Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Environment in 2023

The green energy race heats up—and so does our planet
Brad Badelt
Environment 2023

The outlook for Earth in 2023 is bleak. The Arctic permafrost is melting, heatwaves and floods threaten our homes, and invasive species are setting up camp. The good news: renewable energies are on the rise, and Canada has an edge in the carbon-capture market.

1. We’ll battle more invasive species 

Yet another reason to fear the ravages of climate change: it can accelerate the spread of invasive species while making it more difficult for native ones to survive. Experts say there are more than 1,000 invasive species already in Canada, and the number is quickly rising. The sirex woodwasp, a black-bodied, wood-eating insect that’s native to Europe, only arrived in Ontario and Quebec in 2005. But a warming climate has helped it to flourish and outcompete local wasps, sucking the life out of evergreen forests and prompting panic in rural areas. The round goby eats the eggs and young of native fish and is spreading across Ontario. And the Eurasian milfoil—better known as the “zombie plant” because of how its parts split off, reproduce and choke out other life—was recently spotted in British Columbia. In 2023, communities like the Nipissing First Nation in northern Ontario will take matters into their own hands, using drones to survey for invasive plants and enabling ground crews to find and remove them.

2. More retailers will sell a green agenda

Buy a T-shirt, combat climate change. According to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund, online searches for sustainable goods increased by more than 70 per cent over the past five years. The Vancouver clothing company TenTree plants 10 trees for every piece of clothing sold. Since launching in 2012, TenTree claims to have planted a whopping 81 million trees around the world. 

3. Homes will need an energy retrofit

Older homes can be full of character and charm, but they can also be drafty and expensive to heat. Roller-coaster costs are driving more people to save by spending on an energy retrofit. The first step: an energy audit to see where upgrades are needed, such as adding insulation to the walls and roof, installing better windows, or upgrading an inefficient heating or hot water system. The federal government has a program that offers homeowners up to $5,000 in energy retrofit incentives, plus up to $40,000 in interest-free loans. Since launching in 2021, the program has provided $69 million in grants to almost 19,000 homeowners.

4. As energy prices climb, demand for heat pumps will spike

A gas heating system is like an idling car: all winter long, it burns fossil fuel and spews greenhouse emissions into the air. Air-source heat pumps, which operate on electricity, are gaining in popularity as a climate-friendly alternative. Nearly 800,000 homes in Canada use heat pumps, double the number from 20 years ago, with Ontario and Quebec leading the way. Part of their appeal is that they not only heat your home, but cool it too. For homeowners who already own newer furnaces, there’s a hybrid option: heat pumps can provide heat during shoulder seasons and cooling in the summer; the furnace would be used only for the coldest days. According to the Atmospheric Fund, a hybrid system costs about $1,000 to $3,000 more than a conventional one, but could save significant dollars, as well as help curb climate change over the long haul. (And several provinces offer hefty rebates.) The biggest catch? A shortage of trained contractors could mean a months-long wait to get a heat pump installed.

5. Alberta will lead the green energy race

The wild rose province has ramped up its wind and solar energy production faster than anywhere else in the country. By 2023, Alberta will construct nearly $4 billion worth of renewable energy projects—enough to power 1.5 million homes. Those projects will also create 4,500 new jobs. The renewables rush got a boost from Alberta’s deregulated electricity grid, which allows smaller solar and wind companies to ink deals directly with big consumers, including Telus and the city of Edmonton, to reduce their carbon footprints.

6. More people will be forced to abandon flood-prone properties

Floods are the costliest natural disasters in Canada, and they’re only going to grow more frequent and extreme. Coastal provinces face heightened risks from rising sea levels, while inland provinces like Alberta and Manitoba will likely contend with river flooding.

 A 2022 report by the Canadian Task Force on Flood Insurance and Relocation estimated that nearly $3 billion worth of property value is currently at risk of being flooded. The task force recommends that people in high-risk floodplains permanently relocate to drier land, a process known as “managed retreat.” The Kashechewan First Nation in northern Ontario has already agreed to relocate from a flood zone, as have residents of Merritt, B.C., and Gatineau, Quebec. 

7. Heat domes will wreak havoc

Record-high summer temperatures are now an annual tradition. In the North, temperatures skyrocketed to 32 degrees in July in Inuvik—smashing a record set the previous year—and Ontario just experienced the warmest November 5 in recorded history. In cities like Toronto and Vancouver, asphalt and concrete can create “heat islands,” driving temperatures even higher. The heat dome that hit British Columbia in 2021 caused 600 deaths, according to a coroner’s report released last year, and set the stage for countless wildfires—including the massive one that razed the town of Lytton. 

8. The Arctic permafrost melt will create environmental chaos

Nearly half of Canada’s land is frozen permafrost—a layer of rock, dirt and ice that can extend kilometres deep. But as the Arctic quickly warms, permafrost is thawing for the first time in millennia. As the ice melts, trapped organic matter starts to decompose, releasing concentrated carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The land itself can also settle and slump, destroying houses and roads. And bacteria and viruses that have been frozen for hundreds or even thousands of years can escape into the atmosphere, causing untold illness in both humans and animals. Most worrisome of all: in its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes the loss of permafrost as irreversible. 

9. We’ll capture carbon to hold off a climate apocalypse

If the cement industry was a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the United States. The industry relies on an energy-intensive chemical process that releases carbon dioxide, and those emissions have been vexingly hard to cut. But a Halifax-based company might have the answer. Founded in 2012, CarbonCure’s technology captures cement’s carbon dioxide and injects it back into wet concrete, where it bonds with calcium ions. The company claims that the carbon dioxide is stored in the concrete forever. One of their recent projects—rebuilding a tarmac at Calgary’s airport—sequestered roughly 160,000 kilograms of CO2, for example. With backing from Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, CarbonCure seems poised to lead the rapidly emerging carbon-capture market. 

10. More companies will factor climate change into their business plans

Climate change is affecting corporate bottom lines. Extreme storms can cause supply chain delays. Heat waves, like the one that paralyzed China last year, can shut down factories for days or even weeks. Businesses are trying to better understand the climate-induced risks they face, as well as the opportunities. Toronto’s Manifest Climate has developed software to help businesses map out how various future climate scenarios could affect them. The software can also help organizations follow international green regulations and hatch plans to cut emissions. Some big names already using it include Scotiabank, Weyerhaeuser and Teck Resources.