Canada not ready for catastrophic effects of climate change, report warns

Flood roadways kept tens of thousands from getting to their jobs during the height of the flooding in southern Alberta. in 2013. John Lehmann/Canadian Press

Canada is not prepared to handle the devastating and costly effects of increased flooding and extreme weather brought on by climate change, according to a new report released Monday.

The report from the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation found governments at all levels across the country need to take immediate action to make the country’s infrastructure – highways, railways and water supply systems- more resilient or face increasingly catastrophic financial loses in the future.

“The country as a whole is not prepared for climate change, extreme weather events, with a primary focus on flooding,” said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. “There was no particular province that was disproportionately good or bad compared to the other.”

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The report graded each province and the Yukon on its flood preparedness using 12 categories like floodplain mapping, water system management, transportation, public health and safety, and emergency response.

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Ontario scored the highest mark with a B-, while coastal provinces like British Columbia and Prince Edward Island received a D.

Average flood preparedness scores for Canada

Canada not ready for catastrophic effects of climate change, report warns - image
(Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation)

And the financial stakes for dealing with fallout of natural disasters couldn’t be higher.

“The increasing costs of extreme weather to the Canadian economy can also be seen in the rise of catastrophic insured losses from natural disasters,” the report said. “Payouts from extreme weather have more than doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s. For each of the past six years, they have been near or above $1 billion in Canada.”

The 2013 flooding in Alberta, for example, cost more than $6 billion in damages, including $1.9 billion of insurable losses.

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The report card comes as Finance Minister Bill Morneau is set to provide his fall economic update in the House of Commons Tuesday, where he is expected to make an announcement on infrastructure spending.

A new Ipsos poll released Monday found that just 33 per cent of Canadians said they were ‘satisfied’ with the country’s infrastructure. When it came to the area of  flood defences 36 per cent of responded graded them as ‘good’, while 28 per cent said they were ‘poor’ and 28 per cent of respondents didn’t know.

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Feltmate said while much of the government attention has been on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not enough attention has been devoted to addressing problems caused by extreme weather.

“Historically flooding in Canada has really only started to kick in as highly problematic in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “It’s a new area of stress in the system that we are just catching up with now. We are just starting to realize that it exists, and realize that the weather of the past is not the weather of the future.”

The report calls for the federal government and the provinces to each create a position of “chief adaptation officer,” whose mandate would be to identify areas of strength and weakness in flood preparedness and actions to mitigate risk. It also recommends provinces restrict construction on flood plains to limit potential flood damage and where possible infrastructure should be re-built to meet future climate realities.


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