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Climate change could make Canada's North an economic hothouse

Ottawa Citizen
Rabdy Boswell

A top U.S. geographer says Canada will emerge as a major world power within 40 years as part of a climate-driven transformation of global trade, agriculture and geopolitics highlighted by the rise of the "Northern Rim" nations.

UCLA scientist Laurence Smith, whose previous studies have documented the toll that climate change is taking on Arctic ecosystems and communities, examines the full range of effects of global warming — many of them positive for places such as Canada — in his new book The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future, to be released next week.

Along with climate change, Smith identifies population growth, looming resource scarcity and global economic integration as the key forces shaping the planet's immediate future.

"In many ways, the New North is well positioned for the coming century even as its unique ecosystem is threatened by the linked forces of hydrocarbon development and amplified climate change," states Smith, who describes in a UCLA-issued summary of his book how climate field research in Arctic communities exposed him to both the costs and benefits of a rapidly changing northern environment.

"I kept badgering people for stories about climate change," Smith says.

"They'd sigh and oblige me, but then say, 'There's also this oil plant going up behind me,' or 'All these Filipino immigrants are pouring in.' Within about two months, I realized there is a lot more going on up there besides climate change. Climate change is a critical threat to many people, but it isn't the sole development in their lives."

The book, to be released Sept. 23, suggests Canada and the other "NORCs" — Northern Rim Countries — are poised to become polar tigers similar to how several smaller Asian countries emerged in recent decades as powerhouse Pacific Rim economies.

Arctic oil and gas deposits are seen as key to catapulting Canada into a higher income bracket in the global community. Projected population growth — expected to be proportionally greater in northern latitudes than elsewhere, according to Smith — is also seen as central to the rise of his "New North" on the world stage.

"As worldwide population increases by 40 per cent over the next 40 years, sparsely populated Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and the northern United States will become formidable economic powers and migration magnets," states the UCLA summary of Smith's vision. "While wreaking havoc on the environment, global warming will liberate a treasure trove of oil, gas, water and other natural resources previously locked in the frozen North, enriching residents and attracting newcomers."

Those resources will become available "precisely at a time when natural resources elsewhere are becoming critically depleted, making them all the more valuable."

Smith, a professor of geography and earth sciences, gained international recognition in 2005 when he led a scientific study documenting the late-20th-century depletion or disappearance of hundreds of Arctic and sub-Arctic lakes around the world, a result of warming global temperatures and rapidly changing hydrological conditions in northern countries.

But Smith contends that countries in southern climes will have to contend with far greater pressures on scarce water resources and will face a host of other wrenching, climate-driven social changes that northern nations will largely escape.

"In many ways, the stresses that will be very apparent in other parts of the world by 2050 — like coastal inundation, water scarcity, heat waves and violent cities — will be easing or unapparent in northern places," Smith states. "The cities that are rising in these NORC countries are amazingly globalized, livable and peaceful."

His book includes a list of northern cities — in Canada, the Northern U.S., Scandinavia and elsewhere — that will "increase in size and prominence" as climate changes drive the Northern Rim phenomenon over the next four decades: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Seattle, Calgary, Edmonton, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Ottawa, Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Much of what Smith envisions is already influencing political and economic policies in northern countries. Officials from Canada and the four other nations with Arctic Ocean coastlines — Russia, the U.S., Norway and Denmark — have met regularly in recent years to co-ordinate planning for increased tourism, oil and gas development and shipping activity on their polar frontiers.

Northern countries stand to benefit significantly from the opening of Arctic shipping lanes during summer months, Smith predicts. And residents of northern communities — many of them populated by indigenous peoples — will gain new economic and social status in the coming decades, the book argues.

"NORCs will be among the few places on Earth where crop production will likely increase due to climate change," the UCLA summary states, and "NORCs will become the envy of the world for their reserves of fresh water — which may be sold and transported to other regions."

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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