14.7 Conclusions: implications for sustainable development
Climate change creates a broad range of difficult challenges that influence the attainment of sustainability goals. Several of the most difficult emerge from the long time-scale over which the changes occur (see Section 14.3) and the possible need for action well before the magnitude (and certainty) of the impacts is clear (see Section 14.5). Other difficult problems arise from the intrinsic global scale of climate change (EIA, 2005b). Because the drivers of climate change are truly global, even dedicated action at the regional scale has limited prospects for ameliorating regional-scale impacts. These two sets of challenges, those related to time-scale and those related to the global nature of climate change, are not in the classes that have traditionally yielded to the free-market mechanisms and political decision making that historically characterise Canada and the U.S. (see Section 14.5). Yet, the magnitude of the climate change challenge calls for proactive adaptation and technological and social innovation, areas where Canada and the U.S. have abundant capacity. An important key to success will be developing the capacity to incorporate climate change information into adaptation in the context of other important technological, social, economic and ecological trends.
The preceding sections describe current knowledge concerning the recent climate experience of North America, the impacts of the changes that have already occurred, and the potential for future changes. They also describe historical experience with and future prospects for dealing with climate impacts. The key points are:
- North America has experienced substantial social, cultural, economic and ecological disruption from recent climate-related extremes, especially storms, heatwaves and wildfires [14.2].
- Continuing infrastructure development, especially in vulnerable zones, will likely lead to continuing increases in economic damage from extreme weather [14.2.6, 14.4.6].
- The vulnerability of North America depends on the effectiveness of adaptation and the distribution of coping capacity, both of which are currently uneven and have not always protected vulnerable groups from adverse impacts of climate variability and extreme weather events [14.5].
- A key prerequisite for sustainability is ‘mainstreaming’ climate issues into decision making [14.5].
- Climate change will exacerbate stresses on diverse sectors in North America, including, but not limited to, urban centres, coastal communities, human health, water resources and managed and unmanaged ecosystems [14.4].
- Indigenous peoples of North America and those who are socially and economically disadvantaged are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change [14.2.6, 14.4.6].