A new report suggests that Canada is not doing enough to adapt and prevent the effects of climate change and lacks the critical data it needs to do so.
“I mean, 2021 has now been a wake-up call because these are no longer some kind of one-time anomaly, but this is kind of a new pattern,” said Scott Vaughan, Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. and chair of the expert panel on climate adaptation that produced the report.
He says the 2021 heat wave and deadly wildfires and floods in British Columbia are just the latest examples of the enormous human and economic costs that climate change brings and how poorly we are prepared to prevent and respond to it.
There are many possible solutions, including inexpensive homeowner repairs that can prevent basement flooding and better withstand fires, for more dangerous and expensive planned relocations of people outside of areas at high risk of flooding or wildfires.
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But the commission says that making decisions is difficult if not all data on risk is presented in a comprehensive and accessible form so that politicians, local officials and individuals can make informed decisions about what they are likely to encounter and what they can do about it.
The commission was commissioned by the Canadian Council of Academies, after being asked by Public Safety Canada to answer questions about how Canada could be more efficient in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
Canada is in the midst of preparing a national adaptation strategy, which the liberals have promised by the end of this year.
Disaster risk reduction is usually an immediate response to prepare for a known threat and respond after it occurs. Climate change adaptation is long-term in his thinking, involving investments that better put people and structures to withstand the toughest and most frequent strikes from floods, fires, heat waves and major storms.
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Although the two are similar, they are often carried out in silos and sometimes at odds with each other, and both are frustrated by outdated, incomplete and sometimes outdated data on weather patterns and extreme weather events.
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Until the 1960s, Canada averaged fewer than 30 climate disasters per decade, but in the past few decades, the average has been more than 100.
Before 2000, there were an average of three bushfire-related disasters every 10 years, but since the turn of the century, they have occurred an average of three times each year.
But the report says that even that data is not reliable. The Canadian Disaster Database, which is supposed to track in detail all kinds of disasters in which more than 10 people have been killed, or at least 100 affected, has not been updated in nearly three years.
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It is also not exhaustive, relies on a “wide range” of sources that may not be comparable, is not geographically specific enough, and reports inconsistent costs and losses.
The flood maps that will be important to homeowners and local land use planning committees are often outdated. Climatic data that could indicate the risks of heat, heavy rainfall, or wildfires are geographically limited, and often apply to areas so large that they are less useful to local governments making decisions about where to allow construction.
And while Canada has spent decades preparing expensive engineered protections like dams, levees and seawalls, nature-based solutions — such as more green space in cities, or coastal swamps — can prevent or protect against climate damage, while at the same time providing people With recreational and natural benefits. Knowing how well nature-based solutions work is limited, the report said, meaning that decision makers often don’t take them into account.
The committee does not make specific recommendations but does suggest that Canada would do better if it had a national climate tracking system, similar to the public COVID-19 database developed by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland to track the novel coronavirus in 2020.
“A reliable, consistent and complete disaster data set is critical to understanding and managing disaster trends,” the report said.
Ultimately, adapting is largely about choosing to act now to prevent damage later, which isn’t always an easy sell, especially without good data, according to the report.
But the difference between resilience and vulnerability can be enormous. If a medium-sized Canadian city is not properly prepared, a major rain event can lead to widespread flooding when outdated flood protection measures fail, resulting in loss of life and livelihood.
Appropriate adaptation to relocate the most vulnerable and protect what remains produces “a very different set of consequences,” the report said.
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