Today in Nuuk, Greenland, ministers from Canada and other Arctic nations are being told to prepare for something that will have tremendous repercussions for Canada's coastal communities — sea level rise that could inundate literally billions of dollars of investment in homes, roads, airports, and other infrastructure.
New research from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (PDF) shows that glaciers, sea ice, and ice sheets like the one that covers Greenland are now melting more quickly than before due to global climate change. As a consequence, oceans will rise by 0.9 to 1.6 metres in this century.
This is higher than previously thought and will have serious implications for Canada. The changes will "cause fundamental changes to the characteristics of Arctic ecosystems and in some cases loss of entire habitats." Of course, that will also affect Arctic communities that depend on those ecosystems.
The impacts will be felt on our other coasts as well. In my hometown of Sept-Iles, Quebec, along the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, task forces have been established to try to come up with solutions to a rise in sea level that is already eroding the beaches and inundating the seashore. Other communities on the east coast are being similarly affected.
It may be worse in BC. A one metre rise in sea level, at the low end of the prediction, would submerge farmland the size of 10,000 football fields (PDF). Homes and industries three times that area will be underwater. In Richmond and Delta alone, over 200,000 people live below or near sea level, as does the Vancouver International Airport.
So what will researchers tell ministers in Greenland? We need an urgent and coordinated response to this threat. Canada must develop strategies to adapt to these risks. We can minimize the impact by tackling climate change head on and reducing our greenhouse gas pollution.
We know the costs of acting urgently on climate change are small and manageable. This and other research shows the cost of inaction could be much, much higher.