Canada was unprepared for natural disasters in 2021 – and next year threatens a repeat


After a year of deadly heat domes, massive forest fires and historic flooding, Ottawa is urged to do more to help Canadians prepare for the effects of an increasingly volatile and dangerous climate.

Few Canadian cities know the price of climate change better than Kamloops, British Columbia, which experienced temperatures above 40C for almost a full week this summer and – soon after – massive forest fires that set off hundreds of residents under evacuation notice.

Months later, Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian spoke of his city’s stressful year and the lack of preparation and infrastructure that he said compounded the damage from the heat and fires.

“I think what’s really missing is all that support for local infrastructure and, in particular, some of the protective infrastructure,” Christian told CBC News.

“We weren’t as prepared as we needed to be, and we’re looking to both the provincial and federal governments.

According to an oft-cited 2019 report by the federal government, Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as the global average – three times faster in the North.

Rapidly changing climate is recognized – in the words of a government report – as increasing “the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme events such as heat waves, forest fires and floods”. The trend is expected to continue for several decades, even as climate-distorting emissions are reduced globally.

Soldiers deployed in response to record-breaking November flooding in B.C. fill sandbags to help protect dikes in Princeton, B.C. (Maggie MacPherson / CBC)

To better cope with the effects of climate change, Ottawa plans in 2022 to finalize its National Adaptation Strategy, a comprehensive set of plans and procedures aimed at improving Canada’s climate resilience.

“As climate impacts continue to increase, the government recognizes that a more ambitious, strategic and collaborative approach is needed to adapt and build resilience to climate change,” said a spokesperson for Environment and Change. Canada in an email.

The government began work on the plan in the spring of 2021 and is expected to release the final report in the fall of 2022.

2021 has revealed “the best and the worst” of climate policy

Paul Kovacs, founder and executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University, said the disasters of 2021 demonstrate the urgent need for a stronger climate plan.

“This past year we’ve seen the best and the worst of what Canadian disaster management policy is doing,” Kovacs told CBC News.

Although he said Canada has become adept at responding to emergencies as they arise, more needs to be done to prevent disasters and help communities recover from them.

BC Premier John Horgan described his province’s fall flood disaster as an event every 500 years, but Kovacs said flooding, heat, fires, tornadoes and hurricanes equally extreme should be expected in the years to come.

“These will be hugely more important than anything we have experienced in the past when they occur,” he said.

Communities still “too busy reacting to natural disasters”

Chirstian’s wish list for climate projects and infrastructure upgrades for Kamloops is long. It includes new emergency centers to protect residents during times of extreme heat or poor air quality, more protective dikes and better protection against forest fires.

In 2018, the federal government created a disaster mitigation and adaptation fund, now backed by $ 3.375 billion. Christian said federal money to pay for major projects has not yet arrived in his city.

“We are too busy responding to natural disasters to do any planning, exercises and logistics,” Christian said.

Coastal communities also need more protection. A report released this month by the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo found that Canada lack of a national system to assess risks in coastal areas.

The report called on the federal government to fund more natural infrastructure projects – such as cliff stabilization and wetland restoration – to protect communities from rising sea levels.


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