A new climate adaptation coalition is bringing together an unusually wide mix of voices—from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to the Métis National Council—and placing carbon reductions, social equity, and a just transition off fossil fuels at the centre of its strategy for building climate resilience.
Climate Proof Canada launched late last month with a call for the federal government to “complete and implement” a national climate adaptation strategy, said Robin Edger, national director of climate change at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). He told iPolitics the group timed its arrival to encourage political parties to include climate resilience in their campaign platforms for the federal election that is widely expected this fall.
The plan would “create a culture of preparedness, and build a more disaster-resilient country,” the coalition said in a release. The groups are also looking for a voice in shaping Canada’s climate adaptation statement to this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow in November.
Coalition members include nine insurance companies and organizations, including the IBC, a half-dozen environmental NGOs and research organizations, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Métis National Council, the Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Forest Products Association of Canada.
Edger said the idea for a new coalition in Canada grew out of a concern that climate adaptation was getting lost in the wider discussion about greenhouse gas reductions. “There was this realization that there were common interests here and it would make sense to start to organize ourselves and speak with one voice,” to bring adaptation and resilience closer to the centre of the climate conversation, he told The Energy Mix in an interview earlier this month.
He stressed that the group has no desire to take away from the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “We’re very careful in our communications to note the importance of mitigation,” he said. “The feeling is more that there is a robust and well-developed conversation in this country on mitigation, while adaptation and resilience have been so overlooked.”
“There are moments that focus the mind, and this may be one of them,” he said. “The hardest thing to think about, of course, is that when you have these extreme situations and you play out our emissions path as it’s currently set, these kinds of impacts will continue to happen with increased frequency, and it’s fairly clear that we’re just not ready.”
In the immediate moment, that knowledge focuses on the health and safety of the people directly affected, Edger added. But “there are lessons that have to be learned.” When everyone in a town like Lytton, British Columbia has 15 minutes to evacuate ahead of a deadly wildfire, “obviously there’s a need to invest in sophisticated early warning systems that allow people to properly use their evacuation plans that you hope they’ve thought out.”
A focus on adaptation also means seizing opportunities to build in resilience while taking action to cut carbon—in line with the “habitat reset” that at least one leading energy retrofit advocate has been talking about.
“If there are energy-efficient retrofits happening, if there are professionals going in and making sophisticated home-specific recommendations, why wouldn’t that be the time where you also put in a sump pump or a backflow valve for your pipes?” he asked. “Or if you have a reverse gradient, doing some landscaping so you’re not more susceptible to that flooding?”
Issues of social equity and just transition have been at the centre of discussions among Climate Proof members, Edger stressed.
“There’s a very acute and unanimous understanding that the impacts of climate change are affecting people who are socially marginalized first and hardest,” he told The Mix. “It was really important to coalition members to have a clear focus on Indigenous groups and other vulnerable communities. Climate change is a social justice issue, and just like the just transition conversation on the mitigation side of the coin, on adaptation and resilience those issues have to be very central in the strategies we come up with.”
He said the senior business groups in the coalition are onboard with that message. “My suspicion is that that conversation has moved very quickly, just as it has on the mitigation side.”
The Climate Proof Canada launch overlapped with the June 28 release of a Natural Resources Canada report that placed the annual cost of extreme weather at C$1.9 billion, nearly a quintupling from the $400 million the country paid out a decade ago, CBC reported at the time.
“There is abundant research indicating that current efforts to adapt are insufficient in the face of rapidly accumulating social and economic losses from current and future climate change impacts,” stated the 734-page report. “Research also demonstrates that the window for taking action to reduce increasingly severe impacts is rapidly closing.”
The report touched on:
• Climate change impacts on bridges, sewers, and other big infrastructure that is already stressed and aging, with a separate report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development valuing the country’s infrastructure gap at between $150 billion and $1 trillion;
• Risks to food supplies in Canadian cities and in other countries;
• The impacts of thawing permafrost, erosion, invasive species, sea level rise, and changes to water quality on fish and wildlife habitats, and on the communities that depend on those species as traditional food sources;
• Shifting geopolitics, as a melting Arctic opens up new shipping routes and climate impacts drastically increase migration numbers;
• Legal challenges that governments and private companies are already facing as citizens lose patience with their response to the climate emergency.
The report “paints a picture of an Indigenous and small-town Canada that is both resilient and hollowed-out, as traditions become harder to maintain, resource jobs disappear, the cost of living rises, and governments downsize and centralize critical services in big cities,” CBC writes.
“The vulnerability of remote rural communities is a national economics issue,” NRCan researcher and report co-author Brian Eddy told CBC. “Because the health of rural and remote Canada will affect the overall economic well-being of Canada.”
In an opinion piece published a few days after the federal report and the Climate Proof announcement, Globe and Mail climate specialist Adam Radwanski said Ottawa “is in only the early stages” of developing a national climate resilience plan.
“Promised by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals late last year, a national climate adaptation strategy is to be released in broad strokes this year,” Radwanski wrote. But the details won’t be released until the end of next year, which means funding won’t flow before 2023.
“The frustrating lack of immediacy in that process is explained by its complexity,” he added. “Ottawa needs to bring together many partners closer to the ground—including provincial, municipal, and Indigenous governments. And given this country’s geographic diversity, they will be attempting to land on priorities and targets for a very diffuse range of climate-related risks.”