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.
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 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.
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. The 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.).
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. ”
A 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.
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Although 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 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 . )
In 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:
The 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 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.