Climate Scientists sound the alarm in “Code Red” IPCC Report and WMO Atlas of mortality and economic damage

Alongside the continuing disaster of North America’s heat, drought, and wildfires has come Hurricane Ida on the Gulf Coast, U.S. Northeast, even as far as Quebec.  Only 4% of broadcast media in the U.S. linked Hurricane Ida to climate change – preferring to report on the flooding, storm surge, resulting power losses, evacuations, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, death and destruction.  Yet with less media attention, scientists worldwide have published recent studies unequivocally linking such weather extremes with climate change and human activity. Notable examples over the summer : 1.  Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, the first installment of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, 2. The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019) released by the World Meteorological Organization on  August 31, and 3. The WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin , launched on September 1.

The world’s scientists issue a Code Red warning in the IPCC 6th Assessment

At almost 4,000 pages, the full IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, is a comprehensive compilation and assessment of the latest research  by the world’s scientists. More readable and less technical: the  Summary for Policymakers , or the official Fact Sheet .  The U.N. press release announcement was accompanied by warnings of the “Code Red”   situation:  irreversible climate-related damage is already underway across the world, and immediate, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are urgently needed. The report was summarized widely: for example, in “Global Climate Panel’s Report: No Part of the Planet Will be Spared”  (Inside Climate News, Aug. 9); by Carbon Brief here ;  or by The Guardian here .  

An  analysis of coverage by 17  international newspapers found that Canadian news outlets, with the exception of the Toronto Star, were particularly poor at explaining the IPCC report – as summarized in “When Dire Climate News Came, Canada’s Front Pages Crumpled “ in (The Tyee, Aug. 19).  However, outside of the mainstream media, here are some noteworthy examples of Canadian news coverage:

Climate scientist John Fyfe explains why new IPCC report shows ‘there’s no going back’” (The Narwhal, Aug. 12)

It’s Code Red  for the Climate. Will BC Do Anything about It?” (The Tyee, Aug. 10)

Two blogs by David Suzuki in Rabble.caClimate report shows world pushed to the brink by fossil fuels”  and “IPCC report could be a legal game-changer for climate“(Sept. 1)

“IPCC warns of climate breakdown, politicians warn of each other” (National Observer, Aug. 9)

“U.N. Climate Report scapegoats “human activity” rather than fossil-fuel capitalism”  (Breach Media), which states: “We should welcome the latest IPCC Report for its scientific insight. But we should also understand it as an ideological document that obscures the crucial systemic causes of climate change. For advice on what social forces could push forward climate solutions, readers will have to look beyond the thousands of pages generated by the IPCC.”

Extreme weather disasters caused US$ 3.64 trillion, 2 million deaths between 1970 and 2019

A second new international scientific report is The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019), released on  August 31 by the World Meteorological Organization. It aggregates and analyses statistics on world disasters, with continent-level breakdowns. It reports that there were more than 11,000 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards between 1970 and 2019, accounting for just over 2 million deaths and US$ 3.64 trillion in economic losses. This represents  50% of all recorded disasters, 45% of related deaths and 74% of related economic losses over the last 50 years. Food for thought for those who say that fighting climate change is too expensive!  

The WMO Atlas includes an extensive discussion of current and new statistical disaster databases, and how they can be used to reduce loss and damage.  It also includes a brief explanation of “attribution research”, which seeks to determine whether disasters are human-caused. ( A recent article in Inside Climate News is more informative on the issue of attribution science, highlighting the research of the World Weather Attribution network, which has already published its findings about the German flooding in July 2021).

Finally, on September 3, the WMO also published the first issue of its  Air Quality and Climate Bulletin ,  highlighting the main factors that influence air quality patterns in 2020 – including a section titled “The impact of Covid-19 on air quality.”   The Bulletin concludes that there is “an intimate connection between air quality and climate change. While human-caused emissions of air pollutants fell during the COVID-19 economic turndown, meteorological extremes fuelled by climate and environmental change triggered unprecedented sand and dust storms and wildfires that affected air quality…. This trend is continuing in 2021. Devastating wildfires in North America, Europe and Siberia have affected air quality for millions, and sand and dust storms have blanketed many regions and travelled across continents.” 

In another section, “Global mortality estimates for ambient and household air pollution”  the new Bulletin states that global mortality increased from 2.3 million in 1990 to 4.5 million in 2019 (92% due to particulate matter, 8% due to ozone). Regionally, present-day total mortality is greatest in the super-region of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, with 1.8 million total deaths.

B.C. consultation on climate adaptation open from June to August

On June 9, British Columbia released a new draft Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy,  to launch a consultation process which will run until August 12 on the government’s public engagement website . The Draft Strategy Paper highlights current actions for 2021-2022, and proposes actions for 2022-25 to address increasing wildfires, more frequent flooding, longer summer droughts and heatwaves, as well as adaptation to slower issues such as changes in growing seasons, ecosystem shifts and sea level rise.   This Strategy document is itself the result of a consultation process, documented here, all of which have been based on the substantive 2019 report, Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia.

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.

 

66 recommendations from Special Advisor in investigation of Ontario’s 2019 record-setting floods

Disastrous and record-setting flooding occurred across the province of Ontario between April and July 2019, with 23 municipalities declaring states of emergencies.  In July 2019, the government appointed Doug McNeil, an experienced public servant from Manitoba, as Special Advisor on Flooding , with a mandate to consider the flood management and land use systems in Ontario.  His report was submitted to the government on October 31 and made public on November 28 – the press release is here. flooding firefighterThe 157-page  Report of an Independent review of the 2019 flood events in Ontario describes in detail the complex administrative and regulatory system which governs the province’s flood management , and  concludes that “the government and its partners were effective at reducing and mitigating flood risks…. the flooding was caused by a combination of weather conditions and found no human error or negligence in the operation  of “water control structures” (translation: dams).

Reaction to the report includes “Doug Ford government ducks fiscal responsibility for severe flooding” in the National Observer  (November 28) – which points out: “The first Ford budget had slashed by 50 per cent the flood management funds given to conservation authorities by his ministry to protect Ontario’s watersheds and canceled tree-planting efforts that limit flood damage.”  A Toronto Globe and Mail article focuses on the home-owners perspective in their overview “Ontario homes at risk of flooding should be made public: report”The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority reacted positively– their press release notes that many of their recommendations and comments about urban flooding were incorporated in the Special Advisor’s recommendations.  It is notable that the Chair of the TRCA was appointed on the same day as a member of Ontario’s new Advisory Panel on Climate Change.

The Special Advisor makes sixty-six recommendations for improved action and coordination by the provincial ministries and conservation authorities, and calls for sustained funding for  budgets related to flood management .  Recommendations include:

  • #3: “That the following be incorporated into the Provincial Policy Statement: • The reference to “impacts of a changing climate” throughout the Provincial Policy Statement helps to bring it to everyone’s attention and should be included in the Preamble as well.”
  • #15: That the Province consider adopting legislation that will require flood risk properties to be identified in some way that is publicly accessible, at the very least on the property title, to ensure that prospective buyers are aware.
  • #16 That municipalities consider utilizing local improvement charges to help finance and install (or upgrade) shoreline protection works, and if necessary, that the Province provide municipalities with enhanced authority to do so.
  • #52: That the Province continue the dialogue with the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the federal government on the steps needed to make flood insurance more available to more Ontarians.
  • #66: That the Province maintain, at a minimum, the current level of funding in departmental budgets and programs related to everything flood (i.e. existing approval processes and associated policies and technical requirements, floodplain mapping, maintenance of flood infrastructure, satellite imagery, etc.).

Election updates: Liberal platform calls for Just Transition Act, national flood insurance plan for high risk homeowners

With the federal election only weeks away on October 21, Justin Trudeau began to flesh out the Liberal Party climate change platform  with a campaign speech in Burnaby B.C. on September 24.  His speech, titled  A Climate Vision that Moves Canada Forward ,  promised that Canada would achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and announced that a re-elected Liberal government would halve the corporate tax rate for clean-technology businesses – from 9% to to 4.5 % for small business, from 15% to 7.5% for larger companies.  The Energy Mix summarized the clean tech proposals here  .

In French only, Trudeau also promised a Just Transition Act: “On va donc introduire une Loi sur la transition équitable, qui fera en sorte que les travailleurs aient accès à la formation et au soutien dont ils ont besoin pour réussir dans une économie plus verte. … Ensemble, on peut continuer de bâtir un pays où les entreprises de technologies propres sont prospères, où nos citoyens sont encouragés à faire des choix plus verts et où nos travailleurs s’épanouissent alors qu’on amorce notre transition écologique.”   An unofficial English translation of that promise might read: “We will be introducing a law on Just Transition, where there’s access for workers for the training and support that they’ll need  if they are to take part in an economy becoming steadily greener.  Together, we can continue to build a country where our own high tech businesses prosper, where citizens choose  green and greener ways of living , and where workers fulfill their goals while they make the choices that will shape Canada’s environment of the future. ”

flooding firefighterA CBC article provides a summary of a second round of Liberal climate change announcements which came on September 25. Trudeau, like the other leaders,  promised financial incentives to encourage energy efficiency retrofits, but  also promised to address the human costs of flood disasters through: creation of a low-cost national flood insurance program for homeowners in high-risk flood zones without adequate insurance protection; a national action plan to help homeowners at highest risk of repeat flooding with potential relocation; efforts to design an Employment Insurance Disaster Assistance Benefit to help people whose jobs and livelihoods are negatively affected by disaster; and to work with provinces and territories to update and complete flood maps to guide Canadians in home-buying decisions.

Looking for guidance on how to vote?

ClimateFederalPartySurvey_CAN-RacCanada-960x640Although Elections Canada made the ground shaky  for environmental groups to speak publicly in the current election, some are stepping up with information.  Fourteen of Canada’s major environmental advocacy groups consolidated their priorities to produce a questionnaire, sent to the federal parties in July 2019.  The responses from five parties are here ; the People’s Party of Canada did not respond . Questions included: “Will you immediately legislate a climate plan that will reduce Canada’s emissions in line with keeping warming below 1.5°C?; Will your climate plan clearly and precisely describe programs to reduce emissions from transportation, buildings and the oil and gas sector? Will you ensure that workers and their families thrive during the transition to a low-carbon economy, by extending the Task Force on Just Transition to include all fossil fuel industries?; Will you create a Federal Environmental Bill of Rights that formally recognizes the legal right to a healthy environment?”.

Climate Action Network Canada was one of the fourteen, and had released Getting Real about Canada’s Climate Planin June, intended as “a baseline against which we can assess federal parties’ climate plans.” EcoJustice was also part of the collaborative questionnaire, but has  posted its own analysis of the party platforms here . Macleans magazine has compiled their own guide to the platforms on all issues here ; on environment and climate change issues here  and on energy policy (including pipelines)  here .

A sampling of Opinions:

“Climate change the sword as Liberal and Conservatives battle for power” in the National Observer https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/09/25/news/climate-change-sword-liberal-and-conservatives-battle-power  (Sept. 25), which describes the competing political rhetoric in the wake of Trudeau’s first announcement;

Clean Energy Canada issued a press release on October 1,  stating: “The platform identifies similar areas of focus as the NDP and Green plans: more and cleaner public transit, increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road, generating more clean power, and building and retrofitting more energy efficient homes. While not as aggressive as those plans, the proposed policies, programs, and investments are generally laid out in greater detail….The Liberal plan is unique, however, in its identification of electrification as a strategic opportunity to make Canadian industries and manufacturing the cleanest in the world, supported by a proposed $5-billion Clean Power Fund sourced from the Canada Infrastructure Bank. “

Simon Donner, professor of climatology at the University of British Columbia  writes in Policy Options (Oct. 1): “Despite lofty claims and aspirational goals, there is no Canadian plan consistent with avoiding 1.5°C or 2°C warming. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, the rhetoric of your party on climate change does not match the numbers.” His article was featured in the Toronto Star .

This week in climate inaccuracy: Climate strike poses” by Chris Turner in The National Observer (Sept. 30) is the first in a promised series of critiques of all parties.

On climate change, the Liberal  plan (mostly) adds up”, an Editorial in the Globe and Mail (restricted access)  (Oct.1).

The Summer of 2019: Flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves

The world has awoken to the real-life manifestations of climate change in 2019, and we have been bombarded with media images of extreme weather disasters.  July 2019 was approximately 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial era, according to a summary of international heat waves by the World Metorological Organization (WMO) on August 1.  The WMO also published “Unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic” (July 29) and “Widespread fires harm global climate, environment” on August 29, including information about the Amazon wildfires.   “Global heating made Hurricane Dorian bigger, wetter – and more deadly”  by scientists Michael Mann and Andrew Dessler appeared in The Guardian on September 4  and “Is climate change making hurricanes stall?” at the PBS website  both offer clear summaries of  the climate change connection to the most recent extreme weather disaster the world has seen.

In Canada, flooding was the predominant weather disaster: In a July 2019 press release, the Insurance Bureau of Canada  described the flooding events of April and May and estimated that spring flooding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick caused close to $208 million in insured damage . In the same press release, the IBC advocates that all political parties in the upcoming federal election commit to a National Action Plan on Flooding.  ( The IBC  published Options for Managing the Flood Costs of Canada’s Highest-risk Residential Properties in June,  the result of national consultations with the  Working Group on the Financial Management of Flood Risk, co-chaired by Public Safety Canada and the IBC.  The report is summarized in the IBC press release  and in the National Observer  “Who should bear the financial risk of flooding? Report lays out three options” in the National Observer June 19 .  )

BCclimate-risk-assessmentIn what it calls the first report of its kind in Canada to examine climate risks at the provincial level, the British Columbia government published a Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia in July 2019. The report evaluates the likelihood of  15 climate risk events and considers their health, social, economic and environmental consequences, concluding that the greatest risks to B.C. are severe wildfire season, seasonal water shortage, heat wave, ocean acidification, glacier loss, and long-term water shortage.  A compilation of  forty-six articles concerning Wildfires is available from the National Observer, and includes “‘Climate change in action:’ Scientist says fires in Alberta linked to climate change” (June 10).

In late June, Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health was released, written  by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes. The report describes how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, especially children, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes. The report combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, emphasizing the risks of more intense precipitation, flooding and heat waves.

Extreme Heat in Canada and Beyond: 

heatreportcoverThe Prairie Climate Centre at the University  of Winnipeg released Heat Waves and Health  in August – a brief and practical guide to the health impacts of heat waves, drought and wildfires in Canada. The report predicts future heat waves in Canada, based on data newly updated the Climate Atlas of Canada   .  Previous projections were published as Chapter 4 in the federal government’s 2019 report Canada’s Changing Climate Report :  “Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” .

Heat is a much more widespread danger in the United States, with Phoenix Arizona experiencing 128 days at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 2018 –  one of the hottest and fastest-warming cities in the country, according to an article in the New York Times,  “As Phoenix heats up, the night comes alive” . The Times article describes how citizens and workers must re-schedule their lives and their job duties to avoid the killing heat of the day.  Phoenix is also the main focus of a lengthly  article,  “Can we survive extreme heat” in the Rolling Stone (Aug. 27) .

killer-heat-report-cover-thumbnailKiller Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days   was released in July by the  Union of Concerned Scientists, directed to a non-technical audience, and includes interactive maps and downloadable date here . The report offers national and regional projections and in Chapter 5, addresses the particular implications for outdoor workers, as well as city and rural dwellers, and those in low-income neighbourhoods. A more technical version of the research appeared as “Increased frequency of and population exposure to extreme heat index days in the United States during the 21st century” in the Open Access journal Environmental Research Communications .

The accuracy and sensitivity of occupational exposure limits to heat is examined in “Actual and simulated weather data to evaluate wet bulb globe temperature and heat index as alerts for occupational heat related illness”. This important article, published in the  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in January 2019, analysed the cases of  234 outdoor work-related heat-related illnesses reported to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2016 and concluded that wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) should be used for workplace heat hazard assessment. When WBGT is unavailable, a Heat Index alert threshold of approximately 80 °F (26.7 °C) could identify potentially hazardous workplace environmental heat.

Finally, “Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5)  summarizes a more technical article which appeared in the journal Sciences Advances on June 5 .  “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities”  reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement  could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.

New Brunswick launches consultation on industrial emissions – updated

The Government of New Brunswick opposes the federal government carbon tax and maintains a “We can’t afford a carbon tax” page on the government website – which estimates the costs (but none of the benefits) of the federal carbon backstop in effect in the province.  On June 13, New Brunswick introduced its own Made-in-New Brunswick  Regulatory Approach for Large Emitters ,  an output-based pricing system which will cover roughly 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the province and will require large industrial emitters, including electricity generators, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 10 per cent by 2030.

The CBC summarized the plan and reaction in “Province proposes carbon tax on tiny fraction of emissions from big industrial polluters”  (June 13) . CBC states that the proposed system would tax only 0.84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the province’s biggest emitters, such as Irving Oil,  far below the 20 per cent in the existing federal system. However, it covers the same industrial sectors, applies to the same gases and applies the same price scale of $20 per tonne this year, rising to $50 per tonne in 2022.

A Discussion paper , Holding Large Emitters Accountable: New Brunswick’s Output-Based Pricing System  forms the basis of a public comment period about the proposed system, which runs from June 13 to July 12.  One public response has been published by the Ecofiscal Commission in Exception to the Rule: Why New Brunswick’s Industrial Carbon Pricing System is Problematic (June 19) , which contends that under the proposed regulations, “firms can very easily achieve their emissions intensity benchmark, because it will be essentially set to current levels.”

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick reaction was quoted by the CBC, and also states that the proposed regulations are too weak.  Emphasizing the importance of the issue, on June 25 the Council released Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health,  by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes. The Council characterizes the report as “the first comprehensive look at how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, but particularly the very young, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes.”  The report combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, emphasizing the risks of more intense precipitation, flooding and heat waves. It includes recommendations for action and attempts to end on a hopeful note. The report is available in English and French versions from this link .

Updates on New Brunswick’s carbon tax:  On July 8, CBC reported “New Brunswick Premier Blaine  Higgs  abandons  planned carbon tax court fight” , which explains that the province will save taxpayers’ money by supporting Saskatchewan’s Supreme Court of Canada challenge to the carbon tax as an intervenor, since Saskatchewan’s arguments are the same as New Brunswick’s.   Also in  July, an historical and political analysis appeared in Policy Options, “ New Brunswick’s timid foray into carbon pricing”, as part of the week-long series , The Evolution of Carbon Pricing in the Provinces .

 

Proposals to “Electrify Quebec” will bring cleaner transportation; Montreal proposes standards for heating buildings

francois legaultOn May 26, at the party conference of the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), Premier Francois Legault announced intentions to “electrify Quebec”, reduce oil consumption by  40 per cent by 2030, and reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 per cent by 2030.   According to a report from iPolitics , Legault stated “The greatest contribution Quebec can make to save the planet is by helping our neighbours replace their coal-fired, gas fired generators with clean hydroelectricity,”  and he is working to increase hydro-electric exports to New York State.  Regarding electrification of transportation, he proposed to extend Montreal’s electrified light rail network already under construction to the off-island suburbs; to complete a proposed extension of the Montreal’s subway;  new tramways for Montreal and Quebec City; a commuter train link in Gatineau; and  greater use of electric buses.  He noted that two Quebec companies, Bombardier and Alstom, have the capacity to supply the rolling stock for new rail cars and electric buses. He also announced that Quebec’s electric vehicle subsidies will continue, benefitting rural Quebecers without access to transit options. Although plans are far from specific, Legault promised to finance his green plans from the proceeds from Quebec’s Green Fund, with the revenues from its cap and trade auctions.

In response to the recent proposal for an “energy corridor” from Alberta’s new Premier Jason Kenney to bring western crude oil across Canada, Legault stated “There is no social acceptability for an oil pipeline in Quebec.”

Montreal announces 2030 targets to phase out oil heating in buildings: The city of Montreal  is one of hundreds of Canadian municipalities which has declared a climate emergency   – and has been under flood emergency warnings throughout May.  On May 6, in a press release, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante  announced that the city is developing a plan to  reach carbon neutrality for all municipal buildings by 2030, for all new buildings by 2030, as well as for all existing buildings, by 2050, and have earmarked $4 million by 2021 for the effort.  A CBC  report states  that environmentalists are disappointed at the slow pace and weak level of ambition , and one of the key city councillors resigned, calling for stronger “war measures” against climate change, including a tax on meat, no airport expansion, and planting a half-million trees.  The tree-planting proposal seems particularly urgent, given the heat wave deaths  in Montreal in 2018 – 42 officially attributed to heat by Quebec’s chief coroner,  but with that number still under investigation, and the possibility of  a public inquiry. “Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star  quotes Montreal Public Health official estimates of 66  heat-related deaths that summer. It also explains what the city’s public health officials have done to analyse the causes and patterns – identifying vulnerable populations and areas – and  calling for a greening of the city on a massive scale, including trees,  roofs and architecture .

Update: On May 22, the Government of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities announced an investment of $2,777,960 in four green infrastructure projects in the Greater Montreal Area, including Laval.  Most of the investment will go to infrastructure and re-naturalization through tree planting, to mitigate the heat island effect and flooding in the city.

Some workers risk their jobs if they flee disasters. Can unions help?

bicycle in floodingWith the well-accepted consensus that climate change will make extreme weather disasters more likely in Canada and around the world, and with the misery of Hurricane Florence in full view, it is time to consider the dilemma of those who must work despite evacuation orders and disaster.  A recent AFL-CIO blog (reposted to Portside) summarizes the problem:  “You can be fired for not showing up for work during a hurricane” (Sept. 13) . The blog relates the results of a survey conducted by Central Florida Jobs With Justice following Hurricane Irma in 2017, which found that more than half of survey respondents said they faced disciplinary action or termination if they failed to show up to work during the storm. Others weren’t paid if they if they didn’t report for work – making it an impossible choice between a normal, much-needed paycheque, or tending to their own and their family’s safety.  Following Hurricane Irma, a few employers instituted climate leave policies, and in June 2018,  the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance  prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who comply with evacuation orders during a state of emergency. But for most workers, evacuation is not an option. waffle house

A similar situation was reported in the latest newsletter from  Labor Network for Sustainability . The Central Labor Council in Miami conducted a survey and interviews, canvassing labor leaders and coalition partners from AFSCME Florida, IUOE and South Florida Building Trades, Unite HERE, United Teachers of Dade, and the Miami Climate Alliance of community, and environmental groups, to find out their concerns about climate change and health.   Answers reflected the difficulties of working in extreme heat in a surprising number of ways, and also asked the question: “Have extreme weather events like hurricanes, flooding, or high heat impacted your job on a day to day basis?”. Recurring responses included:  “Being required to work during a hurricane or bad weather” , and concerns for job security and losing wages, because of a  workplace being closed.  Other concerns: unsafe workplaces, being required to work excess hours without allowance for caring for one’s own home, and “Not having access to clean, safe drinking water.”

Similar concerns were reported in a December 2017 report  of a survey about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, highlighted  in the WCR article “What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?”  In that summary, we also featured the impacts on families after the wildfires near Fort McMurray in Alberta in 2016.  In the case of Alberta,  amendments to the  Alberta Employment Standards Code took effect in January 2018, providing new Personal and Family Responsibility Leave of up to 5 days of job protection per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member, including attending to personal emergencies.

Until legislation makes such personal leaves universal,  consider the job and wage protection in the 2014-2019 Collective Agreement  between Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3886 and Royal Roads University in Victoria B.C..

Article 31.8 states:

“a) Should the University, or an area of the University, be closed temporarily due to environmental conditions, utility disruptions, road conditions or other reasons beyond the control of the University, employees shall receive their regular salary (excluding shift differential and weekend premium) during the closure. The University may layoff employees in accordance with the terms of Article 16 if the closure is expected to be for greater than twenty (20)working days.

b) If an employee is called in to work during a temporary closure of the University they will be paid at Overtime rates as per Article 18.02. “

Recognition of the mental health impacts of flooding and wildfires in Canada – B.C. offers support

A June 2018 report from the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation  at the University of Waterloo presents statistics about the rising financial costs of weather-related disasters in Canada, and  profiles the results of 100 door-to-door interviews with households in flooded communities around Burlington Ontario. After the Flood: The Impact of Climate on Mental Health and Lost Time From Work   found that members of households which had been flooded experienced significantly more worry and stress than non-flooded households, and the worry and stress persisted even up to 3 years after the event. After the Flood also reported that 56% of flooded households had at least one working member who took time off work, and that the average time lost was seven days per flooded household (10 times greater than the average absenteeism for non-flooded workers).

The report cites official documents concerning the growing financial costs of disasters for example, the 2016 report from Canada’s Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer ,  Estimates of the Average Annual Cost for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements due to Weather Events and includes a bibliography of the growing  international public health literature concerning the health effects of weather disasters.

talk in tough times logoOther official recognition of the rising dangers of extreme weather events:  in May 2018, the Province of British Columbia, under the leadership of Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced mental health support services for those who might be impacted by re-living their experiences from the record-breaking 2017 wildfire season.   In partnership with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the program directs people to support services through a Facebook campaign called Talk in Tough Times, and a phone-based support program.

Federally, the  Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in May 2018, a 10-year national program that will invest $2 billion in infrastructure projects such as diversion channels, wetland restorations, wildfire barriers and setback levees, to help communities better withstand natural hazards such as floods, wildfires, seismic events and droughts.

Responses to Climate change-related weather disasters in 2017

Photo from B.C. Wildfire Service

The summer of 2017 has seen unprecedented forest fires, heat waves, floods and hurricanes around the world, with flooding and forest fires in Canada.  In response, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the launch of an advisory Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience on August 29, to be chaired by Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. The Expert Panel will be composed of  academic, private sector, government, non-government, and Indigenous representatives. CBC summarizes the initiative here .

On September 1, the Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a press release that estimated more than $223 million in insured damage from two storm and flooding events in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec in May. An Internal Review of the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, released in the Spring of 2017, states that the average annual federal share of provincial/territorial response and recovery costs has increased from C$10 million from 1970 to 1995, to $100 million from 1996 to 2010, to $360 million from 2011 to 2016, with the majority of costs caused by flooding.

Before either Hurricanes Harvey or Irma, the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) stated, “In 2017 (as of July 7), there have been 9 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included 2 flooding events, 1 freeze event, and 6 severe storm events. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 57 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.”

At the end of August, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a report which states:  “The average natural disaster costs the economy C$130 billion and lowers GDP by approximately 2%….. On average, it is estimated that natural disasters increase public budget deficits by 25%.”   Building Better: Setting the 2017 Ontario Infrastructure Plan up for success urges significant investment, stating:  “Research shows that investment in infrastructure, such as roads, transportation, communication, utilities and more, have resulted in lowered business costs and increased labour productivity. It is estimated that for every $1 billion in infrastructure spending, 16,700 jobs are supported for one year and the GDP sees a $1.14 billion increase.”

In June, the City of  Toronto appointed its first Chief Resilience Officer, whose job it is to prepare for catastrophic events and other stresses, with a focus on social issues such as housing and transit, building on existing programs under the city’s climate resilience and TransformTO initiatives.  The Chief Resilience Officer position is funded by  100 Resilient Cities, an international network whose website houses a collection of Urban Resilience plans from around the world.

And for the last word on this catastrophic summer, read Bill McKibben’s opinion in The Guardian, “Stop Talking Right Now about the threat of Climate Change. It’s Here; It’s Happening“.

Buildings and Infrastructure: the state of Canadian adaptation to climate change

The National Infrastructure and Buildings Climate Change Adaptation State of Play Report  was released on May 18, providing a gold mine of detail about  the current Canadian system of climate change adaptation, and how it  affects water infrastructure, transportation systems, telecommunications, and buildings (both private housing and commercial and  multi-unit buildings such as hospitals and penitentiaries).

fort_mcmurray-fireReflecting  the strong influence of insurance concerns in the report, it provides a  catalogue, with damage estimates and many photographs, of recent natural disasters, including the Calgary and Toronto floods in 2013, the Fort McMurray fire, as far back as the Eastern Canada ice storms of 1998.  The report identifies a wide range of barriers and problems to adaptation progress, but also provides case studies of innovative initiatives, and compiles a list of 62 “opportunities or next steps”  for those identified as the key actors – all levels of government,  private companies, professional associations, and citizens.  Recommendations  reflect an understanding of the need for more climate change training and professional education for engineers, consultants, and the insurance industry, and calls on private companies to emphasize and “Better integrate climate change considerations into organizational planning, decision-making and risk management processes.”

Appendices include an extensive bibliography; a table of national and provincial standards and regulations (e.g. for stormwater management); climate risks, and others.  The final appendix presents case studies of innovative initiatives, including  Toronto Hydro Electrical Distribution Infrastructure Case Study ; British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Provincial Highway Infrastructure Case Study; City of Castlegar Stormwater Infrastructure Case Study (B.C.); Municipality of the District of Shelburne Wastewater Treatment Plant Case Study ; Elm Drive: Low Impact Development Demonstration Site Case Study (Toronto); Fraser Health’s Climate Resilience and Adaptation Program (B.C.); Linking Climate with Water Infrastructure and Social Vulnerabilities Credit Valley Conservation (Ontario).

The report was prepared by Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure of Burlington, Ontario, in collaboration with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority of Mississauga, for the  Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group (IBWG) – a joint enterprise of  the Institute for Catastrophic Loss and Engineers Canada.  It will be one of many inputs to the Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group of Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform  in their discussions of their work plan for the next four years.

Millions of people, Trillions of dollars at risk from coastal floods

A report on May 16 from an agency of the World Bank, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), says that cities around the world are failing to plan for fast-increasing risks from extreme weather and other hazards, and by 2050, 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets will be threatened by worsening river and coastal floods alone.  Losses in 136 coastal cities are projected to rise from $6 billion a year in 2010 to $1 trillion a year by 2070.  The report, The Making of a Riskier Future: How Our Decisions are Shaping the Future of Disaster Risk is here  ; a summary from Thomson Reuters is here   .  A separate report, also in May, from Christian Aid, ranks cities with the most to lose from coastal flooding.  Topping their list: Calcutta (14 million people), Mumbai (11.4 million) and Dhaka (11.1 million).  Miami, with 4.8   million people, ranks 9th in population but tops the ranking by exposed assets in 2070 , with  $3.5 trillion. New York City ranks 3rd in exposed assets with $2.1tn.  The report also discusses the risks to the city of London, U.K.  Read Act Now or Pay Later: Protecting a billion people in climate-threatened coastal cities    .

Coastal Cities at Risk from Climate Change: Vancouver, New York

According to an article published in Nature Climate Change online in mid-August, Vancouver ranks 11th amongst the world’s 136 large coastal cities at risk of flooding, as measured by annual average losses of people or “assets”. Most at risk: Guangzhou, Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Mumbai. The article is part of an ongoing OECD project to explore the policy implications of flood risks due to climate change and economic development. Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities is available for purchase (with a brief free preview) at the Nature Climate Change website at: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1979.html#access. Also see a summary at the OECD website at: http://www.oecd.org/env/resources/future-flood-losses-in-major-coastal-cities.htm

Vancouver adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in July 2012 to guide building and maintenance of streets, sewers, building infrastructure, parks and greenspaces. See http://vancouver.ca/green-vancouver/climate-change-adaptation-strategy.aspx for links to the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, plus implementation reports for 2011-2012, and 2012-2013.

In June 2013, New York unveiled a plan in response to Superstorm Sandy, which proposes more than 250 initiatives, costed at $19.5 billion – most of which would be spent to repair homes and streets damaged by Sandy, retrofit hospitals and nursing homes, elevate electrical infrastructure, improve ferry and subway systems and fix drinking water systems. See A Stronger, More Resilient New York, at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shtml