destinations. As with some resource industries, climate change presents both risks and opportunities, and is one consideration among many in sector and business planning.


Figure 9: Service Industries

What we can expect


Increasingly open Arctic waters present opportunities to expand commercial shipping and transportation in general. The Northwest Passage, a series of channels linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, could be accessible for commercial shipping at global temperatures about 2°C over pre-industrial levels, with deep routes potentially accessible 30–50% of the time.[172] This major expansion of access could attract vast shipping traffic. The Northwest Passage is about 7,000 kilometres shorter than the shipping route used today through the Panama Canal, which would save about two weeks of travelling time between London and Tokyo.[173]

Projected declines in water levels in a changing climate could affect the long-term viability of shipping through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Lower water levels would decrease the depth of navigation channels and leave docks and harbours stranded, particularly in shallow connecting channels and ports.[174] Ships would not be able to handle carrying their full capacity, requiring more trips for the same cargo.[175] For example, intra-lake shipping vessels experiencing a reduction in draft of one inch lose 270 tonnes of capacity.[176] Lower water levels expected at a global temperature rise upward of 2°C over pre-industrial levels could increase shipping costs between 5 and 40%.[177]


Already the opening up of southern Arctic waterways to cruise ships has seen the number of voyages to Arctic Canada double in the last five years.[178] Further seasonal ice-free access projected at global temperatures about 2 to 3°C above pre-industrial levels could see a 50% increase in cruise voyage potential.[179] Despite the potential increases in cruise shipping as sea ice retreats in Arctic waters, continued sea-ice hazards, public and commercial infrastructure requirements, and lack of supporting services are factors that could curtail growth.


Shorter and milder winters pose challenges to winter recreational businesses, notably ski resorts. Conversely, some evidence shows that areas like Saguenay, Québec, have benefited from fewer cold waves and could continue to benefit in this way for the next 20 years or so.[180] Although substantial regional variability exists, by 2050 ski season length in parts of southeastern Canada could shorten an average of 20% relative to what it was in the late 1990s.[181] The snowmobile season could decrease by about half over the same period.[182] Despite shorter seasons, ski centres and trails that receive sufficient snow may benefit from reduced competition, and from snow-seeking tourists from northern United States.

Longer and warmer summers could benefit summer recreation.[183] By 2050, the golf season in parts of southeastern Canada could be 7 to 20% longer than what it was in the late 1990s.[184] The number of visitors to National Parks could also increase markedly over the same period.[185] Aside from visitation rates, climate change is likely to affect the timing and seasonality of visits, along with costs associated with ensuring the safety of staff and visitors.[186]

These projections for 2050 assume a global temperature rise of about 2°C to 3°C over pre-industrial levels.


Since the 1970s, yearly levels of precipitation in Canada have seen a downward trend, with snow cover also declining in many areas. Year-to-year and longer-term variations in climate conditions affect seasonal recreation, including our ability to enjoy the outdoors, and earn predictable revenues from these activities. In 2001-2002, four cross-country ski clubs (out of 14) of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association were unable to open for the season due to a warmer winter and poor snow conditions. During the same mild winter, the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa opened nearly 6 weeks later than usual. The 2004 spring and summer were particularly cool and wet, affecting campgrounds, golf courses, provincial parks and beaches. For example, the Wasaga Beach area in Ontario saw a 40% drop in summer occupancy rates, hurting beach merchants’ bottom line. In 2004–2005, a lack of snow caused by a wet and mild winter resulted in the early closure (pre-March break) of 60% of Whistler-Blackcomb’s ski runs and a 14% decrease in skier-visits. However, later and more plentiful snowfalls the following winter season allowed the ski resort to remain open until early June.

Sources: Toronto Star (September 7, 2004); Globe and Mail (March 24, 2005); Toronto Star (September 14, 2005); Montreal Gazette (April 1, 2006);Scott and Jones (2006a).

What we can do about it

Adaptation planning for enhanced Arctic transportation includes establishing protocols to safeguard Canadian interests, ensure marine transportation safety, and protect the environment and northern peoples in the face of increased shipping traffic.[187] In the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, opportunities for engineering to deepen connecting channels are limited and costly, especially given concerns over release of contaminants from sediments.[188] Adaptations sufficient to maintain commercial shipping and transportation activity in the St. Lawrence at current levels range from minimal adjustments, such as changes in schedules, to costly investments in new and upgraded structures.[189]

For tourism and recreation, adapting to the impacts of climate change involves adjusting business activities to realize opportunities, monitoring and adjusting activities in those areas where conditions are expected to be less favourable, and diversifying seasonal activities offered. Businesses are already adjusting to changing conditions, with, for example, ski resort operators investing in lifts to reach higher altitudes and in snowmaking equipment.[190] Arctic communities can plan for tourists in order to maximize local benefits and minimize risks from the influx of people from other parts of Canada or elsewhere.



168 Between 1990 and 2009, the proportion of freight transported by road increased from 25 to 85%. NRTEE estimates based on Table 5 – 1, Domestic Freight Activity by Mode (tons). Accessed August 2, 2010.

169 Tourism contributed to Canada’s economy an average (2002$) $24.0 billion each year between 1998 and 2008. GDP estimate is from Statistics Canada, CANSIM table 387-0001.

170 Dodds & Graci (2009). For more information on trends in international travel see the 2009 Statistics Canada publication “International Travel,” catalogue no. 66-201-X, available at:

171 Table 1, Expenditures per household.

172 Accessed August 2, 2010.

173 Sou & Flato (2009). 2050s corresponds to about 1.9-2.8°C using best estimates of range of SRES scenarios. Recent trend data suggest this may happen prior to 2050 (D. Lemmen personal communication, February 15, 2010).

174 Furgal & Prowse (2008);CBC News in Review, The Big Melt: Canada’s Changing Arctic  (Septmber 2006)

175 Mortsch et al.( 2003). See case study on pg 105; Lemmen and Warren (2004); Field et al. (2007).

176 Kling et al. (2003) ; International Joint Commission (2003);  Mortsch et al. (2005).
Lindeberg & Albercook (2000).

177 Millerd (1996) reported a 5 to 40%  increase in shipping costs for 2 x CO2 (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).

178 Dawson et al. (2007); Stewart et al. (2007).

179 Dawson et al. (2007) report this increased potential for 2040s under B2 scenario, we use the range for 2050s in the degrees of change diagram (1.7–2.6°C).

180 Singh et al. (2006).

181 Singh et al. (2006), who projected a “drastic” reduction in the ski season in Southern Quebec by the 2050s — on average reduced by 23% from the 1961–1990 baseline by 2050s.  We used global temperature ranges using best estimates of a range of SRES scenarios at 2050s.

182 McBoyle et al. (2007).

183 Singh et al. (2006); Jones & Scott (2006a); Scott et al. (2008).

184 Scott & Jones (2006) presented results on golf season changes in the Greater Toronto region for 2050s, using low and high global emissions scenarios.

185 Jones & Scott (2006b).

186 Government of Canada (2009), page 167.

187 See Huebert (2003), for example. Recent research suggests that an increase in Artcic shipping activity can accelerate local climate changes through emissions short-lived forcing agents (black carbon).  Accessed November 8, 2010.

188 Bruce et al. (2000).

189 D’Arcy et al. (2005); Field et al. (2007).

190 Scott & McBoyle (2007).