Ottawa is preparing a national plan to fight climate change

OTTAWA—Atmospheric rivers unleashing destructive torrents of rain. Historical floods. Deadly heat domes and raging wildfires with smoke veiling the sun.

This is already the reality for Canada in a warming world, and now the federal government wants to guide provinces, territories, Indigenous groups and the private sector towards a new national strategy to prepare for the worsening impacts of climate change, even as it pushes to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that create the threats.

The “National Adaptation Strategy” being developed does not include an overall price or firm commitments at this stage, but does offer a series of proposed targets, including a commitment that by 2030 Canadians affected by climate-related disasters like floods or wildfires are “no longer displaced” and back to their livelihoods within one year.

The government also suggests that more money be spent on emergency services and disaster risk reduction, that biodiversity loss is halted and reversed by 2030, and that all infrastructure is ‘climate resilient’ by 2050, a term that could mean resistant to melting permafrost in the Far North or buildings in southern Canada made from materials capable of withstanding extreme temperature fluctuations.

The goal is to consult with the public and other levels of government as some provinces develop strategies, and release the final National Adaptation Framework as a “blueprint” to coordinate national action. by the end of 2022.

“We are already feeling the effects of climate change. And we know that Canada, like most countries in the world, is not prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change,” said federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who held a press conference on the banks of the flood-prone Rivière des Prairies outside Montreal. Monday.

“We can’t just sit back and watch climate impacts affect more and more of our communities,” he said.

Estimating the estimated cost of climate impacts in recent years at several billion dollars, Guilbeault called on provinces and cities with planning jurisdiction to participate in consultations, and did not rule out the possibility of having to relocate people from vulnerable areas in the coming years. years — including Indigenous communities who were forced decades ago to settle on reservations in floodplains.

“That’s why it has to be a national adaptation strategy,” Guilbeault said.

While the government has already earmarked more than $3.4 billion to prepare for the impacts of climate change, including $2.1 billion for 70 projects starting this month, officials say they are not still can’t predict how much money will be needed to defend against threats. of global warming.

“We don’t know yet what the costs will be,” said a senior government official, who briefed reporters on the strategy on Monday on condition they were not named.

What is clearer, federal scientists say, is that Canadians should prepare for the diverse impacts of climate change even as countries around the world commit to historic action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. United Nations on Climate Change – which includes the 2015 Paris Agreement – to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. that warm the planet. Yet global temperatures have already risen nearly 1 degree Celsius, while in Canada the average temperature has climbed nearly 2 degrees Celsius, according to a 2019 report released by Environment Canada.

The report concluded that temperatures are likely to continue to rise over the next two decades, regardless of global action to reduce emissions. This means that some level of adaptation to the consequences of a warmer climate will be necessary – and collective efforts to reduce emissions can now only determine how bad things get.

The costs of climate change impacts are already rising. According to the Canadian Climate Institute, which called for increased funding to prepare for climate change, the average cost of weather-related disasters after 2010 was $112 million, compared to just $8 million – in 2020 dollars. – in the 1970s.

The preliminary details of the federal adaptation strategy indicate the expected impacts in different regions of the country. Reduced ice cover and melting permafrost in the north are affecting economic development, infrastructure like ice roads, wildlife and food supplies, according to a strategy discussion paper released Monday. The melting of glaciers affects the flow of rivers and therefore water supply and hydropower potential; increasingly frequent and severe droughts and heat waves are impacting vector-borne diseases and agriculture.

And natural disasters like last fall’s floods and landslides in British Columbia threaten lives and livelihoods, forcing people to make anguished decisions about where to live and whether to return. and raising questions about the resilience of highways and other infrastructure.

“We can slow the rate of (climate) change, but we’re not going to reverse the direction,” said Blair Feltmate, director of the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

“We need to put in place the adaptation measures to deal with floods, fires, extreme heat and other hazards that … are going to get more difficult in the future, for sure, guaranteed.”

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