Change in Canada: Future Scenarios

In the wake of the 2018 IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C, the imperative for acting on climate change has never been stronger. The potential exists to galvanize climate action at all levels of Canadian society. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson noted, “[b]ig cities have taken a leadership role by implementing practical environmental initiatives...We need other governments around the world to make similar commitments towards increasing energy efficiency, reducing reliance on non-renewable energy, and thereby reducing our greenhouse gas footprint.” (July 2015 Big City Mayors’ Caucus). The time is ripe for the federal government to step up and stimulate ‘changes’ to move Canada towards a low-carbon economy and sustainable society; however, this begs the question,

What kind of changes are necessary?



We have prepared three scenarios that depict likely outcomes from different development paths, based on degrees of institutional and social change explored through the Meeting the Climate Change Challenge (MC3) project. The scenarios capture different ways our institutions, communities and societies could develop and operate in the face of global climate change.


Incremental change – Small steps towards climate action that are ‘politically safe’, such as focusing on energy efficiency measures. These changes do not call into question our current approaches to natural resource development, socio-political arrangements, economy and existing infrastructure.

Reformative change – Actions that require bold technological and social innovation supported by significant government leadership and incentives, which lead us toward a low or carbon neutral economy. These changes involve reform of the dominant socio-political systems and major reform of infrastructure (e.g., district energy systems, decentralization of the grid).

Transformative change – A fundamental shift in governance and socio-political systems, resulting in a carbon restorative economy (i.e., net return of carbon from the atmosphere to the biosphere).



The interactive scenarios below allow you to explore three alternative future development paths for Canada. Click on one of the five categories - energy technology, environment, role of governments, economy, and quality of life and values, and a list of items related to its respective category will appear. Click one of the items to see the different outcomes associated with incremental, reformative and transformative change. To reset and collapse all categories, click the title at the top of the scenario explorer.

Please wait for the scenario explorer to load and appear below, or click here to open a full screen version of the explorer.



On October 30th, a diverse group of scholars from the Sustainable Canada Dialogues project met to discuss these three scenarios, and how wide and deep do we need to go to successfully mitigate and adapt to climate change. The panelists included


Professor Ann Dale, Moderator, School of Environment & Sustainability, Royal Roads University
Professor Catherine Potvin, Department of Biology, McGill University, Trottier Fellow from the Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy Director, Panama Field Study Semester
Dr. Normand Mousseau, Department of Physics, Université de Montréal
Professor John Robinson, Associate Provost, Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Professor, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and Department of Geography, University of British Columbia
Dr. Meg Holden, Urban Studies and Geography, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Sarah Otto, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia
Dr. Anthony Perl, Department of Political Science, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Aerin Jacob, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Victoria


Click here to read the conversation


Resources and References

Black, R., Adger, W. N., Arnell, N., Dercon, S., Geddes, A., & Thomas, D. S. G. (2011). Migration and global environmental change: Future scenarios. London, UK. Retrieved from

Moore, A. W., L. King, A. Dale, and R. Newell. (2018). Toward an integrative framework for local development path analysis. Ecology and Society 23(2), 13.

Torrie, R. (2013). An 80% Carbon reduction: It’s not just business as usual. Trottier Energy Futures Project. Retrieved from