The head of a newly-appointed panel reviewing Canada’s preparedness for the onset of increasingly extreme weather of the sort that crippled Houston and much of South Texas believes this country isn’t ready for what’s coming.
“Quite honestly, I believe we are not well prepared,” Blair Feltmate, who leads the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, told CBC News.
“It’s becoming increasingly obvious that climate change is here and the negative impacts associated with extreme weather are significant,” Feltmate said. “We need to be working to counter those negative impacts.”
The Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Results will advise Environment and Climate Change Canada on “progress on adaptation and climate resilience,” the department said in a release.
“Preparing for the effects of climate change before they happen will make our communities stronger and healthier for this generation and the next,” the release asserted. It said the new panel “will support the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, Canada’s plan to meet our greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, build resilience to the impacts of climate change, and create clean growth and jobs.”
The timeliness of last week’s appointments wasn’t lost on Feltmate, who told CBC he considers flooding like the episode that struck eastern Canada earlier this year the greatest threat to overwhelm under-prepared Canadian cities.
“As cities have grown, fields and forests have been paved over, leaving water fewer places to go,” the outlet notes, echoing an emerging culprit in Houston’s largely human-caused disaster. Meanwhile, damage costs are rising for reasons unrelated to climate: many homeowners “have developed their basements into living space, increasing the cost of damages.”
Feltmate underscored another similarity between many Canadian cities and Harvey’s Texas target: out-of-date flood plain mapping, and the charged politics of updating them.
Maps created for conditions of the past may poorly forecast the impacts of much stronger future downpours, the Waterloo infrastructure expert told the public broadcaster. As a result, flood mapping often “fails to reflect the threat of sewer systems becoming overwhelmed.”
Yet “updating those maps is not without political risk,” CBC notes. “Homeowners and developers might not appreciate learning that what they own is going to be declared a flood risk.” City councils could receive unwelcome news about the vulnerability of their property tax base, or the cost of protecting low-lying neighbourhoods.
“If you update the flood plain maps, all of a sudden you find out that there are entire subdivisions within your city where now homes are recognized as being at a flood risk,” Feltmate says. “Those homeowners will go apoplectic because you’ve now stigmatized their homes.”
As unwelcome as that news may be, it is news Canadians will need hear, along with much else the new panel will examine, Feltmate said. “One of the things Canadians have to understand is that this is not going away,” he told CBC. “Depressing as that sounds, the science is the science.”