This article was published by the International Energy Agency on Aug. 16, 2021.
- Canada’s average annual temperature rose 1.7°C between 1948 and 2016, and it is likely to continue rising. While affecting energy demand for heating and cooling, higher temperatures also escalate wildfire risks.
- Average annual precipitation also increased between 1948 and 2012, particularly in northern regions. Although total annual precipitation is expected to continue increasing over the 21st century, there may be less summer rainfall in Canada’s southern areas.
- Canada’s climate plans highlight the importance of climate resilience, but they do not elaborate specific actions for the energy sector. Instead, national energy and infrastructure strategies such as the Canadian Energy Strategy and the Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure fill the gap, proposing concrete actions for energy system climate resilience. Canada’s recently released the National Issues Report highlights that climate changes are already affecting the energy sector and that effects will persist and even intensify in the future.
Climate hazard assessment
Canada’s average annual temperature rose 1.7°C between 1948 and 2016. The temperature rise in Canada over the last two decades (0.0144°C) is lower than the global average (0.0313°C per year). Warming rates vary by region, with the temperature in northern Canada rising more rapidly, by 2.3°C during 1948-2016. Canada’s Changing Climate Report also explains that in terms of seasonal variation, the temperature has increased more strongly in the winter than in the summer.
Warming is expected to continue into the future, with an overall temperature increase of between 1.8°C and 6.3°C (1 2) by the end of the century, depending on greenhouse gas emissions levels. The rise in temperature is likely to be more evident during the winter and in the country’s northern regions.
Canada’s rising temperature is already affecting energy demand, reducing the number of heating degree days (HDDs) and increasing the number of cooling degree days (CDDs). Extensive heat could raise electricity costs in the summer and energy demand for air conditioning, especially in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, where felt temperatures can reach 35°C. Given that some regions (e.g. Ontario) are already experiencing their peak energy demand in the summer, additional electricity consumption for cooling is likely to put pressure on the power grid.
More extreme hot days could also escalate the risk of wildfires, which can threaten energy supply security by disrupting fuel supplies and damaging the electricity network. For instance, northern Alberta’s 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire halted production in the oil sands and cut Canada’s daily oil production considerably, and the Quebec forest fires in 2013 damaged transmission lines and caused widespread blackouts.
Canada’s average annual precipitation increased between 1948 and 2012, with a shift towards less snowfall and more rain. Northern regions experienced the highest increase in average precipitation, followed by some parts of southern Canada (eastern Manitoba, western and southern Ontario, and Atlantic Canada).
Annual and winter precipitation are projected to continue increasing across the country throughout the century, while the amount of summer precipitation could decrease across southern Canada under a high-emissions scenario(3). Climate projections anticipate more frequent extreme precipitation events, although past weather data do not provide enough evidence of this trend. More intense precipitation may raise urban flood risks and pose energy system challenges.
Tropical cyclones and storms(4).
Although Canada’s level of exposure to tropical cyclones is low, some storms have hit Canada and affected the energy system. For instance, a storm in December 2018 damaged power lines, poles and transformers, and left more than 750 000 people without electricity. Plus, the combination of strong winds and heavy rains impeded electricity grid recovery. Heavy precipitation destabilized trees, making them more susceptible to fall onto power lines and slow down the reparation process, especially in remote areas, where it took more than ten days to restore power fully.
Policy resilience for climate resilience
The Canadian government announced a new climate plan in December 2020, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, built on the foundations of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change that had been agreed upon by most provincial and territorial leaders and the federal government in 2016. The new climate plan names climate change adaptation and resilience as one of its five pillars, and it introduces 64 strengthened and new federal policies, programmes and investments. It also proposes development of Canada’s first-ever National Adaptation Strategy to establish a shared vision for climate resilience, identify key priorities and introduce a framework for measuring national-level progress.
Although these climate plans have sections dedicated to climate resilience measures, energy sector-specific climate resilience is not prioritized or elaborated upon in detail. Only several recommendations broadly cover infrastructure resilience without a specific focus on the energy sector.
The Canadian Energy Strategy, which the provinces and territories agreed to in 2015, fills this gap by identifying concrete actions for energy sector climate resilience. In fact, one of its eight objectives involves “maintaining the highest degree of environmental safeguards and protection, including by addressing climate change, climate resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally”. The Strategy proposes specific actions in three categories: sustainability and conservation; technology and innovation; and delivering energy to people. For instance, it suggests integrating climate change implications and uncertainties into planning to ensure energy supply reliability for everyone.
Other national strategies also take energy sector climate resilience into consideration. The National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure and its 2018–2020 Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure cover energy and utilities as one of their key areas and highlight the increasing threat of climate change. In addition, the Joint United States-Canada Electric Grid Security and Resilience Strategy, which was developed to strengthen the security and resilience of the electricity grid, including to climate change impacts, discusses areas of collaboration for grid protection, response and recovery efforts, and the future of the electricity grid.
To support climate change adaptation and resilience activities, Canada provides several tools and databases. For instance, the Canadian Centre for Climate Services’ Library of Climate Resources and the Climate Services Support Desk provide links to climate datasets, tools, guidance and other related resources, while the Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Division supports and creates several tools for adaptation risk assessments.
Furthermore, the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) recently developed the guidance tool Climate Adaptation and Extreme Weather: A Guide to Adaptation Planning for Electricity Companies in Canada. Developed with and for CEA members, the guide provides information about climate impacts and risks as well adaptation measures and ways to evaluate them, with a focus on measurement and continuous improvement. It also presents best practices for adapting critical electricity infrastructure to climate change.
In addition, Canada’s National Assessment Process has produced a series of climate change impact and adaptation assessments that investigate how and why Canada’s climate is changing; the impacts of these changes on communities, the environment and the economy; and how Canada is adapting. The government’s recently released National Issues Report highlights how climate change is already affecting all sectors, and how these impacts will persist and – in most cases – intensify. For the energy sector, changes in climate, such as rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, thawing permafrost and sea ice, and extreme weather events affect energy demand and the entire energy value chain, from exploration and production to transmission and distribution. The report also discusses adaptation approaches to reduce associated risks.
Other reports including the 2019 Canada’s Changing Climate Report, Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation (2014) and From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate (2008) are available in interactive online formats or as PDFs through the Natural Resources Canada webpage.