As climate change becomes more significant, there is an urgent need to understand it. The associated physical and chemical processes of our climate affect many aspects of our physical, social and biological environments.
The Earth's climate depends on atmospheric conditions, especially the presence of greenhouse gases. Their role is to act as a blanket while trapping heat from the earth and solar radiation. This trapped heat allows life and ecosystems to thrive on the Earth's surface, without greenhouse gases the average surface temperature would be -18ºC. The most significant heat absorption is done by the water vapour and carbon dioxide particles while some is also done by methane, nitrous oxide and ozone particles. These particles absorb the heat and radiate it back in all directions, including the Earth's surface.
The science of climate change is very broad, covering areas such as wind patterns, cloud formation, weather patterns, oceanic circulation, precipitation patterns, volcanic activity, the Earth's axis of rotation, and solar activity. There are many research groups joining governments on international collaborations to study the science of climate change.
A good example of such collaboration is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Here, different groups of scientists and experts are focussing on various aspects of climate change research.
This research has focussed on human and natural drivers of climate change, observed climate change, climate processes, and climate change projections. The development of better models and projections has lead to more confidence in associating greenhouse gas increases with human activity.
A large component of the research has been dedicated to physical parameters of air, ocean water, snow and ice, global sea-level, and precipitation patterns, resulting in better data and observations of the increase in global temperature and in human related emissions of greenhouse gases.
Climate change is already having an impact on the environment and communities:
Special attention needs to be directed to engaging remote northern and Aboriginal communities in order to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies that reflect their unique challenges.
Aboriginal and northern communities have a unique experience of the impacts of climate change. Their close contact with nature provides them with direct information on the how climate change is impacting the earth. There are numerous concerns related to the impacts of climate change.
The health of Canadians is a leading priority when dealing with the impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures have a number of consequences for Canadian society. The most vulnerable, usually children, the elderly and the chronically-ill, are prone to more intense reactions to climate change impacts. Across Canada, there are some major health impacts which need close monitoring.
The Canadian transportation system is highly sensitive to climate change impacts. Shifting weather patterns can cause delays, closures and challenges to all types of transportation. Road maintenance, highway closures, air travel delays and flooding, all affect the infrastructure and operation of transportation systems across Canada.
Forests account for about 50% of Canadian landmass, dominated mostly by the boreal forest. Our forests are home to more than 90 000 species of plants, micro-organisms and animals. Aboriginal peoples are also closely tied to our forests. Forested land provides a source of food, medicinal plants and economic activity. Climate change will likely impact forest tree lines, diversity of species and adaptation of species.