Climate change

WCS Canada uses cutting-edge science to understand the impacts of climate change on wildlife and natural resources, plan conservation for a rapidly changing world, and implement on-the-ground solutions to protect ecosystems.  In fact, we bring a climate focus to all our efforts to save wildlife and wild places in recognition of the enormous threat that human-driven climate disruption poses to our planet.

Climate change will increasingly become the biggest threat facing wildlife worldwide, both because of its direct impacts and because of the way it builds on other threats, such as habitat loss, to imperil wild species. It is happening faster in Canada than in many other countries – twice as fast as the global average – and within Canada it is happening even faster at northern latitudes. In Canada’s Arctic, temperature records are now being constantly broken and conditions are changing rapidly, with receding sea ice and melting permafrost.

Key to our efforts is driving interest and investment in natural climate solutions, such as the protection and rebuilding of carbon sinks like forests and wetlands, which is an essential part of the climate response alongside efforts to curb carbon emissions. Better land stewardship is critical to curtailing growing atmospheric carbon concentrations and has also been proven to provide a wide variety of environmental, social and economic benefits. Canada has a particular responsibility to protect its vast natural storehouses of carbon, such as the Hudson Bay lowlands or the carbon locked in boreal forest soils and vegetation, and to ensure we do not trigger a release of powerful greenhouse gases from these areas through poorly planned development.

   

Our work to help wildlife includes looking ahead to what the likely impacts of climate change will be and at how we can reduce impacts. In the Arctic, for example, we are tracking whale movements to better understand potential conflict between increased ship traffic made possible by longer ice-free periods and marine mammals.  We are using our findings to advocate for measures like shifting shipping routes and reducing ship speeds that our research shows are effective ways to lessen noise pollution, collisions and disturbance. 

In Ontario, we are working to build a picture of future conditions for freshwater fish in the far north of the province, a globally significant intact area dotted with hundreds of lakes and crisscrossed by dozens of rivers inhabited by more than 50 species of fish.  We have mapped out which species in which areas would be most likely to be affected by climate impacts like warming waters in an effort to highlight areas that may serve as climate refuges for cold water fish and to point to areas where introducing additional impacts, such as resource development, could severely reduce survival rates for fish when combined with the effects of a changing climate. 

In fact, much of our work to highlight the importance of conserving large, intact wild areas and watersheds  -- from Alberta’s Bighorn to the Yukon’s Peel Watershed – is aimed at ensuring wild species have room to adapt to habitat shifts and other climate impacts.  In the southern Yukon and northern BC, for example, we are looking at how to design conservation and protected area networks on still-wild landscapes before development pressures, and climate impacts, increase.  Similarly, our work on identifying Key Biodiversity Areas across Canada is also an opportunity to identify areas that will be critical for helping wildlife cope with a changing climate.

We know wildlife are already facing rapidly changing conditions with more extreme weather and increasingly intense wildfires, and will be impacted by other major changes, in future.  Our task is both to limit these impacts as much as possible and to take concrete action now to help species survive the changes to come.

Photo credits: Thumbnails | 1. Jukka Jantunen ©, 4. Hilary Cooke © WCS Canada

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Address: Suite 204, 344 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3A7 | 416-850-9038