National Climate Adaptation Strategy to set goals to combat heat, flooding and fires



Canada will have a new national climate adaptation strategy outlining the government’s intent to eliminate heat and wildfire deaths, protect homes and businesses at highest risk of flooding, and help people who are being forced to flee home more quickly.

Secretary of State for Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair is scheduled to release the adaptation strategy and a plan for its implementation on Thursday in Prince Edward Island. He will do so on behalf of Environment Secretary Steven Guilbeault, who was recalled over a personal matter.

The government describes the document as a blueprint for identifying the dangers Canadians face, finding ways to reduce risk, and setting goals for actually doing so.

Goals include better educating Canadians about these risks, ending all heat-related deaths, and upgrading the national disaster relief program to include not only recovering from one major event, but also rebuilding to withstand the next.

The government will also release a list of things it intends to do to adapt, including new investments in the federal Disaster Response and Adaptation Fund, as well as funding to help fight wildfires and create more complete flood maps across the country.

Before discussing the new documents, Blair and several other Liberal ministers and MPs will tour some parts of the PEI that were devastated by post-tropical storm Fiona two months ago. This includes Red Head Harbour, where a wharf was demolished, one was raised several feet by the storm surge and one just disappeared completely.

The storm caused an estimated $660 billion in insured losses. By 2030, according to the federal government, extreme weather events could cause damage amounting to US$15 billion per year.

But that number could be lower if Canadians adapt to the climate we’re facing now, rather than continue to live in a country built for the climates of the past.

“The decisions and adaptation actions we make today will help decide the future of our communities, our livelihoods, the environment and the economy,” Guilbeault said in a statement on Wednesday.

This statement coincided with the release of an assessment of the climate impacts Northern Canada is already facing. It warns that in the north, where warming is occurring three times faster than the global average, “climate change is causing severe and in many cases irreversible changes to northern landscapes and ecosystems.”

These include warming of the permafrost, invasion of shrubs on the tundra, shifts in the distribution of species, and increased pests and fires.

The other regional assessments have already warned of rising sea levels in the Atlantic, more frequent heat waves in Quebec, heavier rainfall in southern Ontario and more frequent floods and fires in British Columbia.

On the prairies, climate change could upend entire ecosystems, turning boreal forests into parklands and grasslands, and eliminating some mountain ecosystems entirely.

In climate change policy, mitigation is the word used for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to global warming. Adjustment is the word for actions that adjust our lives to the fact that the planet has already warmed.

Scientific research shows that by 2016 Atlantic Canada was already on average 0.7°C warmer than in 1948. Quebec had warmed between 1°C and 3°C depending on the region and could warm by another 3.5°C by 2050 will.

The adaptation strategy will include some concrete and measurable goals in everything from flood protection to the development of protected areas. But these goals are preliminary and await approval from the provinces and territories.

The government will spend 90 days consulting with the provinces and territories on the plan and goals, some of which are provincial jurisdictions.

Blair Feltmate, director of the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, said adaptation isn’t just a nice touch, it’s business-critical.

“Every day we don’t adjust is a day we don’t have,” he said.

Feltmate was among dozens of experts who helped develop the strategy and provided key areas for the government to focus on in the final plan. Guilbeault made her advice public in May and the government has spent the last six months deliberating on the ideas.

The Liberal government promised to publish the strategy by the end of this year but had hoped to publish it ahead of the recent United Nations climate talks in Egypt. It wasn’t ready at the time, but Canada will be able to present the strategy at the UN Biodiversity Summit in Montreal next month.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2022.