Climate change is here and we need a game plan
The recent unprecedented and shocking heatwave in Western Canada this summer is the latest evidence of two essential truths:
- We need strong offence — we must reduce emissions as quickly as possible to limit our growing risk from climate change in the future.
- We cannot ignore defence any longer — we are not prepared for the worsening severe weather we are already experiencing and must act with urgency to defend lives, health and property.
As a hockey coach might put it, we need to work hard at both ends of the rink.
That means staying on the offence to cut emissions. But it also means playing strong defence by making our communities better prepared for — and more resilient against — climate-influenced events and disasters.
In Saskatchewan, there have been close to 600 wildfires so far this year, more than double the five-year average. Province-wide drought conditions have ravaged farms and challenged government programs that support the agriculture sector. Two storms on July 22 and July 27, with hail, high winds and flooding rain, resulted in 2,200 claims for vehicle and property damage. Golf ball-sized hail pummelled Regina and Assiniboia August 31, and insured losses continue to be assessed for this event.
In late June, the Insurance Bureau of Canada partnered with a broad coalition of Canadian organizations — including municipalities, disaster relief organizations, insurance industry representatives, physicians, Indigenous organizations, environmental NGOs and think tanks, to launch Climate Proof Canada. We came together to amplify an urgent message: People in Canada are increasingly vulnerable to severe, climate-influenced weather events. But, focused government action can create a culture of preparedness and help to protect the health, homes and quality of life of all residents.
Let there be no doubt: Across Canada and around the world, climate change is contributing to more wildfires, hailstorms, heatwaves, windstorms, and intense flooding. It is increasing our exposure to risk. For instance, 20 per cent of households in Canada now have some vulnerability to floods — with 11 per cent defined as being at high risk. Each year, more people are being exposed to the risk of wildfire and extreme heat.
The human, financial, health, and social costs of climate-influenced events continue to escalate, with outsized effects being felt by Indigenous peoples and other vulnerable communities.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that $5.3 billion is required annually to protect our infrastructure from emerging climate risks. At the same time, our communities need new tools and resources to address and combat the increasing number of health challenges being caused by our changing climate.
The takeaway is clear: Canada has the opportunity to be a leader in adaptation — but we need to invest today to reduce the risks we collectively face due to the climate emergency. We need to do more to protect Canadian communities and families from potentially catastrophic impacts and their cascading effects, such as the increased wildfire risk brought on by extreme heat.
Defending against climate-related impacts will never be easy. In Canada, this will be particularly true as we are warming at twice the rate of much of the rest of the world. It also won’t be easy given the diverging opinions on how best to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, while also protecting jobs in high emission sectors of the economy. Decision-makers will need to develop the capacity to better coordinate information gathering and strategy and policy development.
Climate Proof Canada believes that new investments could help reduce the risks we collectively face from the climate emergency. The federal government can make immediate and important progress by creating a much-needed national game plan. In addition to immediate emissions reductions, that means:
- Moving quickly to put in place a comprehensive National Climate Adaptation Strategy that incorporates measurable targets, leverages private-sector capacity and includes nature-based solutions. This will help drive and verify progress toward meaningful investments that provide real and lasting protection to health and property.
- Appointing an advisor on national disaster resilience — a senior position empowered to inform and advise the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the rapidly changing landscape of climate-based and other disaster risks.
- Extending and enhancing recent work to reduce the risk and impact of flooding across Canada.
- Ensuring that sustainable finance initiatives help public and private organizations to assess, disclose and manage escalating physical risks.
Over the past several years, Canada has made important strides and commitments toward reducing emissions and fighting climate change for the long term. But we need bold action to protect communities now. We need to adapt.
Our coalition was actively engaged in the recent federal election campaign to reach out to all party leaders and local candidates to raise awareness and seek support for a plan to make our communities more resilient.
We will continue to remind the new federal government that offence wins games, but defence wins championships.