Federal Coordinating Lead Author:
David Reidmiller, U.S. Global Change Research Program
Lead Author:
Katherine Weingartner, U.S. Global Change Research Program/ICF (through September 2017)
Contributing Authors:
Apurva Dave, U.S. Global Change Research Program/ICF

Looking Abroad: How Other Nations Approach a National Climate Assessment


The government of Canada has completed six national-scale science assessments of climate change impacts and adaptation since 1998. Each assessment has included regional and/or sectoral analysis. Led by federal government departments, these assessments involved multiyear, collaborative processes that engaged academia, all levels of government, industry associations, Indigenous organizations, and the private sector. The current assessment process was launched in 2017 and will be completed in 2021.

Assessment Mandate and Objectives

National assessment products, rather than being nationally mandated, are deliverables of government programs supported though specific federal budget cycles. Assessment processes focus on the development and dissemination of products that synthesize and provide value-added analysis of the current state of knowledge. Assessments build awareness of the issues; inform research priorities, policy responses, and adaptation strategies; and enhance capacity to undertake adaptation. These goals are achieved through an inclusive, scientifically rigorous assessment process and the resulting reports.

Assessment Process

The lead federal department (currently, Natural Resources Canada) works with contributing departments to coordinate the assessment process and provide other secretariat functions. A multi-stakeholder advisory committee oversees the process and provides guidance and input throughout, from scoping to post-release. Subject matter experts are engaged as lead and contributing authors, while expertise in areas such as information technology and technical editing is contracted, as required. In addition, each assessment process includes extensive peer review to ensure accuracy and relevance. New elements of the current assessment process include a greater focus on communications, increased engagement of a broad range of Canadians, and the development of a suite of products that will be released over the assessment cycle, rather than just one large volume at the end.

Assessment Content Structure

Canadian assessments focus on climate change impacts and adaptation and draw from all relevant existing sources of knowledge (peer-reviewed publications, gray literature, Indigenous knowledge, and practitioner experience). Climate trends and projections for Canada are included to establish a robust, national overview of current and future changes in physical climate, in the context of informing the impacts and adaptation discussions. Since assessment activities are not legislated, there is flexibility in determining the content and structure, and these decisions take user needs into account. Past assessments have taken either a regional approach—addressing all major regions of Canada or a specific sensitive region (for example, marine coasts)—or a sectoral approach, focusing on a specific sector (for example, health or transportation) or multiple sectors within one volume. Increased engagement, interest, and resources have allowed the current assessment process to expand to include both regional and sectoral volumes, as well as stand-alone reports on climate trends and projections (led by Environment and Climate Change Canada) and on health issues (led by Health Canada).

International Dimensions

The 2008 assessment5 included a chapter titled “Canada in an International Context.” This chapter examined how climate change impacts on other countries, and their adaptation responses, could affect Canada. Sections focused on continental effects (North America), the surrounding oceans, and global impacts. The chapter also discussed Canada's international obligations on adaptation. The 2021 assessment will include a chapter on international dimensions that addresses transboundary issues, trade and supply chains, and linkages between adaptation, sustainable development, and disaster risk reduction globally.

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