This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Canada Country Manager Diane Szoller
During the past year, the impact of climate change has increasingly been made evident by a series of extreme weather events around the world. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) confirms impacts including heat waves, wildfires, flooding, sea ice loss, and heavy rains, icing, drought, and storms. As Canadians continue to experience more extreme weather, these news events will simply, down the road, be seen as ‘normal’. The need to quarantine and social distance has also been more challenging owing to weather, however, there is no vaccine for extreme weather beyond sustainable planning, preparedness, and rapid response.
In 2020, nine major catastrophic events insured losses approached $2.5 billion, only a fraction of total property and infrastructure losses from other weather events costing billions more. Calgary ranked highest with a billion-dollar hail storm in June 2020. Fort McMurray had ice-choked rivers flooding downtown that April with 1,230 structures damaged from both flooding and sewer backup and hundreds of submerged vehicles resulting in $562 million in claims. The Southern regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario last summer reported major rainstorms, tornadoes, hail, and winds generating property damages and power outages (costing over $50 million in Alberta alone).
In 2021, extreme events most notably included hundreds of record-breaking temperatures and fires this summer in Western Canada (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). On June 29, the town of Lytton BC had a record Canadian temperature of 49.6 degrees Celsius, which was followed the next day by a tragic wildfire which burnt the village to the ground. Farmers in the Prairies suffered from severe drought and heat conditions this summer with some selling off cattle herds and writing off crops. Heat waves put vulnerable populations such as the elderly and the homeless at extreme risk. Five different tornadoes hit southern Ontario on July 15 alone, the worst being in Barrie with wind speeds of 210 km/h. Reports show parts of eastern Canada, Ontario and Quebec, are now seeing more frequent heat waves and nighttime temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius or higher taking a toll on animals, fragile ecosystems, and crops.
According to Public Safety Canada, floods are the most common natural hazard and among the costliest, many happening on major river systems that pass through populated areas. A recent flood swept through Windsor, Nova Scotia in July bringing heavy rains and hail. Another in June resulted in evacuation of the Kitimat-Stikine district in BC, given the rising waters of the Skeena River from above normal snow levels and precipitation. Sea level rise increasing the impacts of coastal storms and warming will likely place more stress on water supplies during droughts.
Newfoundland and Labrador had record-breaking winter snowfall lockdowns. This past winter, prolonged heavy snows, and icy rain created whiteout conditions in the west making some travel impossible vs record-breaking November heatwaves in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada.
Canada announced a plan to develop a national adaptation strategy in December 2020. Experts state Canada is not ready for the climate we have now without it, and needs to move faster to respond to the future. An April academic report this year, involving 22 experts from across disciplines and institutions, showed that while many cities have high level plans to address climate change, others still lack detailed implementation strategies or funding. “Most actions to build community resilience in Canada are unplanned and take place in recovery following an extreme loss event,” the report said.
Public Safety Canada oversees 1) Disaster Mitigation and Prevention and 2) Emergency Preparedness legislation and funding. Disaster preparation support for provinces is primarily for flooding to cost-share with the provinces and territories. Most emergencies are managed through the community or provincial/territorial level legislation. The Federal Government becomes involved where it has primary jurisdiction and responsibility as well as when requests for assistance are received due to capacity limitations and the scope of the emergency. Certain risk factors may challenge current capacity to manage emergencies including increased urbanization, critical infrastructure dependencies and interdependencies, terrorism, climate variability and change, scientific and technological developments, animal and human health diseases, and the increased movement of people and goods around the world.
A recent Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) report released in June examined Canada’s ability to adapt to climate change stating impending changes in weather patterns could strongly affect all aspects of life, from food security to trade to immigration. It warned that Canada’s lack of preparedness for these patterns could be disastrous.
As decision makers become more aware of climate risks, demand increases for better ways to support adaptation decisions. Economic analysis of trade-offs come into play. Adaptation planning and policy will need to better impact the design of cities to handle extreme weather events. NRCan notes population growth, urbanization, densification and increased resource consumption in the coming decades will amplify the sensitivity of cities and towns to climate-sensitive hazards.
Current ability of the country to adapt to extreme weather conditions it faced in 2021:
Rating: ** Fair
Four Stars (****): Outstanding
Three stars (***): Good
Two stars (**): Fair
One star (*): Unprepared
The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Mail: House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Tel: 1 613 995-1225