As blazing, record-setting hot temperatures continue to cascade across Western Canada, a new federal report says that such extreme weather events, and the exorbitant costs associated with them, are going to be much more common should the country not be prepared enough for the disastrous effects of climate change.
According to the 734-page report from Natural Resources Canada, the “deep and lasting impacts” of Canada’s already changing climate will be felt heavily by all in many different aspects across the country.
Extreme weather events, much like the heat wave in Western Canada, as well as shifting rainfall patterns, higher temperatures and rising sea levels will “persist, and in many cases, will intensify over the coming decades,” the report reads.
The climate effects would impact all sectors of Canada’s economy, the report said, with disruptions to supply chains and production. Abroad, changing weather patterns could strongly affect food availability, trade and immigration — all of which would place additional stresses on Canada’s communities.
While the report’s stark warning also included ways to mitigate the climate changes’ effects, much of the emphasis was placed on adaptation.
Environmental Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said that while there was still talk of climate change mitigation, Canada now has to be thinking about how to adapt to some impacts already being felt.
“Clearly, that means we have to be thinking about how we adapt to some of the impacts of climate change that we’re seeing today and that are already baked into what we’re going to see over the next number of years,” said Wilkinson in a press conference Tuesday.
In an interview Monday with Global News, Natural Resources Canada’s Fiona Warren expressed the same sentiment.
“Climate change is happening now, most of the impacts are going to persist and in many cases, they will intensify,” she said. “So with this knowledge, we have a need to adapt now.”
The call for adaption comes amid glaring holes in Canada’s “preparedness” for the impending climate crisis, according to the report.
Many communities, ranging from small towns to Canada’s largest cities, are expected to witness extreme weather events like severe heat waves, floods and windstorms in the near future.
The report also pointed to the country’s infrastructure in particular, with everything ranging from roads to sewers and hydro lines being at particular risk.
The cost of climate change
According to the report, a rise in insurance claims for climate-related damage was used to predict the economic costs of the climate crisis.
Between 1983 and 2007, insurance losses related to extreme weather totalled about $400 million a year on average. By comparison, those same losses from between 2008 and 2018 averaged at $1.9 billion yearly.
The report did point to Alberta as being “the epicentre of extreme weather events” when it came economic losses, with a $3.9 billion insurance payout over the Fort McMurray wildfire disaster in 2016 alone, but said that six out of the 10 “largest insured loss events” in Canada had occurred in that province since 1983.
Country-wide, the report also said that Canada’s infrastructure was originally designed for a northern climate, and not built to weather a rapidly-changing one.
Federal and provincial authorities need to start investing now in the country’s infrastructure to update and adapt to the country’s changing climate, the report said.
“Whether it’s floods or wildfires or the other impacts on our infrastructure, the costs are going to be tremendous and those costs can’t be borne by municipalities alone,” said Taylor Bachrach, the NDP MP of B.C.’s Skeena–Bulkley Valley.
“The federal government has to have the backs of municipalities and local governments across Canada rely heavily on property taxes to fund their infrastructure.”
According to Bachrach, what’s needed now is neither mitigation nor adaption — it’s both.
The financial impacts of climate change will only get worse if the government doesn’t tackle greenhouse gas emission in a “concerted way,” he said.
Extreme weather events
The report’s release comes amid a blistering heat wave that has barraged Western Canada over the last week.
On Monday alone, B.C. set over 50 temperature records. On Tuesday, the province’s small community of Lytton broke the national heat record for the third day in a row, reaching temperatures in excess of 49 C.
According to David Wayne Phillips, a senior climatologist for Environment Canada, what’s being experienced now in Western Canada isn’t just “your normal heat wave.”
According to him, there’s an element that’s different to this heat wave than any other.
“I think it is probably the human component,” he said, adding that climate itself doesn’t make extreme weather events like tornadoes or hurricanes — “it just makes them worse.”
Communities and industry are already adapting
Though the report points to many shortfalls in the country’s climate action plan, several Canadian cities have already taken it upon themselves to adapt and undertake mitigation efforts against climate change.
Brampton, Ont. released their environmental master plan in back in 2014, and has for the last seven years worked towards a comprehensive restructuring of the city’s environmental performance.
In 2018, Burnaby, B.C., implemented a bylaw mandating electric vehicle charging be built into all new residential buildings.
The clean energy sector in Canada already employs over 430,000 people and is projected to grow by almost 50 per cent within the next 10 years. Conversely, the fossil fuel sector is expected to see a nine per cent decrease in employment in the same time period.
Despite that, the calls from the report still ring clear in that Canadian officials need to be working immediately to prepare for the future.
“So we need to see more investment from the federal government. We need to see communities given the tools so that they can adapt to the impacts that are already with us,” said Bachrach. “And most importantly, we need to see communities across the country having the support to reduce their emissions and transition to the clean energy economy.
“That work needs to take place faster than ever because this is an emergency. We’re in a crisis and we need the government to act like it.”
— with files from the Canadian Press, David Akin and Kam Razavi