Recommended citation

Molnar, M., Olmstead, P., Mitchell, M., Raudsepp-Hearne, C. and Anielski, M. (2021): Ecosystem Services; Chapter 5 in Canada in a Changing Climate: National Issues Report, (eds.) F.J. Warren and N. Lulham; Government of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

Coordinating lead author

  • Michelle Molnar (David Suzuki Foundation)

Lead authors

  • Paige Olmsted, PhD, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia
  • Matthew Mitchell, PhD, University of British Columbia
  • Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, PhD, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
  • Mark Anielski (Anielski Management Inc.)

Contributing authors

  • Elizabeth Nelson, PhD, Parks Canada
  • Ian Hanington, David Suzuki Foundation
  • Theresa Beer, David Suzuki Foundation
  • Olga Shuvalova, David Suzuki Foundation
  • John Sommerville, Natural Resources Canada
  • Meredith Caspell (Natural Resources Canada)
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Key Messages

Climate change is threatening Canada’s ecosystems and the services they provide

Climate change is already affecting the capacity of Canada’s ecosystems to provide services. Extreme weather events, in particular, and shifts in seasonal climate patterns are interacting with other pressures on ecosystems causing a range of impacts. These will continue to intensify.

Impacts will vary across Canada’s ecosystems and regions

Ecosystem responses to climate change across Canada’s regions will vary. Northern, mountainous and coastal regions are especially vulnerable to climate change impacts on ecosystem services, due in large part to limited adaptation options. Strengthening the adaptive capacity of people and communities living in these regions is vital to maintaining ecosystem services.

Indigenous Knowledge is vital to maintaining ecosystems

Indigenous Knowledge is critical for maintaining ecosystems and the services they provide in a changing climate. Indigenous Knowledge Systems encompass different perspectives for understanding environmental complexity, and provide strategies to reduce, manage and adapt to environmental change in a place-based and holistic manner.

Nature-based approaches to adaptation maximize benefits

Nature-based approaches to adaptation reduce climate change risks to communities, and are often cost-effective and flexible compared with engineered alternatives. They also deliver a wide range of social, environmental and economic co-benefits, and help to strengthen the adaptive capacity of communities.



Ecosystems play an important role in supporting society through the goods and services they provide, such as food, clean water, air purification and climate regulation. They also contribute to climate change mitigation, by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The services provided by ecosystems are impacted by multiple factors, including land-use change and overexploitation, which can reduce their capacity to deliver benefits in the short and long term. As the climate continues to change and ecosystems shift in response to changing environmental conditions, their capacity to provide these services will be affected. Maintaining, restoring and managing ecosystems to address climatic and non-climatic stressors are key strategies for reducing their vulnerability in the face of climate change, by enhancing their resilience to changing conditions. Considering the important connections between Indigenous communities and nature, Indigenous Knowledge is vital to understanding how climate change is affecting ecosystems and to the design and implementation of approaches for their preservation and management.

Ecosystems also play an important buffering role in reducing the severity of climate change impacts on society, including through services such as flood attenuation and storm surge protection. Increasingly, nature-based approaches to climate change adaptation are being explored and adopted at different levels as lower-cost measures (in comparison to engineered approaches) for reducing climate change risks, while also delivering a range of social and economic co-benefits.


Chapter scope and structure

This chapter explores the risks and complex impacts that climate change poses for Canada’s ecosystems and the services they provide, as well as opportunities for adapting to climate change. It begins by presenting an overview of key concepts, definitions and considerations. The chapter then discusses the diverse ways in which climate change is currently affecting and is anticipated to affect ecosystems and their services in the future, with examples pertaining to different types of ecosystems and in various regions across the country. The chapter also discusses the role of Indigenous Knowledge in understanding and responding to climate change impacts to ecosystems. The chapter then addresses the growing role and rapidly evolving recognition of nature-based approaches to adaptation for reducing climate change impacts to society. Case stories are included throughout the chapter to provide practical, on-the-ground examples of adaptation in this field.

The chapter focuses on four key messages, which highlight the current state of knowledge on issues of priority. As such, it does not provide a comprehensive summary of climate change impacts and adaptation considerations across all regions, ecosystems and social groups. The author team recognizes that many knowledge gaps remain and that there are a number of emerging issues related to this topic, which are discussed towards the end of the chapter.

This chapter builds from the Biodiversity and Protected Areas chapter of Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation (Nantel et al., 2014). It is, however, the first chapter within Canada’s national knowledge assessment process to examine ecosystem services and nature-based approaches to adaptation. As such, it is intended to serve as an initial input into the rich and rapidly-evolving dialogue around this topic. Future assessments will build from this chapter and endeavour to capture and reflect the learning and new knowledge that is being generated through the multitude of projects and research currently underway in this area.


Canadian context

Canada is home to a wide range of ecosystems, which deliver extensive services to society. The Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2014) defines 18 terrestrial ecozones, 12 marine ecozones and one freshwater ecozone for the country, where an “ecozone” is the broadest level of ecological classification used in Canada (see Figure 5.1).

Figure 5.1


Map of Canada, including its coastal waters, which displays the 18 terrestrial ecozones, 12 marine ecozones, and 1 freshwater ecozones within the country. The Boreal Shield is one of the largest ecozones, extending from Newfoundland, through central Quebec and Ontario into Northern Saskatchewan. The Taiga Shield sits above the Boreal Shield and below the Southern Arctic. Baffin Island is classified as a Northern Arctic ecozone, and its northern coast is Tundra Cordillera. The Prairie provinces contain a Prairies ecozones in the south and Boreal Plains in the north. British Columbia is mostly a Montane Cordillera, with a Semi-Arid Plateaux in the south, and a Pacific Maritime ecozone on the west coast. The Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut contain Taiga Cordillera, Taiga Plains, Taiga Shield, and Sothern Arctic ecozones. The maritime provinces are classified as an Atlantic Maritime ecozone.
Figure 5.1

Map of Canada’s terrestrial and marine ecozones.


Adapted from Canadian Council on Ecological Areas, 2014.

Canadians derive indispensable benefits from ecosystem services, which contribute to culture, economies, jobs, health and other dimensions of human well-being. The economic value of ecosystem services in Canada is estimated to be at least $3.6 trillion per year (IPBES, 2018), which was more than double the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. Canada is recognized as one of five countries that, together, host 70% of the world’s remaining untouched wilderness areas (Watson et al., 2018), and is considered to hold a greater capacity to supply ecosystem services than the global average (IPBES, 2018). An estimated 285.8 million tonnes of biomass—agricultural crops, livestock and poultry, milk, maple products, honey, forestry and fisheries—were extracted for human use in 2010 from Canada’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems (Statistics Canada, 2013). While Canada overall scores highly on the new Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Index developed by Swiss Re Institute (2020), ecosystems in some parts of the country may be in decline, with resulting impacts to ecosystem services (see Box 5.1).

The preservation of ecosystem services in the face of climate change and the application of nature-based approaches to climate change adaptation, as discussed throughout this chapter, may be a strategy to help achieve multiple goals. For instance, Canada has made a range of climate- and ecosystem-related commitments as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, is also a participant and supporter of the Global Commission on Adaptation, and is co-leading the Nature-based Solutions Action Track with Mexico. Reporting on progress made towards these commitments is a federal requirement and can be a leverage point for mobilizing coordinated efforts across government agencies and non-government organizations that are working to reach similar goals.


Ecosystems, ecosystem services and biodiversity

Ecosystems are a dynamic complex, composed of living organisms—plants, animals and micro-organisms—and their environment, which interact in a multitude of ways as a functional unit (Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1995). Biological diversity, also known as biodiversity, refers to the variability among living organisms—including those living in terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems—as well as the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within and between species, as well as diversity across ecosystems (Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992). Nantel et al. (2014) provide an overview of climate change impacts on biodiversity in Canada.

Biodiversity and ecosystems produce a rich assortment of benefits that people depend upon and value, which are often referred to as “ecosystem services” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005) or “nature’s contributions to people” (IPBES, 2018). Examples of ecosystem services include climate regulation, regulation of freshwater and coastal water quality, carbon sequestration (see Box 5.2), and regulation of hazards and extreme events (see Table 5.1; IPBES, 2018). While ecosystem services and biodiversity are related, they are distinct concepts. For instance, managing ecosystem services can sometimes result in positive outcomes for biodiversity (e.g., promoting regulating services such as erosion control can positively influence biodiversity by safeguarding habitat), whereas other management actions can have negative repercussions for biodiversity (e.g., the selection of tree species based solely on optimizing carbon sequestration, which can lead to changes within an ecosystem that negatively affects biodiversity).

Ecosystem services are generated through an ecosystem’s organization and structure, as well as through ecological processes and functions (see Figure 5.4). Ecological processes refer to any change or reaction (physical, chemical or biological) that occurs within an ecosystem, such as decomposition and nutrient cycling (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Ecosystem functions—a subset of the interactions between biophysical structures, biodiversity and ecosystem processes—represent the potential or capacity of an ecosystem to deliver services (TEEB, 2010). For example, wetlands (an ecosystem structure) offer a form of regulation (an ecosystem function) that helps to limit the negative impacts of flooding or extreme weather events on nearby communities (an ecosystem service) (de Groot et al., 2010a).

Ecosystem services can be classified in different ways, but for the purposes of this chapter, three categories are used: 1) regulating contributions (i.e., functional and structural aspects of organisms and ecosystems that may modify environmental conditions as experienced by people or that sustain or regulate material and non-material benefits); 2) material contributions (i.e., substances, objects or other material elements taken from nature that help to sustain people’s physical existence and infrastructure, and that are typically consumed or consciously perceived); and 3) non-material contributions (i.e., services that affect people’s subjective or psychological quality of life, individually and collectively) (see Table 5.1; IPBES, 2018).

Figure 5.4


Flow chart diagram displays the link between ecosystems and biodiversity and human well-being. Biophysical structures or processes (e.g., short and long term storage of overbank flood water and detention of surface water runoff from surrounding slopes) provide ecosystem functions (e.g., flood water detention), which produce an ecosystem service (e.g., natural flood protection, reduced damage to infrastructure, property and crops). Ecosystem services then provides benefits to human well-being (for example, by contributing to health and safety).
Figure 5.4

The interdependencies of ecosystems, biodiversity, biophysical process, ecosystem function and service, and human well-being.


Adapted from de Groot et al., 2010b.

Table 5.1

Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) classification of ecosystem services

Classification Ecosystem service Description
Regulating contributions Habitat creation and maintenance Maintaining the ecosystem structures and processes that allow the other of nature’s contributions to people to be provided.
Pollination and dispersal of seeds and other propagules The ways that nature contributes to the productivity of plants through fertilizing and dispersing seeds and other vegetative propagules (IPBES, 2016).
Regulation of air quality Regulation of CO2/O2 balance, ozone for ultraviolet-B absorption and polluting gases.
Regulation of climate Including regulating albedo, some aspects of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration (see Box 5.2).
Regulation of ocean acidification Maintaining the pH of the ocean through buffering the increases and decreases of carbonic acid, caused mainly by the uptake of CO2 in the oceans.
Regulation of freshwater quantity, location and timing For direct uses by people and indirect use by biodiversity and natural habitats (see Water Resources chapter).
Regulation of freshwater and coastal water quality Capacity of healthy terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to regulate the delivery of water supply and/or filter and retain nutrients, sediments and pathogens affecting water quality (see Water Resources chapter).
Formation, protection and decontamination of soils and sediments Sediment retention and erosion control, soil formation and maintenance of soil structure, decomposition and nutrient cycling.
Regulation of natural hazards and extreme events The role of preserved ecosystems in moderating the impact of floods, storms, landslides, droughts, heat waves and fire.
Regulation of organisms detrimental to humans Including pests, pathogens, predators and competitors.
Material contributions Energy Biomass-based fuels.
Food and feed Wild and domesticated sources, feed for livestock and cultured fish (see Sector Impacts and Adaptation chapter).
Materials and assistance Production of materials derived from organisms in crops or wild ecosystems for construction, clothing, printing, ornamental purposes or decoration.
Medicinal, biochemical and genetic resources Plants, animals and microorganisms that can be used to maintain or protect human health either directly or through organism processes or their parts.
Non-material contributions Learning and inspiration Opportunities from nature for the development of the capabilities that allow humans to prosper through education, acquisition of knowledge and development of skills.
Physical and psychological experiences Opportunities for physically and psychologically beneficial activities, healing, relaxation, recreation, leisure, tourism and aesthetic enjoyment (see Rural and Remote Communities chapter and Sector Impacts and Adaptation chapter).
Supporting identities Basis for religious, spiritual and social cohesion experiences, for narrative and story-telling, and for sense of place, purpose, belonging, rootedness or connectedness (see Rural and Remote Communities chapter).
Maintenance of options Continued existence of a wide variety of species, populations and genotypes to allow yet unknown discoveries and unanticipated uses of natures, and ongoing evolution.
Source: IPBES, 2018.

Direct and indirect drivers of change in ecosystem services

Ecosystems and their services are affected by a range of direct and indirect drivers. The most prominent direct drivers for the degradation of ecosystem services include habitat conversion, fragmentation and overexploitation/overharvesting, with climate change exacerbating the impacts of other drivers and poised to become the leading driver soon (IPBES, 2018). Climate change threatens the viability and resilience of some natural ecosystems and the human societies that depend upon them (Malhi et al., 2020). However, understanding of the complex ways in which ecosystems and the services they provide are affected by climate change is currently incomplete (IPCC, 2019a).

Climate change affects biodiversity and ecosystem services in a multitude of ways. Since biodiversity is critical to ecosystem resilience and functioning, it is important to consider ecosystem services within the context of broader life support systems when investigating climate change impacts, ecosystem responses, climate change adaptation and green house gas (GHG) emissions reduction (Biodiversity Adaptation Working Group, 2018). Appendix 1 provides a more comprehensive review of how climate change threatens different types of ecosystem services, the social and economic consequences of these climate change impacts, and the ways that we can harness ecosystems to adapt to new environmental conditions and reduce GHG emissions. Figure 5.5 illustrates how climate change could impact the extent to which different types of physical, social and economic drivers result in changes to various ecosystem services globally by 2050.

Figure 5.5


Diagram visually summarizes the relationship between supply and demand for 11 ecosystem services, at both the present time and around 2050, under climate change. The range of possible outcomes around the year 2050 is depicted with a horizontal bar. Crops, livestock, timber and pulp, bioenergy, fresh water, storm protection, and tourism services are currently meeting supply needs, but are predicted to have service supply capacity slightly below needs by 2050. Fisheries, climate stabilization, and pollination service supply capacity is currently slightly below needs and by 2050 is predicted to be far below needs. Pest and disease service capacity is predicted to decline, but remain slightly below needs.
Figure 5.5

A visual summary of the relationship between supply and demand for the ecosystem services surveyed by Scholes (2016), both at the present time (open circles) and around 2050 (filled circles), under climate change. The range of possible outcomes around the year 2050 is depicted with a horizontal bar.


Adapted from Scholes, 2016.

Other drivers of ecosystem change include human activities such as land-use change, overexploitation of resources, pollution and changes in water balance. At the global level, infrastructure, farms, settlements and road networks occupy more than 75% of the habitable surface of the Earth (Ellis et al., 2010).uman activities have also affected oceans through, for example, eutrophication and fish stock depletion (Halpern et al., 2008), leaving only about 13% of the ocean that has not experienced human impacts (Jones et al., 2018).

Indirect drivers of ecosystem change include population and demographic trends, patterns of economic growth, weaknesses in governance systems and inequality (IPBES, 2018). Failure to account for the full economic value of ecosystem services in decision making has been identified as a key contributing factor to their loss and degradation (Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development, 2019).


Feedbacks, thresholds and tipping points

It is critical to recognize that drivers of change, including climate change, do not act on ecosystem services in a linear manner. Ecosystems respond to climate change through: 1) feedbacks that can limit, reduce or further magnify impacts on ecosystems and people; 2) thresholds, where a relatively small change or disturbance (e.g., change in temperature) in external conditions causes a rapid change in an ecosystem; and 3) tipping points that identify the particular threshold where an ecosystem shifts to a new state, significantly changing biodiversity and ecosystem services.

With respect to climate change, a feedback loop is something that accelerates or decelerates a warming trend—these are two-way interactions between climate and ecosystems that amplify or dampen the climate’s initial response to elevated GHG concentrations or other external climatic forcings (Kueppers et al., 2007). If the impacts of climate change result in accelerated warming, then this is called a “positive feedback”; if it results in decelerated warming, on the other hand, then this is called a “negative feedback” (see Figure 5.6). An example of a positive feedback loop related to climate change is the northward advance of forest vegetation with climate warming, which reduces land surface albedo and thereby promotes additional warming (see Figure 5.7).

Figure 5.6


Illustration of negative feedback loop shows perturbation damped toward the initial condition. Illustration of positive feedback loop shows perturbation amplified away from the initial condition.
Figure 5.6

Illustration of positive vs. negative feedback loops related to climate-ecosystem interactions.


Adapted from Kueppers et al., 2007.

Figure 5.7


Top illustrated panel shows the current climate, with a boreal forest on the left and snow covered ground on the right. An arrow points upward from the snow to the sky and is labelled “high albedo.” The sun is in the sky with an arrow going toward the snow, which is labelled “solar radiation.” The bottom panel shows the new northern extent of the boreal forest with warming due to climate change. In this panel, the boreal forest extends to the right where the snow used to be. Now, low albedo is shown coming from the forest, and solar radiation continues to come down from the sun.
Figure 5.7

Example of a positive feedback loop, whereby the northward advance of forest vegetation due to climate warming reduces land surface albedo, thereby promoting additional warming (a positive climate-ecosystem feedback).


Adapted from Kueppers et al., 2007.

Ecosystems are only able to absorb pressure to a particular threshold or tipping point. Beyond these points, large and abrupt changes in ecosystem structure and function occur. Regime shifts caused by the crossing of thresholds tend to be persistent, costly to reverse (if reversal is possible) and can profoundly impact ecosystem services, as well as social and economic well-being (Leadley et al., 2014; Folke et al., 2004; Scheffer et al., 2001). Improving our understanding of how climate change affects ecosystems and their services, combined with conservation and efforts to maintain ecosystems services (see Section 5.2.4), can help to minimize the negative impacts associated with changing conditions.


Climate change is threatening Canada’s ecosystems and the services they provide

Climate change is already affecting the capacity of Canada’s ecosystems to provide services. Extreme weather events, in particular, and shifts in seasonal climate patterns are interacting with other pressures on ecosystems causing a range of impacts. These will continue to intensify.

Climate change is already reducing the capacity of ecosystems to deliver services in the long term, including food, water, air purification and climate regulation. Impacts from extreme weather events and changes in climate patterns are of particular concern, both now and as they continue to intensify in the future. Maintaining, restoring and managing ecosystems are key strategies for reducing climate change impacts on the services that they provide.



Canada’s climate is changing and will continue to change. Ecosystems are sensitive to the changes outlined in Canada’s Changing Climate Report (Bush and Lemmen, 2019), including higher temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, increased risk of floods, drought and wildfire, and loss of sea ice and glaciers. These changes affect species distribution and ecosystems in several ways. First, changes in climate alter the growth of individual species and the timing of critical life events for plant and animal species—a phenomenon known as phenology (Körner and Basler, 2010; Yang and Rudolf, 2009). Second, species generally shift their spatial distributions northward in response to climate change (Chen et al., 2011), but can also shift in multiple directions (VanDerWal et al., 2013), thereby altering biodiversity, and ecosystem composition and functioning (Van der Putten et al., 2010). Third, increased frequency of extreme weather and disturbance events (e.g., heat waves, droughts, storms, fires, pest and disease outbreaks) related to climate change (Dale et al., 2001) can alter species composition and ecosystem functioning (Weed et al., 2013). Disturbances to specific ecosystems and their services are discussed in more detail in Section 5.3.

These climate-related impacts are already affecting the ability of ecosystems to supply services, both negatively and positively, and in many cases are projected to increase in severity as the climate continues to change into the future (Kareiva et al., 2012). Climate change impacts also combine with non-climate stressors (e.g., pollution, overharvesting and habitat loss) to reduce the capacity for species and ecosystems to provide services for human well-being (Nelson et al, 2013; Staudt et al., 2013; Hansen and Hoffman, 2011a).



Species rely on a range of natural cues to signal changes in their life cycles—the study of which is referred to as phenology—and some of these cues can be impacted by a changing climate. For example, warmer temperatures can send a signal to migrating birds to arrive at breeding grounds earlier than usual, which is problematic if what they eat is dependent upon seasonal changes and not available until well after their arrival (Møller et al., 2008). At the global scale, there is strong evidence that climate change impacts on phenology are already affecting the timing of migration and breeding, and leading to asynchronies between interacting species (Cohen et al., 2018). Nantel et al. (2014) provide a summary of observed climate change impacts on phenology in Canada. These include earlier flowering of plants in the parklands of Alberta by up to two weeks (Beaubien and Hamann, 2011), delayed emergence from hibernation of Columbian ground squirrels in the Rockies (Lane et al., 2019) and extended autumn flight periods of boreal butterflies by up to one month in Manitoba (Pohl et al., 2014). While species may be able to apply adaptive response strategies to deal with phenological mismatches, these are not always ideal alternatives. For example, puffins in the Maritimes have started eating butterfish instead of herring, which has led to reports of increased juvenile starvation due to the larger butterfish being more difficult to consume (Kress et al., 2016).

The impacts of phenological changes on the provision of ecosystem services have not been widely documented across Canada, but have the potential to be widespread and significant. Consider the predicted increase in the interaction between eastern spruce budworm and black spruce lifecycles, which can lead to loss of biodiversity and potentially reduce the supply of ecosystem services (Donnelly et al., 2011). Another example is how species, such as polar bears and seals, are negatively affected by the loss of sea ice for hunting and mating (Stirling and Derocher, 2012). Also, caribou populations could decline with the loss of important lichen forage habitat or extreme weather events (Joly et al., 2012; Festa-Bianchet et al., 2011). These examples have the potential to negatively impact food webs, including threatening food security for northern communities (see Case Story 5.3; Stern and Gaden, 2015) and nature-based recreation in the North (Hall and Saarinen, 2010), even as warmer conditions and sea ice loss lengthen the tourist season (Stewart et al., 2012). There is also evidence of climate change disrupting plant-pollinator interactions, with studies showing complex and uneven responses of pollinators to climate warming (Morton and Rafferty, 2017). Bumblebees, for example appear less able to shift their ranges northward in response to warming, leading to shrinking distributions (Kerr et al., 2015), with implications for the many crops they pollinate.


Changing distributions

Ecosystems and species are shifting in response to changing climate conditions. Place-based observations, meta-analyses and models indicate that climate shifts have already begun to alter the geographical range of plant and animal species on land and in marine systems (IPCC, 2019a, b; 2014), which has implications for ecosystem composition and ecosystem service delivery. Mobile species are likely to shift over longer distances (e.g., birds, pollinators, etc.). Changes in tree species distributions and the poleward migration of freshwater fish appear to be affecting where and how timber harvesting and freshwater fishing occurs in Canada (Poesch et al., 2016; Ste-Marie, 2014).

Range shifts for a variety of tree species in Canada have been observed, including northward shifts in red maple, sugar maple and paper birch (Boisvert-Marsh et al., 2014). There is limited evidence of southward shifts for balsam fir, white spruce and black spruce based on sapling establishment; however, this may be related to the effects of natural or human-induced disturbances (Boisvert-Marsh et al., 2014). In the north, northward shifts in the sub-Arctic tree line have been observed (Rees et al., 2020; Gamache and Payette, 2005), and shrubification is causing an irreversible shift from tundra to shrubland (Fraser et al., 2014, Hill and Henry, 2011; Myers-Smith et al., 2011). These range shifts have implications for a variety of forest-associated ecosystem services, including timber production, carbon storage (see Box 5.2), nature-based recreation, the provision of wild food and water quality regulation. Range shifts of forest insects (Nantel et al., 2014) and agricultural pests (see Sector Impacts and Adaptation chapter; Campbell et al., 2014) are also likely to impact these services, but in often unpredictable ways (Scheffers et al., 2016), as the exact nature of these changes over space and time is uncertain.

Similarly, range shifts in lake-dwelling fish species have been observed, such as the northward shift in sunfish species of 13 km per decade to occupy more northern lakes in eastern Canada (Alofs et al., 2014). Changing ocean conditions due to climate change have led to substantial geographic shifts in marine animals, a pattern that is expected to continue or accelerate in the future. With rising ocean temperatures, marine species are already shifting poleward (Palacios-Abrantes et al., 2020; Poloczanska et al., 2016) or into deeper water (Dulvy et al., 2008) to stay within their preferred temperature range. Movements can be temporary; for example, greater proportions of Pacific hake (whiting) migrated northward into Canadian waters during the warm 1998 and 2015 El Niño events (Berger et al., 2017). Shifts are also associated with ecological responses and altered food-web interactions, which increase uncertainty of stock productivity and the vulnerability of fish to pollution and exploitation (Cheung, 2018; Cheung et al., 2016). These distribution shifts may simultaneously lead to the loss of native fish (e.g., Arctic cod) and opportunities for new fisheries (Stern and Gaden, 2015). Similar patterns with variable effects across economically-valuable species are expected for other locations in Canada, including the Pacific Coast (Okey et al., 2014) and the Great Lakes (Collingsworth et al., 2017).

Other potential changes to ecosystem services due to shifts in species and ecosystem distributions include the loss of berry production in the Arctic due to shrubification (Stern and Gaden, 2015), tree range expansion (Pearson et al., 2013), increased risk of diseases (such as Lyme disease) as host species (e.g., deer tick) expand their ranges northwards (Ogden et al., 2014; Leighton et al., 2012) and reduced diversity of crop pollinators (Kerr et al., 2015).

The capacity of ecosystems and individual species to adapt to climate change through range shifts, however, is not without limits. Organisms are limited in the range of environments to which they can adapt. Many have limited dispersal ability and there is not always access to newly suitable habitat in which to colonize (Lipton et al., 2018). In coastal regions, for example, beaches, dunes, sand spits, barrier islands and their associated coastal marshes can adjust to increasing sea levels by continuous landward migration (Savard et al., 2016). In some cases, however, this migration is impeded by infrastructure (such as sea walls) or by naturally-rising land (Pontee, 2013). This leads to coastal squeeze, and can result in the loss of coastal marshes and other valuable ecosystems (see Case Story 5.1).


Protected and conserved areas

Protected and conserved areas constitute a key component of Canada’s approach to climate change adaptation and GHG emissions reduction, and are important tools for maintaining ecosystems and their services (Mitchell et al., 2021). By providing habitat and refuge for biodiversity and sequestering carbon (see Box 5.2), protected and conserved areas increase adaptive capacity and the resilience of ecosystems as a whole, while also conserving their ability to deliver ecosystem services. Understanding where ecosystem services are produced and where people benefit from them is another factor to consider when it comes to effectively conserving ecosystems services (Mitchell et al., 2021).

As a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has committed to protecting at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020 (Biodivcanada, 2020). At the end of 2019, 12.1% of Canada’s terrestrial area (land and freshwater) was conserved (including 11.4% in protected areas), and 13.8% of Canada’s marine territory, was conserved (including 8.9% in protected areas), having surpassed the original target for marine areas (Government of Canada, 2020).

There are many types of protected and conserved areas, allowing for different activities and resource uses at the national, provincial, territorial and local level. Examples include:

  • Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) (see Case Story 5.4), which are a classification developed through the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada (Biodivcanada, 2020), in response to Canada’s commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity. This classification recognizes the important leadership role played by Indigenous people in managing their land, as well as the importance that such areas can play in biodiversity conservation and the protection of cultural heritage.
  • Large forested national and provincial protected areas, which can serve as an important carbon sink at the global level, while also providing a range of ecosystem services (e.g., improved water and air quality, recreational opportunities for people, refugia for migrating species and pollinators, etc.).
  • Protected and conserved areas at the local level—including urban greenspaces, municipal parks and wetlands—which deliver a range of services, such as benefits to human health by reducing the impacts of extreme heat related to climate change (see Case Story 5.7 and Section

The national network of protected and conserved areas takes into account diversity across ecosystems and species, and at the genetic level. For instance, more biodiverse forests can sequester more carbon and are better equipped to resist invasions and disease (Bunker et al., 2005). Habitat connectivity is another important consideration for protected and conserved areas in the face of climate change, as species ranges respond and adapt to changing conditions. For instance, the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative is an international effort to link conserved land, and maintain and connect substantial suitable habitat for wildlife to migrate and adapt as needed in a changing climate (Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, n.d.). As viable habitats move northwards, it may be necessary to reconsider park and refuge boundaries to continue to protect species, while providing habitat and services for nature and people (Graumlich and Francis, 2010).


Impacts will vary across Canada’s ecosystems and regions

Ecosystem responses to climate change across Canada’s regions will vary. Northern, mountainous and coastal regions are especially vulnerable to climate change impacts on ecosystem services, due in large part to limited adaptation options. Strengthening the adaptive capacity of people and communities living in these regions is vital to maintaining ecosystem services.

Climate change is affecting Canada’s ecosystems in different ways, affecting their ability to deliver services to the communities that rely on them. Ecosystem responses will also vary depending on their exposure and sensitivity to climate change impacts, and their particular thresholds and tipping points. Understanding, assessing and mapping ecosystem changes, threats to ecosystem services and the vulnerability of communities to these changes can help to identify priority areas and pathways for adaptation. Strengthening the adaptive capacity of the communities that rely on ecosystem services is important for their preservation in the face of a changing climate, and also for minimizing the consequences to these communities in terms of human health, well-being and livelihoods.



Climate change impacts on Canada ecosystems will be unevenly distributed across the country (see Figure 5.8). Similarly, responses of ecosystems to these changes will also vary (Breshears et al., 2011). In particular, Canada’s northern, mountain and coastal regions are projected to see large and rapid changes due to climate change (Bush and Lemmen, 2019; IPCC, 2019a; IPBES, 2018). In many of these locations, impacts from climate change are overwhelming the capacity of ecosystems to buffer variability, with accompanying changes to ecosystem services. Managing these changes will challenge the ability of social-ecological systems to react adaptively.

Figure 5.8


Map of Canada with icons and text overlain where climate change will impact ecosystems and their services. In the North, reduced ice cover will affect economic development and Indigenous ways of life, permafrost degradation will affect northern infrastructure, changing animal distributions will affect food supply, and reduced reliability of ice roads will affect access to remote mine sites and Northern communities. On the east coast, sea-level rise and increased coastal erosion will affect infrastructure and heritage sites. In Ontario, increased temperatures will affect human health due to heat stress and vector-borne diseases and the Lower Great Lakes water levels will affect shipping, hydropower production, and recreation. In the prairies, incidents of drought will affect forests and agriculture. On the west coast, reduced glacier cover will affect western water resources and hydropower production, and increased pests (for example, pine beetle) will affect forest productivity and fire activity.
Figure 5.8

Climate change impacts in different regions across Canada, many of which have implications for ecosystems and their services.


Adapted from Government of Canada, 2014.

At the same time, certain segments of the Canadian population are more vulnerable to changes in ecosystem services due to their physical location, reliance on these services or socioeconomic status (Pearce et al., 2012; Ford and Pearce, 2010). Examples include Indigenous communities; communities that depend on natural resources for livelihoods (see Rural and Remote Communities chapter); communities located in Arctic, alpine or coastal areas; and individuals that are socioeconomically disadvantaged. While often resilient and adaptive, many of these communities have limited resources, access to technology and alternatives to ecosystem services that they can use to efficiently adapt to changes in ecosystem service provision. Various tools exist that can help to enhance the adaptive capacity of these communities, including by facilitating the integration of biophysical and socioeconomic data into risk identification processes and to support management decisions (see Box 5.3).


Northern regions

Northern Canada has warmed and will continue to warm at more than double the global rate (Bush and Lemmen, 2019), with implications for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (Pithan and Mauritsen, 2014; Screen and Simmonds, 2010). Canada’s North is projected to experience increased temperature and precipitation, and decreased snowfall (Cohen et al., 2019; Vavrus et al., 2012; Callaghan et al., 2011), with associated changes in permafrost, sea ice and glaciers (Derksen et al., 2018). Rapid, widespread and significant ecosystem changes that have been observed and/or are expected, include:

  • Increased growth of shrubs (shrubification), vegetation shifts and loss of Arctic tundra (Pearson et al., 2013; Myers-Smith et al., 2011);
  • Poleward shifts in species and ecosystem distributions, including animal and plant species, and forest ecosystems (Kortsch et al., 2015; Brommer et al., 2012);
  • Changes in snow cover, snowmelt, water availability and quality (Evengard et al., 2011);
  • Invasions of new fish species and changes to freshwater and marine fisheries (Wassmann et al., 2011);
  • Decline in caribou (see Case Story 5.3; Cressman, 2020; Mallory and Boyce, 2017), related to reduced access to food due to earlier and faster snowmelt and increasing freeze-thaw cycles, and increased harassment by insects (Cressman, 2020; Johnson et al., 2012; Hansen et al., 2011b).
  • Loss of sea ice and negative impacts on polar bear and seal populations (Stirling and Derocher, 2012);
  • Thawing of permafrost, destabilizing infrastructure and loss of soil carbon (Schuur et al., 2015); and
  • Increases in net primary productivity in some areas in the western Northwest Territories and Yukon (Boone et al., 2018; Stralberg et al., 2018), with implications for carbon dynamics and carbon storage.

These ecological changes will have cascading impacts that affect a wide range of ecosystem services, including food provision, freshwater supply and quality, climate regulation, community health and recreation opportunities (Stern and Gaden, 2015; Allard et al., 2012; Kelly and Gobas, 2001). Cascading impacts are when a hazard generates a sequence of secondary events in natural and human systems that result in physical, natural, social or economic disruption, and where the resulting impact is significantly larger than the initial impact (IPCC, 2019b). Such impacts are complex and multi-dimensional. For example, projected thawing of permafrost in the Arctic is anticipated to affect plant and animal distributions, which could lead to a decline in hunting species and negative impacts on local food security (see Figure 5.9).

Figure 5.9


Illustration of key climate impacts and their impact on the environment and society. A warming climate and melting permafrost causes the release of stored carbon, shifts in vegetation and animal habitat, changes to the water cycle, and soil instability. These key impacts lead to environmental impacts, such as changes to landscapes and natural heritage sites, more frequent forest fires, greater runoff, changes in freshwater chemistry, more frequent and intense floods, coastal erosion, and soil subsistence. These environmental impacts lead to socioeconomic impacts, such as impacts on cultural values, Indigenous ways of life, community well-being, tourism, and employment and job security. Socioeconomic impacts also include declining health and rising healthcare needs, declining food security, displacement of communities, strain on infrastructure and services, and declining water quality and availability.
Figure 5.9

The effects of climate change on permafrost and their cascading impacts throughout society and environment.


Data source: IPCC, 2019b.

Northern communities are especially vulnerable to ecosystem shifts and the corresponding changes to ecosystem services. Many northern and Indigenous communities rely on provisioning services for their food security—including wild game, marine mammals, fish and plant species (Hoover et al., 2016)—which climate change is already threatening (see Case Story 5.3 and Rural and Remote Communities chapter; Beaumier and Ford, 2010; Wesche and Chan, 2010). Alternatives to these food sources are limited and also extremely expensive given transport costs to the North (Mead et al., 2010). As a result, climate change may increase food insecurity in the North. Nature-based recreation, sport hunting and wildlife viewing are important components of northern economies (Chanteloup, 2013); the loss of wildlife species and shifts in their distributions may make these activities more difficult and unpredictable, while also threatening traditional cultural activities (Ford and Pearce, 2010).

Due to their remoteness, small populations and being located near the northern range limits of many species, northern communities tend to have fewer options available for adapting to changes in climate—such as extreme weather events, sea ice decline and thawing of permafrost (with resultant impacts on infrastructure)—thereby affecting their adaptive capacity (Meredith et al., 2019). While Indigenous communities are highly adaptive, limited financial resources and organizational capacity can further constrict adaptation options (see Northern Canada chapter; Meredith et al., 2019).


Mountain regions

Canada’s mountainous regions are vulnerable to changes in climate, including increased temperatures and rainfall, more extreme weather events, more variable snowfall (Kohler et al., 2014; Gonzalez et al., 2010) and increased frequency of wildfires (Rocca et al., 2014). Alpine species and ecosystems are considered to be especially vulnerable to climate change, as their ability to move to higher altitudes and track climate conditions is limited by the physical height of the mountains where they are located (Rudmann-Maurer et al., 2014). Climate change is projected to result in changes to snowpack (Würzer et al., 2016), loss of mountain glaciers (Shugar and Clague, 2018), the upward movement of the tree line, and the loss of alpine species and ecosystems (Rudmann-Maurer et al., 2014). For example, glaciers of the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rocky Mountains experienced dramatic changes from 1919 to 2009, losing 22.5% of their total area while retreating more than 1.1 km on average over this time period (Derksen et al., 2019; Tennant and Menounos, 2013).

These changes are expected to impact key ecosystem services in these regions. In particular, loss of glacier and snow cover in mountain areas and thawing of permafrost, in combination with more extreme rainfall events, is predicted to result in increased rock fall and mudslides in some alpine areas (Huggel et al., 2011). Changes to mountain forests may also compromise their ability to protect against flooding, debris flow, landslide, rock fall and avalanches (Lindner et al., 2010). In addition, increased frequency of disturbances such as fires, wind throws and pest infestations would affect water runoff and quality (Lindner et al., 2010). Finally, landscape aesthetics may be impacted by glacier retreat and the loss of snow-covered areas for significant portions of the year, as well as shifting patterns of recreation as new areas for tourism emerge and people seek out mountain areas as refuge from heat waves (Palomo, 2017). For example, the Canadian Rockies are predicted to see a tourism increase of up to 36% by 2050 driven by warmer weather, but a potential decrease by 2080 as environmental impacts and glacier disappearance reduce the area’s suitability for nature-based recreation (Palomo, 2017).


Forested regions

Climate change impacts on forest ecosystems and services will vary across Canada’s forested regions and will often be cumulative (see Sector Impacts and Adaptation chapter). Climate change is a critical driver of progressive disturbances—such as pest infestations, which influence the likelihood of immediate disturbance events—while also affecting long-term forest structure and composition (van Lierop et al., 2015; Sturrock et al., 2011; Burton, 2010). Increasing disturbance is likely also affecting carbon storage (see Box 5.2; Arora et al., 2016; Kurz et al., 2008), recreation and water quality regulation (Ford, 2009).

Increased wind throw risks in eastern Canadian forests, as a consequence of decreased soil frost duration (Saad et al., 2017), and the die-off of aspen from drought in Alberta and Saskatchewan are also anticipated (Michaelian et al., 2010). A similar regional vegetation die-off occurred in the southwestern US due to drought and a bark beetle outbreak in 2002‒2003 (Breshears et al., 2005). In this case, tree die-off led to decreased firewood and piñon pine harvesting, reduced soil erosion regulation, altered viewsheds and reduced recreation quality, although it did increase fodder production for cattle (Breshears et al., 2011). Similar changes to forest ecosystem service provision in Canada as a result of climate change may occur in specific regions.

There is an increased risk of wildland fire and drought, in the short term (Boucher et al., 2018; Boulanger et al., 2017a), as increases in temperature are projected to surpass the moderating effects of increasing precipitation on fire weather (Zhang et al., 2019). Across Canada, fire dynamics and resulting impacts on forest ecosystem services will vary substantially (Boulanger et al., 2017a; Hope et al., 2016). This spatial variation in fire activity will have significant impacts on forest ecosystem services and costs of fire suppression across Canadian provinces. For example, the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 cost over $3.9 billion (Insurance Bureau of Canada, 2019) and has resulted in long-term and widespread effects on rivers in the region, with resultant impacts on water quality (see Water Resources chapter; Emmerton et al., 2020). The potential for “mega-fires” in temperate and boreal forests due to climate change and forest management (e.g., fire suppression) will also increase with climate change (Adams, 2013). These types of large fires can shift vegetation from conifer-dominated boreal forest ecosystems to deciduous ones, or could have the potential to change temperate forests in certain locations to non-forested vegetation (Boulanger et al., 2017b). Such thresholds, if crossed, would have significant impacts on ecosystem services such as carbon storage, timber supply, climate regulation, water provision (since vegetation regrowth reduces available water) and recreation (see Sector Impacts and Adaptation chapter; Mina et al., 2017; Adams, 2013).

Various approaches are being used to reduce the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems and species, such as reducing the risk of fire through active fuel management (e.g., thinning, debris removal and prescribed burning) (Astrup et al., 2018; Schroeder, 2010), planting a greater proportion of fire-tolerant species and deciduous trees (Bernier et al., 2016) and, in certain cases, pursuing assisted migration of vulnerable and important species (see Case Story 5.2)


Coastal regions

Canada has the world’s longest coastline, measuring over 240,000 kilometers (Taylor et al., 2014). Coastal regions are home to approximately 6.5 million Canadians and are a defining element of our national identity (Lemmen et al., 2016), as well as critical contributors to the economy (Association of Canadian Port Authorities, 2021, 2013). Given the importance of coastal ecosystems for coastal protection, erosion control, marine fisheries, carbon storage, habitat-fishery linkages and recreation (Barbier et al., 2011), the loss and degradation of coastal areas are likely to have substantial impacts on the provision of ecosystem services from these regions (Bernhardt and Leslie, 2013). The extent of impacts to ecosystems and people will depend on the success of adaptation measures.

Although the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems remain poorly quantified (Lemmen et al., 2016), documented climate risks within Canada include higher temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, more intense storm surge events, changing sea levels, diminishing sea ice, changes to hydrology (including glacier melt) and changes to ocean-water properties (e.g., temperature, salinity, acidification and hypoxia) (Lemmen et al., 2016). The impacts of changes in sea ice, sea level changes and ocean acidity are briefly reviewed in the Sector Impacts and Adaptation chapter.

Rising sea level can lead to the reduction and loss of important coastal habitats such as salt marshes through a process known as “coastal squeeze” (Savard et al., 2016; Hartig et al., 2002). This occurs when ecosystems are unable to migrate landward in response to sea level rise due to a barrier, such as a sea wall or cliff (see Case Story 5.1; Atkinson et al., 2016). Projections of changes in sea level up to 2100 fluctuate from a rise of almost 100 cm in some East and West Coast regions, to an equivalent fall in sea level (i.e., of almost 100 cm) in some central North Coast regions (Lemmen et al., 2016), due to differences in vertical land motion (e.g., Atkinson et al., 2016). Rising sea levels will lead to increased risk of flooding, inundation and, in some instances, will threaten the viability of low-lying communities, particularly when coastal storms intensify the effects of sea-level rise (Yang et al., 2014).

The North and East Coast regions are experiencing changes to the extent, thickness and duration of sea ice, with declines in extent ranging from about 2.9–10% per decade in the North and 2.7% per decade since 1969 in areas of the East Coast (Canadian Ice Service, 2007). Impacts to people are most pronounced in the North, where changes to sea ice have made travel more dangerous, affected subsistence species (see Figure 5.11), compromised traditional harvesting activities and impacted well-being (Lemmen et al., 2016). Lastly, increasing ocean acidity threatens shellfish and other aquatic organisms, which can impact food provision from fisheries and aquaculture operations in the East and West Coast regions.

Figure 5.11


Illustration of a hunter on a snowmobile on the sea ice and various arctic species showing the impacts of ice clearing earlier in the summer and returning later in the fall across the Canadian Arctic. Across the Canadian Arctic it will be more difficult for communities to safely access the sea ice. On Hudson Bay, ringed seals may not complete their spring moult on the ice, affecting stress levels and pup survival. Polar bears in Hudson Bay are declining and spending more time on land without access to seals. Beluga migrate into Hudson Bay earlier and leave later. Bears are eating more Common Elder eggs, but a longer elder breeding season with less sea ice suggests Elder populations may remain stable. On the coastal Beaufort Sea, some char are migrating earlier to ocean waters and feeding longer in ocean water which is beneficial.
Figure 5.11

Impacts of changes in sea ice on species used for food or other purposes (subsistence species).


Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2019.


Enhancing adaptive capacity

Strengthening the capacity of vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change (i.e., adaptive capacity) is key to facilitating successful adaptation to changes in ecosystem services resulting from climate change. Adaptive capacity can take a variety of forms. Indigenous Knowledge has provided and will continue to provide an important foundation for climate change adaptation (Pearce et al., 2015) in the face of changes to ecosystem services (see Section 5.4 and Case Story 5.3). Diversified sources of livelihood and economic support, and regional planning initiatives that work to collectively conserve and manage ecosystem services also increase adaptive capacity (see Rural and Remote Communities chapter).

Increased educational, logistical and financial resources to support the management and restoration of key ecosystems that provide ecosystem services enhance adaptive capacity (Keesstra et al., 2018). Maintaining and restoring coastal ecosystems, for instance, can reduce the vulnerability of coastal areas to climate change impacts and to the associated loss or reduction in ecosystem services (see Case Story 5.1 and Case Story 5.6). These measures are most effective when specific climate change and ecosystem service risks and hazards are identified and incorporated into nature-based approaches to adaptation (see Section 5.5; Wamsler et al., 2016).

It is also important to address barriers to adaptive capacity. Comprehensive assessments of vulnerability to changes in ecosystem services and capacity to adapt to future climate change impacts have not been completed for Canada (e.g., Ford and Pearce, 2010). These could, however, help to identify opportunities for enhancing adaptive capacity with respect to ecosystem services (Boyd, 2010). In particular, most studies focus on the biophysical impacts of climate change and ecosystem services, but few studies consider the equally important socioeconomic aspects (Ford and Pearce, 2010) or seek to understand how to incorporate this information into management decisions (Keenan, 2015). This lack of information and knowledge will make it difficult for vulnerable communities, which often have limited resources and information, to adapt to the ecosystem service impacts of climate change.


Indigenous Knowledge is vital to maintaining ecosystems

Indigenous Knowledge is critical for maintaining ecosystems and the services they provide in a changing climate. Indigenous Knowledge Systems encompass different perspectives for understanding environmental complexity, and provide strategies to reduce, manage and adapt to environmental change in a place-based and holistic manner.

Indigenous peoples are increasingly taking a leadership role in addressing the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. Given their close connections to nature and the land, Indigenous peoples are closely attuned to, and often directly affected by, changes in ecosystems and their services, which can have important ties to their culture and identity. Future land-use management practices can be better informed by Indigenous Knowledge in a way that optimizes ecological, cultural and economic benefits across their traditional territories and beyond.



Indigenous peoples in Canada—including First Nations, Inuit and Métis—have been leading the protection and conservation of their traditional territories and homelands for millennia. Today, this continues through the work of Indigenous Water Protectors, Guardians, Watchmen and many other Indigenous-led initiatives to champion resiliency and harmony with Mother Earth. Indigenous peoples have strong cultural and spiritual connections to land and water, as well as long histories of adapting to social and environmental changes. They have often resided for millennia in their territories through the learning and sharing of adaptive knowledge (Houde, 2007), and this has led in many cases to increases in local biodiversity (Harlan, 1995; Blackburn and Anderson, 1993). For instance, a recent study found that Indigenous-managed lands in Canada have slightly greater levels of vertebrate biodiversity than protected areas, while also supporting a greater number of threatened vertebrate species (Schuster et al., 2019). Partnerships between Indigenous communities and other government agencies could further enhance biodiversity conservation efforts.

However, the decoupling of Indigenous lifestyles from traditional lands and the degradation of the environment can erode cultural practices, language and local ecological knowledge, ultimately compromising the sustainability of both cultural and environmental systems. Worldwide and within Canada, significant portions of Indigenous populations live in regions—such as coastal, low-lying and flood-prone areas—that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Indigenous populations also tend to practice resource-based livelihoods; depend upon the land as a source of food, traditional medicine and identity; and continue to live with the impacts of colonization and historical trauma. Climate change often exacerbates these pre-existing conditions (Pearce et al., 2015; Berrang-Ford et al., 2012; Nakashima et al., 2012).


Indigenous ways of knowing

It would be misleading to imply that a list of common cultural traits could describe the richness and diversity of Indigenous peoples. Within Canada, there exists a wide variety of nations, customs, traditions, languages and worldviews. Nonetheless, there are similarities between Indigenous Knowledge Systems (ways of knowing). These relate to in-depth knowledge of place accumulated over long timeframes, as well as a framework for understanding complexity.

Indigenous Knowledge has been described as a process that explores how constituent parts of a system interrelate, and how the systems they are a part of change over time and relate to larger systems (Berkes, 1998). It is a cumulative body of knowledge, practice and values, which are acquired through experience and observations on the land or from spiritual teachings, and handed down from generation to generation (Noongwook et al., 2007; Government of Northwest Territories, 2005; Cruikshank, 1998; Huntington, 1998). This may include an understanding of the interrelationships that occur among species, their connections within the biophysical environment, the spatial distributions and historical trends of spatial and population patterns. This form of knowledge evolves over long time periods and involves constant learning-by-doing, experimenting and knowledge-building (Houde, 2007; Neis et al., 1999; Nickels, 1999; Duerden and Kuhn, 1998; Ferguson and Messier, 1997; Mailhot, 1993; Freeman, 1992; Johnson, 1992a, b). Indigenous Knowledge provides insights, for example, to:

  • Understand the condition of, and changes to, ecosystem service functions within traditional territories, serving as a means of measuring ecological integrity and resilience;
  • Provide early warnings of stressors to the natural environment (e.g., changes among plant or animal species), including to the impacts of climate change (Olsson et al., 2004); and
  • Create an expanded and multidimensional picture of adaptation related to concepts such as flexibility (e.g., responding to changes in seasonal cycles of harvest and resource use), hazard avoidance (from detailed knowledge of the local environment and understanding of ecosystem processes) and emergency preparedness (e.g., knowledge of how to respond in emergency situations) (Pearce et al., 2015).

The growing realization that many management policies fail to account for the complexity of ecosystems or local contexts has driven the need for new adaptive processes to cope with change (Houde, 2007; Gunderson, 1999; Holling and Meffe, 1996). Indigenous Knowledge provides insights into implications for livelihoods, cultures and ways of life, as well as locally-appropriate and culturally-relevant adaptation strategies (see Case Story 5.3 and Rural and Remote Communities chapter; Pearce et al., 2015; Ford and Pearce, 2012; Pearce et al., 2011) by building quantitative and qualitative data from a large number of variables (Berkes and Berkes, 2008). Recognizing that Indigenous Knowledge Systems differ from non-Indigenous Knowledge and that they form an equal part in policy development, programs and decision making yields richer and more balanced outcomes for maintaining ecosystems and their services, upon which many Indigenous communities rely.


Co-management and Indigenous-led natural resource management

Co-management arrangements that are designed to involve Indigenous peoples from the initial, strategic stages of planning allow for improved, holistic decision making and Indigenous empowerment over the activities taking place on their land (Houde, 2007). This may require flexible legal frameworks to allow for co-management arrangements that change and adapt over time, as trust builds between partners (Houde, 2007). Indigenous ownership and control of their Indigenous Knowledge must be respected. Recognizing the fundamental rights of Indigenous Knowledge holders includes sharing of the monetary benefits obtained from the use of this knowledge (Mauro and Hardison, 2000).

Knowledge co-production—the contribution of multiple knowledge sources and capacities to co-create knowledge—requires open partners who are willing to proceed with humility (Moller et al., 2009b). It is also important to recognize that there are limits to the extent to which scientific and Indigenous Knowledge Systems can be combined. Given that they are based on different methodologies and world views, care must be taken to ensure that knowledge is not blended or extracted from its cultural context so that it retains its own integrity (Moller et al., 2009a; Parlee et al., 2005; Davidson-Hunt and Berkes, 2003). One knowledge system does not need the other to corroborate it in order for it to be perceived as valid (The Indigenous Circle of Experts, 2018).

Canada’s response to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1995) provides guidance on applying Indigenous Knowledge through a code of ethical conduct, which advises to:

  • Respect, preserve and maintain the knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous and local communities, embodying traditional lifestyles relevant to the conservation of biological diversity and sustainable use of natural resources;
  • Promote the wider application of Indigenous Knowledge with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge; and
  • Encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits that arise from the utilization of such knowledge.

Indigenous peoples across Canada are playing an important role in demonstrating leadership on climate action, stewardship and the maintenance of ecosystem services. This can be seen through efforts to safeguard carbon sinks and the development of adaptation solutions—including nature-based approaches and the development and management of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (see Case Story 5.4)—as well as through the implementation of innovative GHG emissions reduction technologies and approaches.


Nature-based approaches to adaptation maximize benefits

Nature-based approaches to adaptation reduce climate change risks to communities, and are often cost-effective and flexible compared with engineered alternatives. They also deliver a wide range of social, environmental and economic co-benefits, and help to strengthen the adaptive capacity of communities.

There is a rapidly growing interest in nature-based approaches to climate change adaptation in Canada. Nature-based approaches for addressing climate change impacts—such as marshland restoration, low impact shoreline development and urban forests—are wide-ranging and tend to offer significant benefits over engineered adaptation options. They have embedded flexibility that allows for greater degrees of uncertainty in future climatic and environmental conditions, and have been shown to deliver a wide range of social, environmental and economic co-benefits, maximizing overall returns on investment. Furthermore, nature-based approaches contribute to strengthening the adaptive capacity of the communities that they are intended to serve, while reducing risks associated with a changing climate.



Ecosystems and nature-based approaches to adaptation can play an important role in reducing climate change risks to communities by providing buffering capacity, strengthening the adaptive capacity of society and social-ecological systems, and contributing to GHG emissions reduction efforts through carbon storage (see Box 5.2). However, the potential and limits of nature-based approaches to adaptation are generally not well understood or quantified (Malhi et al., 2020).


Nature-based approaches to adaptation

Within the context of this section, “nature-based approaches” is used as an umbrella term for the range of approaches to adaptation that are nature-driven—including nature-based solutions, natural infrastructure, ecosystem-based approaches, natural asset management and protected areas. These approaches are rooted in the knowledge that healthy ecosystems, whether natural or managed, provide a diverse range of services that benefit human activity, health and well-being. These approaches also allow for flexibility and learning, which is important when addressing uncertainty and complexity in decision making. Nature-based approaches to adaptation are a rapidly growing area of interest in Canada and are also gaining international recognition. Leading economic and environmental organizations—including the IPBES, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global Adaptation Commission, United Nations and World Economic Forum—are just a few that have endorsed the approach.

Nature-based approaches encompass strategies that integrate the management of land, water and living resources (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2020). Such approaches position decision makers to manage for multiple benefits and build resiliency to change by considering ecosystems as a whole. For example, managing forests for timber production alone would produce different results than also managing for biodiversity and species at risk, while also considering erosion and carbon sequestration. Similarly, a nature-based approach to commercially-valuable seafood considers the range of interactions within and between coastal ecosystems.

Multiple benefits can be gained through the use of nature-based approaches, for both climate change adaptation and GHG emissions reduction, including (see Figure 5.15; IISD, 2019; Raymond et. al, 2017):

  • Reduced impact of flooding;
  • Protection from storm surges and saline intrusion;
  • Provision of habitat and biodiversity preservation;
  • Carbon sequestration;
  • Protection against erosion;
  • Drought mitigation;
  • Regulation of water flow and supply;
  • Improvement of place attractiveness;
  • Improvements to health, well-being and quality of life; and
  • Creation of green jobs.
Figure 5.15


Diagram illustrates how ecosystem services are co-produced by ecosystems, biodiversity, socio-economic and socio-cultural systems, and the climate and physical environment. When assessing ecosystem services, the costs, trade-offs, benefits, and co-benefits for biodiversity, the economy, and community should be considered, as well as the potential for citizen’s involvement in governance and monitoring, the benefits and co-benefits for human health and well-being, and the integrated environmental performance of the ecosystem.
Figure 5.15

Framework used by Raymond et al. (2017) for the assessment of co-benefits from nature-based approaches.


Adapted from Raymond et al., 2017.

The role of nature-based approaches is evolving rapidly, as interest and the knowledge base grows. This section discusses different types of nature-based approaches and includes a series of case stories describing these approaches in practice. Future assessments will have a more robust body of existing knowledge to draw from and will discuss the topic in greater detail.

Marshland restoration in response to sea-level rise

Restoration of riparian zones and riverine buffers support water infiltration, reduce erosion and regulate water availability throughout a season. Municipalities are increasingly acquiring and restoring land in floodplains (see Case Story 5.5), as well as restricting development in flood-prone regions through insurance regulation (e.g., in Montreal). For example, the Tantramar Marshlands near Sackville, NB, are an ecologically and culturally significant region that is at risk from sea-level rise and increased inland flooding events (Wilson et al., 2012). Traditional infrastructure in the form of dykes are being installed to alleviate flooding, alongside salt marsh restoration—a nature-based approach to adaptation. Restored salt marsh can provide flexible protection from certain climate change impacts (see Case Story 5.1 and Case Story 5.5; van Proosdij et al, 2016). In addition to addressing water level concerns, salt marshes provide habitat for birds and marine species, trap sediment and distribute nutrients to key coastal species (Deegan et al., 2012). Recognizing the important role of wetlands in combating climate change and its impacts, an allocation of $1.8 million from the $75 million federal Coast Restoration Fund was announced in 2018 for further wetland and marsh restoration of 75 hectares in the Bay of Fundy, NB.

Low impact shoreline development

Low impact shoreline development is an approach that can be used for waterfront property owners and managers to develop their properties in a shore-friendly way that helps to preserve or restore physical processes, maintain or enhance habitat function and diversity along the shoreline, prevent or reduce pollutants entering the aquatic environment, and avoid or reduce cumulative impacts (Green Shores, 2021). In B.C., the voluntary and incentive-based rating program, Green Shores, is providing training, credit and rating guidance, as well as certification for nature-based shoreline development that reduces impacts on ecosystems and increases resilience to climate change (see Case Story 5.6).

Urban forests

Urban forests provide ecosystem services evaluated at $330 million per year for Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, without including the value associated with tourism, recreation or increased property values (Alexander and DePratto, 2014). They also deliver a wide range of benefits and can help to reduce impacts associated with climate change impacts (see Case Story 5.7; Cities and Towns chapter), such as higher temperatures and heat waves (Sinnett, 2018; Brandt et al., 2016; Livesley et al., 2016; Rahman et al., 2015), while also storing water and reducing stormwater runoff (Berland et al., 2017; Bartens et al., 2008) and contributing to carbon sequestration (Nowak and Crane, 2001). They also deliver a number of social and economic benefits, including (Bardekjian, 2018):

  • Promoting physical activity by providing space for recreation and creating an appealing outdoor environment;
  • Promoting mental well-being and stress reduction;
  • Promoting social interaction and a sense of community, including stronger ties to neighbours, a greater sense of safety, and more use of outdoor public spaces;
  • Making cities more beautiful and hiding unattractive features like walls, freeways, and parking lots;
  • Reducing air pollution and provide oxygen; and
  • Helping provide habitat for wildlife and preserve biodiversity.

Greenways and greenbelts around urban areas

Several urban centres in Canada (e.g., the National Capital Region in Ottawa, Ontario; Calgary, Alberta; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario) have developed greenways around the cities to conserve green space and maintain the ecosystems in the region and the services they provide (see Case Story 5.8).

Nature-based vs. engineered approaches

While adaptation is often associated with technological innovations or new infrastructure, strategic maintenance and management of natural systems can yield similar outcomes that are less expensive than engineered options and often deliver additional benefits beyond the targeted issue (Shreve and Kelman, 2014). Recent syntheses found that restored habitats for coastal defence (e.g., salt marshes and mangroves) are cost-effective alternatives to traditional infrastructure, with significantly lower costs for certain habitats (Morris et al., 2018; Narayan et al., 2016).

A 2014 study evaluated the effectiveness of three “soft” or nature-based approaches in BC for addressing sea-level rise, in comparison to equally appropriate “hard” or engineered approaches (Lamont et al, 2014). The “soft” approaches in question included a beach nourishment/shore replenishment alternative, use of nearshore intertidal rock features and use of a typical headland beach system to maintain a conventional beach. The study found that in the three case examples, the “soft” alternatives provided a significant cost advantage over the “hard” alternatives, with a margin of cost savings ranging from 30–70% of the cost of the “hard” alternative (Lamont et al., 2014). Other examples of cost-benefit analysis can be found in the Costs and Benefits of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation chapter.

The Green Infrastructure Guide for Water Management discusses ecosystem-based management approaches for water-related infrastructure projects (UNEP, 2014). The guide outlines nature-based approaches that are relevant for water resources management—this also includes approaches that consist of built or “grey” elements, which interact with natural features to enhance water-related ecosystem services (see Table 5.2; UNEP, 2014). At the municipal level, the approach of natural asset management has also been gaining traction in recent years (see Case Story 5.9 and Cities and Towns chapter).

Table 5.2

Nature-based approaches for water resource management

Water management issue (primary service to be provided) Green infrastructure solution Location Corresponding grey infrastructure solution (at the primary service level)
Watershed Floodplain Urban Coastal
Water supply regulation (incl. drought mitigation) Re/afforestation and forest conservation x Dams and groundwater pumping

Water distribution systems

Reconnecting rivers to floodplains x
Wetlands restoration/conservation x x x
Constructing wetlands x x x
Water harvesting* x x x
Green spaces (bioretention and infiltration) x
Permeable pavements* x
Water quality regulation Water purification Re-afforestation and forest conservation x Water treatment plant
Riparian buffers x
Reconnecting rivers to floodplains x
Wetlands restoration/conservation x x x
Constructing wetlands x x x
Green spaces (bioretention and infiltration) x
Permeable pavements* x
Erosion control Re-afforestation and forest conservation x Reinforcement of slopes
Riparian buffers x
Reconnecting rivers to floodplains x
Biological control Re-afforestation and forest conservation x Water treatment plant
Riparian buffers x
Reconnecting rivers to floodplains x
Wetlands restoration/conservation x x x
Constructing wetlands x x x
Water temperature control Re-afforestation and forest conservation x Dams
Riparian buffers x
Reconnecting rivers to floodplains x
Wetlands restoration/conservation x x x
Constructing wetlands x x x
Green spaces (shading of water ways) x
Moderation of extreme events (floods) Riverine flood control Re-afforestation and forest conservation x Dams and levees
Riparian buffers x
Reconnecting rivers to floodplains x
Wetlands restoration/conservation x x x
Constructing wetlands x x x
Establishing flood bypasses x
Urban stormwater runoff Green roofs x Urban stormwater infrastructure
Green spaces (bioretention and infiltration) x
Water harvesting* x x x
Permeable pavements* x
Coastal flood (storm) control Maintaining/restoring mangroves, coastal marshes and dunes x Sea walls
Maintaining/restoring reefs (coral/oyster) x
Note: Green infrastructure solutions marked with ‘*’ consist of a hybrid of green and “grey” elements that interact to enhance ecosystem services.

Source: UNEP, 2014.


Moving forward

There are a number of emerging issues, knowledge gaps and research needs related to how climate change is affecting ecosystem services, and to help integrate ecosystem service considerations and adaptation opportunities into climate change planning.


Knowledge gaps

While there is ongoing research on biodiversity and ecosystem services across the country, there are areas where further knowledge is needed.

Climate change impacts to ecosystems and their services

Considering the complexity of ecosystems, it is challenging to anticipate the multitude of ways in which climate change will affect individual species, interactions between species, changes in ecosystem processes and functions, and how these various changes will translate to impacts for ecosystem services.

Additional research is also needed to better understand how changes to ecosystem services under a changing climate will affect the communities that rely on them for livelihoods, health and well-being. Comprehensive assessments of vulnerability to changes in ecosystem services and capacity to adapt to future climate change impacts would help to identify opportunities for enhancing adaptive capacity with respect to ecosystem services (Boyd, 2010).

Data and information

More open source data, national standards on what constitutes successful and sustainable nature-based approaches, metrics, approaches for monitoring and inventories, and improved collection and sharing of baseline data would support more cohesive and coordinated biodiversity research on climate change impacts and adaptation (Biodiversity Adaptation Working Group, 2018). Specific data and information needs include:

  • Improvements of spatial datasets and indicators of ecosystem service flows;
  • More data on the impacts of phenological changes on ecosystem services and non-monetary valuation of ecosystem service flows;
  • Development of metrics and standards (beyond forests) to track rates of land-based and coastal carbon sequestration and storage;
  • Better identification of hotspots of vulnerability and resilience; and
  • Increased monitoring to understand the effectiveness of adaptation approaches.

Gaps also exist in the mechanisms for providing access to information and facilitating collaboration beyond government agencies. Accessible guidance, resources and tools are also needed to support decision makers in integrating adaptation and landscape-level resilience through ecosystem service approaches.


Emerging issues

Achieving and maintaining resilient ecosystems, communities and economies will benefit all Canadians. As research and implementation of climate change strategies emerge and evolve, there are several areas where progress may advance quickly, as well as issues that require further attention. This section highlights some emerging issues that may play key roles in the resilience conversation with respect to ecosystem services, as it moves forward.

Valuation of nature-based approaches

Valuing ecosystem services and natural assets, applying different approaches to decision making and assessing the costs and benefits of nature-based approaches to adaptation compared with engineered approaches are rapidly evolving areas of work that are gaining considerable interest and profile in Canada.

With increased incidences of flooding across Canadian urban centres and in coastal regions, there is renewed interest in valuing and utilizing nature-based approaches to meet needs that are normally provided by “grey” or engineered infrastructure. For example, forests and wetlands reduce the impact of floods, soil erosion and landslides, while improving water security (Seddon et al., 2020), as well as providing further ecological benefits (e.g., providing habitat, cultural services, etc.) and cost savings.

Municipalities are making economic arguments for maintaining natural systems to provide needed services, particularly those related to water provision and regulation (see Case Story 5.9). Currently, a range of approaches to valuation have been applied, including replacement cost (where services have the potential to align with Public Sector Accounting Board requirements), restoration costs (where Low Impact Development is utilized), and land value (where management requires transfer of ownership rights). In the process, it is important for municipalities to recognize that natural systems can be overwhelmed when their capacity is exceeded, and begin to consider natural systems as a component of a sustainable infrastructure strategy that includes both “grey” and natural components.

Improved integration of Indigenous Knowledge

As highlighted in Section 5.4, improved integration and consideration of Indigenous Knowledge will play an important role in addressing climate change impacts to ecosystems and their services, and for adaptation planning across Canada. This cannot be done without acknowledging the harms that have historically eroded trust between Indigenous groups and settler communities. As part of the national effort to commit deeply to the truth and reconciliation process, capacity building and empowering Indigenous leadership and autonomy are important elements in partnering and deeply engaging with Indigenous communities on climate change.

Growing role for citizen science

With mobile technology and applications that permit real-time data-sharing about natural phenomena to online repositories (e.g., for water quality, migrating birds, documenting flowering times, etc.), citizens can participate in improving the coverage of knowledge related to changes in ecosystem services, while also becoming involved in tracking changes across the country. Many tools are available to leverage human interest in monitoring information with a great deal of coverage, for very little cost. Interest in participating in unique activities has created opportunities to gather monitoring information in a number of places that could not feasibly be monitored previously, and this interest can be channelled as an effective tool for building knowledge and awareness. Furthermore, engaging local citizens in data collection can built adaptive learning, social capital, and encourage the ethos of stewardship and care of local ecosystems over the long term.

Broadening collaboration

Extending beyond traditional partners and seeking new collaborations in maintaining ecosystem services, and the design and implementation of nature-based approaches to adaptation will help to fuel innovation. In some cases, this may require overcoming barriers in communicating the value of biodiversity and ecosystem protection, particularly in terms of maintaining ecosystem services under a changing climate. The promotion of ecosystem services within the context of climate change adaptation measures could be tailored to different audiences using terminology that is familiar to them, while highlighting the relevance of these measures to target groups. The term “ecosystem services” is not understood by all, but the concept of deriving benefits from nature is widely recognized and is relatively easy to explain and connect to particular groups.

Innovative investments and partnerships

Innovative investments and partnerships are emerging for investments in nature-based approaches and the preservation of ecosystems and their services. For instance, the Government of Canada announced the $500 million Canada Nature Fund in late 2018, which will provide matching funds for provincial, territorial, municipal and NGO-led projects to achieve conservation goals. Other financing opportunities that blend public and private funds―such as green bonds, social finance models, and nature-based insurance mechanisms, among others―can be devised to provide needed investments in nature-based approaches and the preservation of ecosystems and their services. Major federal infrastructure funding also exists under the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund and the Adaptation, Resilience and Disaster Mitigation sub-stream of the federal Green Infrastructure Fund.

Growing private interest in nature-based approaches to adaptation

Globally, the private sector is increasingly acknowledging the importance of healthy and intact ecosystems. The World Economic Forum (2020) has listed biodiversity loss and environmental damage, failure to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate change, and extreme weather and natural disasters as the top three risks to the global economy over the past six years. Businesses are increasingly seeking enhanced understanding of operational risks, supply chain continuity, liability risks and market disruptions that could result from the loss and degradation of ecosystems and their associated services.



Climate change presents a multitude of risks, opportunities and trade-offs for Canada’s ecosystems and the people that rely on them. The nature and severity of the impacts will depend on the rate and magnitude of climate changes in the years to come and in the success of adaptation measures. An improved understanding of the multiple drivers of change that affect ecosystem services, as well as the ways in which changes to ecosystem services affect communities and vulnerable segments of the population can help to target the most effective adaptation strategies. Natural systems can also play an important buffering role in terms of reducing the severity of climate change impacts. Nature-based approaches to adaptation have been shown to provide comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and flexible approaches that promote a suite of co-benefits, particularly compared with engineered approaches to adaptation. This is a rapidly growing field of interest and study in Canada, which promises to produce new knowledge and lessons learned in the years to come.



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Appendix 1

The following table was developed by the author team for this chapter and reflects their collective expert opinion on the ways in which climate change is affecting ecosystem services in Canada, the social and economic consequences of those impacts and related opportunities for nature-based approaches to adaptation and/or GHG emissions reduction.

Table 5.4

Ecosystem services, threats and opportunities

Ecosystem services Climate change threats to ecosystem services Social and economic consequences of climate change impacts on ecosystem services Opportunities for nature-based adaptation and/or GHG emissions reduction
Maintenance of options

(i.e., the ability of ecosystems to provide services and maintain options for present and future generations)

  • Land-use change leading to loss of species and ecosystems, carbon storage
  • Degraded water sources
  • Increased costs to society
  • Increased prevalence of disease
  • Limited options for future generation
  • Loss of local cultures, practices, languages and knowledge
  • Protecting species and maintaining ecosystems (e.g., Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas)
  • Ecosystem restoration
Climate regulation

(i.e., the ability of ecosystems to sequester and store carbon)

  • Land-use change and deforestation leading to reduced rates of carbon sequestration
  • Altered vector population dynamics
  • Impacts to water and food security
  • Reductions in biodiversity
  • Loss of livelihoods (e.g., ecotourism, fishing and forestry)
  • Reduced water and food security
  • Economic losses associated with flooding, drought and loss of land
  • Emergence of climate refugees
  • Green infrastructure
  • Reforestation and restoration of ecosystems
  • Climate friendly urban design, biomimicry


Regulation of freshwater quantity, flow and timing

(i.e., the use of freshwater for domestic consumption, agriculture, industry, transportation and recreation)

  • Changes to seasonal stability and timing of water supplies
  • Depletion of aquifers and base flows
  • Deglaciation
  • Loss of vegetative cover
  • Increased reliance on technological solutions for water storage and transport
  • Impacts to human health
  • Impacts to livelihoods
  • Flooding and associated social, health, and economic costs
  • Restoration of freshwater ecosystems
  • Improvements in efficiency of water use
  • Green infrastructure (e.g., creation of wetlands)
  • Decreasing impermeable surfaces
  • Increasing natural vegetation in urban and semi-urban areas
Regulation of freshwater and coastal water quality

(i.e., delivery of high water quality for human consumption, biodiversity and economic development)

  • Altered vector population dynamics
  • Increased prevalence of disease and pests
  • Land-use change in upland ecosystems
  • Contamination resulting from natural disasters including floods
  • Impacts to public health
  • Increase of disease/costs of health care from contaminated water.
  • Economic loss
  • Maintaining upland ecosystems
  • Revise wastewater regulations to require tertiary treatment and resource recovery
Regulation of hazards and extreme events

(i.e., biodiverse and healthy ecosystems reduce impact of fires, flood, landslides, drought and extreme heat)

  • Loss of plant and animal communities
  • Reduction in long-term groundwater storage
  • Impacts of extreme heat, drought and fire to ecosystem functioning
  • Vulnerability of forest ecosystems to fire
  • Mortality
  • Injury
  • Economic loss
  • Increased cost to society for mitigating hazards
  • Opportunity cost
  • Green infrastructure to help buffer impacts of extreme events
  • Utilization of nature for refuge and recovery spaces after extreme events
  • Incentives to vacate flood areas and restore natural ecosystems instead of building dykes


Habitat creation and maintenance

(i.e., sufficiently intact natural habitat to support biodiversity)

  • Land-use change leading to loss of ecosystem services
  • Shifting species distribution ranges
  • Disturbance


  • Opportunity cost
  • Reduction in population for species of cultural and economic importance to communities
  • Increasing connectivity of ecosystems
  • Green infrastructure in urban areas
  • Connectivity across transportation routes
Regulation of air quality

(i.e., the exchange of trace gasses and deposition of particulate matter by ecosystems)

  • Reduced capacity to regulate from excessive pollution
  • Harvesting of forests
  • Increased disease and mortality
  • Increasing healthcare costs
  • Green infrastructure in urban areas to increase service (e.g., tree planting)
  • Reforestation and restoration of ecosystems
Regulation of organisms detrimental to humans

(i.e., the contribution of biodiversity and ecosystems to human health)

  • Habitat loss
  • Land-use change
  • Altered vector population dynamics
  • Increase in invasive alien species
  • Loss of biodiversity; shifts in species range
  • Increased disease and mortality from extreme weather and water-borne diseases
  • Increasing healthcare costs
  • Economic loss
  • Fostering greater biodiversity in all systems
  • Management of vector species
Pollination and dispersal of seeds and other propagules

(i.e., the role of pollinator species in plant reproduction, food production and maintenance of terrestrial biodiversity)

  • Habitat loss
  • Lack of diversity in systems
  • Environmental pollution
  • Introduction of alien species
  • Economic loss
  • Loss of cultural traditions and diversity
  • Reduced food security
  • Loss of pollinated foods and medicinal plant crops


  • Fostering greater biodiversity in all systems
  • Green infrastructure (e.g., to increase connectivity in systems, provide habitat and food sources)
  • Increase diversity in food systems
Regulation of ocean acidification

(i.e., the contribution of ocean ecosystems to climate regulation)

  • Loss of coastal ecosystems leading to loss of mitigation opportunities
  • Environmental pollution
  • Introduction of alien species
  • Economic loss (decrease in commercial and subsistence shellfish fisheries)
  • Reduction in coastal tourism
  • Loss of livelihoods and entire economies in some places
  • Protection of coastal habitats
Formation, protection and decontamination of soils and sediments

(i.e., the role of soil in the provision of water and nutrients for terrestrial vegetation; global carbon and nitrogen cycles)

  • Land-use change contributing to soil loss and erosion
  • Loss of carbon storage
  • Reduction in quality and quantity of water
  • Economic loss
  • Increased risk of disease by pests and pathogens
  • Food security (less nutritious foods)
  • Flooding and relocation related to sea level rise
  • Soil biodiversity management practices
  • Low input agricultural practices


Food and feed

(e.g., crops, livestock, fisheries, aquaculture, wild foods)


  • Competition for land, water and energy
  • Overexploitation
  • Availability of land with adequate climatic and soil conditions
  • Available sources of water for irrigation
  • Increased prevalence of pests and toxic contamination


  • Loss of livelihoods and entire economies in some places
  • Reduced food security (from impacts on crops and fisheries)
  • Economic loss
  • Depression and reduced job security for workers
  • Encouraging natural pest regulation
  • Managing regulating services for system resilience
  • Managing wetlands for flood control
  • Land-use management regulations that expand/retain areas for conservation and agricultural
  • Moving production further north when environmental requirements of species allow
Materials and assistance

(e.g., timber and fibre for construction material, clothing and raw materials)

  • Fire management
  • Soil degradation
  • Reduced water regulation and quality
  • Impeded carbon storage capacities
  • Overexploitation
  • Reduction in diversity of species
  • Compromised ecosystem integrity
  • Loss of livelihoods and entire economies in some places
  • Loss of cultural traditions and diversity
  • Reduced security from increased fires
  • Fire management
  • Natural pest management
  • Building Code requirements for timber construction

(e.g., charcoal, hydropower, wind, biomass, solar power, geothermal)

  • Increased reliance on renewable energy
  • Competition for land, water and energy
  • Impacts to biodiversity
  • Impacts to food security and human health
  • Loss of livelihoods
Medicinal, biochemical and genetic resources

(e.g., medicines derived from biochemical and genetic resources)

  • Climate-related biodiversity loss
  • Invasive species
  • Overexploitation


  • Loss of cultural traditions and diversity
  • Impacts to human health
  • Risks associated with disease
Learning and inspiration

(i.e., nature-based opportunities for scientific research, art, restoration, and inspiration)

  • Land-use change associated with urban areas
  • Overharvesting of resources
  • Loss of local cultures, practices
  • Loss of culture, identity
  • Decrease in well-being
  • Fostering greater biodiversity in all systems
  • Management focused on key ecosystems, biodiversity
Supporting identities

(i.e., physical places that are symbolic and/or that are a part of social relationships that form cultural identities)

  • Loss of local cultures, practices, languages and knowledge
  • Restricted availability of local resources
  • Loss of biodiversity of significance
  • Impacts to culture, identity, emotional and social well-being
  • Decrease in well-being; impacts to mental health
  • Loss of subsistence economy
  • Social-ecological modelling to understand impacts of climate change on Identity
  • Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs)
Physical and psychological experiences

(i.e., the importance of nature to physical and mental health)

  • Land-use change leading to lack of access to nature
  • Loss of local cultures, practices
  • Impacts to culture, identity, emotional and social well-being
Source: This table is based on the expert opinion of the author team.


  1. Patent pending.

Costs and Benefits of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation