Costs of climate change in Canada go beyond wildfires and floods: a call for urgent action to build resiliency

 The Tip of the Iceberg: Navigating the Known and Unknown Costs of Climate Change in Canada was released on December 3 by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, providing eye-popping evidence of the damage of climate change. Using data from the Canadian Disaster Database (CDD) and the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) – (provided graphically here ) –  the report states that insured losses for catastrophic weather events in Canada totalled over $18 billlion between 2010 and 2019, with the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 the largest single weather-related insurance loss event in Canadian history, with nearly $4 billion in insured losses and broader costs of almost $11 billion when property, infrastructure, business interruption, and other indirect economic losses are included.  The report also notes the growing trends: the number of catastrophic events has more than tripled since the 1980s, and the average cost per weather-related disaster has soared by 1,250 per cent since the 1970s.

The main message of this report is directed at policy-makers, and goes beyond costing out the catastrophic losses. It warns that other types of climate change damages are more gradual and less dramatic in extreme events, and that Canada lags the U.S. and other OECD countries in assessing the overall and complex impacts of climate change. The report hearkens back to 2011 as the  last examination of the broad range of national costs to Canada, in Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada, a report by the now-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, archived in the ACW Digital Library .

The main message of the report appears in this 6-page Executive summary , in the three over-aching recommendations, and in these selected quotes:

 “The imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions tends to dominate the debate over Canada’s progress in addressing climate change. Yet, as a climate solution, adaptation—ensuring human and natural systems can adjust to the spectrum of effects of climate change— will have a critical impact on the well-being and prosperity of all who live in Canada in the decades ahead. Current adaptation policies and investments in Canada fall far short of what is needed to address the known risks of climate change, let alone those that are still unclear and unknown. This has to change…..

……It’s essential to transition from a state of ad hoc responses to a changing climate and weather-related disasters to one of building resilience. This includes continual learning about what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan for uncertainty. Instead of waiting for more information, the uncertainty inherent in climate change requires acting decisively on what we already know while also developing improved foresight.”

 

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices intends to follow up from The Tip of the Iceberg with other reports over the next two years, focused on health, infrastructure, macroeconomics and the North.

 

Architects, planners, and engineers working for climate change mitigation and adaptation

low carbon resilience coverA joint statement, “Advancing Integrated Climate Action”  was released in Fall 2018 by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects , Canadian Institute of Planners , Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and the Canadian Water & Wastewater Association, acknowledging their ethical and civic responsibilities to address climate change issues, undertaking to improve professional development, and calling on all levels of government and Indigenous leaders to  show meaningful leadership in “advocating for integrated climate action and upholding commitments in the Paris Agreement.”  The 3-page Joint Statement, which includes much more,  is here.

What lies behind this statement? A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, in cooperation with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) in Victoria, surveyed and interviewed planning professionals in British Columbia, and provincial and national professional associations on the issue of “low carbon resilience (LCR)”. The final report of their research,  Low Carbon Resilience: Best Practices for Professionals – Final Report   , was released in December 2018, providing case studies, tools and resources. The report includes a conceptual model of Low Carbon Resilience, as well as  best practices case studies of how LCR can be mainstreamed – for example,  local government planning in the City of Hamburg, Germany ; the British Columbia Energy Step Code ;  and the construction and operation of a major health facility, the Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christie Texas . The report also addresses the needs and possibilities for training and continuing professional development, and describes the database of key LCR-related tools and resources which is under construction.

An earlier report,  Professionals’ Best Practices for Low Carbon Resilience Summary of Phase One Engagement of Professionals and Professional Associations and Proposed Research Agenda summarizes the responses regarding individual attitudes and the role of professional associations .  The report identified “siloed thinking among professions” as a barrier to climate change action – leading, for example, to a lack of awareness of  the interconnections between zoning requirements, agricultural uses, biodiversity and infrastructure engineering in decisions about development and infrastructure planning.

The rationale behind the research:  “This project focused on the key role professionals play as change agents in climate action, and what is needed for all sectors to advance uptake of LCR-based practices. Communities and businesses rely on professional planners, engineers, developers, lawyers, and other experts for guidance, design, development, implementation, operations, maintenance and replacement of all aspects of society’s systems. Professionals are seminal in supporting and supplementing capacity at the local scale, where climate change impacts are felt most prominently, and where the greatest burden of response typically resides. It is therefore urgent that professionals are equipped to help local governments think through cost-effective plans that transcend outdated planning.”

It should be noted that Canadian professional engineers are an important part of this system, and  have long addressed their professional role related to climate change.  Engineers Canada’s  most recent Policy Statement on Climate Change details that history, sets out their position and makes recommendations for government.  In May 2018, Engineers Canada issued comprehensive guidelines for standards, practice and professional development in  National Guideline: Principles of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation for Engineers.

Expert Panel proposes 54 measures for climate adaptation

The Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Results was commissioned  by the federal government in August 2017, and on June 26, the Panel released its report,  Measuring Progress on Adaptation and Climate Resilience.   The press release is here , the French version is here .

The mandate of the Expert Panel was to propose indicators to the Government of Canada to measure the overall progress on adaptation and climate resilience, aligned with the thematic pillars of the   Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Accordingly, the Panel winnowed down their recommendations to 54 indicators, presented in five themes/chapters: Protecting and Improving Human Health and Well-Being; Supporting Particularly Vulnerable Regions; Reducing Climate-Related Hazards and Disaster Risks; Building Climate Resilience through Infrastructure; and Translating Scientific Information and Indigenous Knowledge into Action.   “It’s essential that Canadians act now’ on climate change: federal report” appeared in the National Observer as a summary.

Stepping briefly beyond the adaptation mandate, the report also states: “While the focus for this report is on monitoring and evaluating progress on climate change adaptation, the Expert Panel stresses the importance of Canada’s role in mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and advocates for resilience measures that reflect the transition to a low carbon society.”

The Chair of the Expert Panel was Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.   The Panel members, listed here,    were drawn  from academia, Indigenous organizations and governments, the private sector, municipal government, NGO’s and the youth organization Starfish Canada .

102 Cities globally are sourcing 70% of their energy from renewables

Recent meetings have prompted the release of several new research reports about cities, described as the “front-line of climate action” at the 10th anniversary meetings of the EU’s Covenant of Mayors in February . The biggest meeting, and first-ever Cities and Climate Change Science Conference , was co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and was held in Edmonton, Alberta in March 5 – 7. The conference commissioned five reports , and included several others, including “Six Research Priorities for Cities and Climate Change” , which appeared in Nature in February.   Detailed daily coverage of the conference was provided by the International Institute for Sustainable Development  (IISD); the closing press release is here .

In advance of the IPCC Cities conference,  CDP released The World’s Renewable Energy Cities report , with new data that shows  that 102 cities around the world are now sourcing at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewables  (more than double the 40 cities from their list in 2015).  The 102 cities  include Auckland (New Zealand); Nairobi (Kenya); Oslo (Norway); Seattle (USA) and from Canada: Montreal, Prince George ( B.C.), Winnipeg, and  Vancouver.  The full report identifies data by type  of renewable energy: hydropower, wind, solar photovoltaics, biomass and geothermal.  Related, broader reports are: Renewable Energy in Cities: State of the Movement  (Jan. 2018), which offers a global overview of local policy developments and documents  from 2017, and Renewable Energy in Cities  (October 2016) by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

All of  these reports are more encouraging than another recent study in the news:  “Future heat waves, droughts and floods in 571 European cities”, which appeared  in Environmental Research Letters in February 2018.   These are warnings we’ve read before, but this study offers unique detail: it names cities that could be expected to experience the worst flooding in the worst-case scenario – Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Santiago de Compostela in Spain – and those that could expect the worst droughts: Malaga and Almeria in Spain. Stockholm and Rome could expect the greatest increase in numbers of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increases in maximum temperatures.

Some recent news about Canadian cities:

downtown CalgaryAs the IPCC Cities conference met in Edmonton, the nearby City of Calgary convened its own  Symposium  as part of the process to develop its Resilience Plan, to be presented to Council in Spring 2018.  The website provides overview information and links to documentation, including nine research briefs in a series, Building a Climate-Resilient City: Climate Change Adaptation in Calgary and Edmonton  from the Prairie Climate Resilience Centre, a project of the University of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCVancouver:  The Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver recently released two reports from a collaborative project called “Mapping Enabling Policies for Vancouver’s 100% Renewable Energy Strategy”. The Policy Atlas is a brief, graphic guide ; The Dialogue Report summarizes the views and discussion of 19 participants at a workshop held on November 30, 2017 – and attempts to clarify the roles of the federal, provincial, and local governments around issues such as a zero emission vehicles, energy efficiency in housing, land use planning, and electricfication and distributed energy, among others.

Toronto largeToronto: In February, Toronto City Council approved $2.5 million for its Transform TO climate plan  – which is  a fraction of the $6.7 million in the budget recommended by city staff.  The Transform TO  goals include 80 per cent GHG reduction by 2050 (based on 1990 baseline); the website provides documentation and updates.

Finally, the mainstream Globe and Mail newspaper promises a new series of articles focusing on Canadian cities and climate change.  The first installment: “Halifax’s battle of the rising sea: Will the city be ready for future floods and storms?” (March 5).

 

Literature Review of Climate Adaptation by Multinationals

A recent working paper by the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics finds that “there is a paucity of work analysing adaptation actions by MNCs, their motivations and contribution to broader adaptation and climate resilient development efforts, as well as possible instances of maladaptation”. The review points out research gaps and provides a useful bibliography of the academic literature. See Multinational corporations and climate adaptation – Are we asking the right questions? A review of current knowledge and a new research perspective (March 11).