Wetlands & Climate Change

In January 2008, the Government of Alberta released Alberta's new Climate Change Strategy. This strategy built on Alberta's 2002 Climate Change Action Plan by taking the next step to ensure that Alberta remains at the forefront of addressing this global environmental issue. The new strategy formulates three goals:

  • Implementation of carbon capture and storage technologies;
  • Greening energy production; and
  • Conservation and efficient use of energy.

The Government of Alberta acknowledges that the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate and that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are the leading cause of these changes. Climate change will bring with it significant negative impacts on the economy, human health and ecosystems across Alberta, including wetlands (Sauchyn and Kulshreshtha, 2008).

The main climatic drivers in the development of wetlands are precipitation and temperature, both of which are predicted to change significantly in response to climate change. There is unanimous agreement among climate models that atmospheric temperatures will increase across continental western Canada, including Alberta, and that precipitation may increase or decrease, depending on location. As a result, the impacts of a changing climate on wetlands in Alberta will be diverse and include:

  • Small wetlands will dry up and disappear, including many in the prairie and southern boreal forest regions;
  • Permanent wetlands in prairie and southern boreal forest regions will become seasonal and subject to greater variation in water levels;
  • Peatlands in central and northern Alberta will decrease in size;
  • Wetlands underlain by permafrost will shrink or disappear;
  • Biodiversity of plants and animals will decrease as habitat for wetland-dependent species, for example caribou, waterfowl and many plants and mosses, will be reduced or lost;
  • Fire frequency and intensity will increase and burn many peatlands in central and northern Alberta;
  • The water retention and purifying ability of many wetlands will be impaired, resulting in increased flooding and lower water quality; and
  • Peatlands in central and northern Alberta may become significant sources of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in response to lower water levels and increased risk of wildfires.

Considering that much of Alberta's landbase is covered by wetlands, it is imperative to recognize the potential magnitude of negative impacts that climate change can impart on these important ecosystems. Currently, neither the Climate Change Action Plan nor the forthcoming Alberta Wetland Policy provides any direction on how to mitigate potentially negative impacts on Alberta's wetlands resulting from climate change.

Alberta's Climate Change Strategy- http://open.alberta.ca/dataset/e86a9861-aa19-400e-bb7a-909ef8ccfe46/resource/ad5754f4-cc7f-40bf-a2ad-0775bd83ba7e/download/4063885-2008-Albertas-2008-Climate-Change-Strategy.pdf

Sauchyn, D. and S. Kulshreshtha. 2008. Prairies. Pages 275-328 in Lemmen, D.S., F.J. Warren, J. Lacroix, and E. Bush (eds.), From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007. Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON,

Canada. http://adaptation.nrcan.gc.ca/assess/2007/pdf/ch7_e.pdf