4 February 2022
Three Steps to Build Resilience in Canada
story highlights

A report by the Council of Canadian Academies identified three opportunities to integrate disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation: data and knowledge, financing, and collaborative governance models.

The report identifies the importance of: disaster risk data and information that is timely, accessible, usable and trusted; public finance that integrates climate-resilient engineering features into infrastructure; and engaging local communities.

By Scott Vaughan, Senior Fellow, IISD; Chair, Climate Resilience Panel

For decades, scientists have warned of the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events linked to global warming. Still, recent disasters have over-strained the capabilities of most countries. Canada is no exception. In 2021, Canada faced multiple extreme weather events: record-breaking temperatures that exceeded 49°C that caused well over 500 deaths; wildfires that devastated the entire town of Lytton, BC and many other areas; record-breaking flooding that displaced hundreds and disrupted key supply chains.  

The key finding of a January 2022 panel report by the Council of Canadian Academies, titled ‘Building a Resilient Canada’ (https://cca-reports.ca/reports/disaster-resilience/) is the need to do a better job in preparing for extreme weather events, specifically by integrating front-line disaster risk reduction specialists and programs with upstream climate adaptation and prevention. 

Disaster risk reduction programs are largely geared to immediate disaster preparedness and recovery, relying with good reason on centralized, top-down command-and-control structures. By contrast, climate adaptation programs tend to focus on longer-term prevention planning that depend on bottom-up, inclusive and participatory models. Rarely are these two approaches, and the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated through their respective programs, integrated.  

The CCA report panel identified three opportunities to integrate disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation: data and knowledge, financing, and collaborative governance models. 

Data and Knowledge: The CCA panel underscored the importance of disaster risk data and information that is timely, accessible, usable and trusted. For example, updated flood risk maps can be a key tool for city planners, infrastructure engineers and homeowners to decide what and where they will build, provided flood maps are up-to-date and accessible. Current gaps in Canada’s flood maps help explain why only 6 percent of Canadians living in high flood-risk areas are fully aware of risks.  

Given the cascading, concurrent and non-linear characteristics of extreme climate events that were all too present in British Colombia 2021, tools like all-hazard risk assessments can help identify and quantify multiple and concurrent climate risks, thereby improve prevention planning. New mandatory climate risk disclosure reporting requirements for the financial sector is a further source of climate risk data related to physical risks linked to climate change

A critical focus of the CCA report is improving climate adaptation planning, by learning from indigenous and local knowledge. For example, indigenous practices like cultural burning as part of forest stewardship point to valuable lessons in lowering wildfire risks.

Financing: Insurance and re-insurance companies closely track mounting insured losses linked to climate change, and are increasingly incentivizing clients to adopt various climate proofing tools in their homes or businesses in in exchange for better premiums. The report notes the important role of public finance to integrate climate-resilient engineering features into infrastructure, as well as to design post-disaster recovery programs that improve the resilience of the built environment, or offer owners fair market-value options to re-locate to lower risk areas. Public finance can also partner with private insurers to widen the availability of river and coastal flood insurance.  

Governance: The third area examined by the CCA panel is governance. While central governments play an important role in improving data and information and providing public finance, the best decisions to increase climate resilience are made by local communities. Both nature based solutions and the development of climate adaptation plans are better when they engage local communities. Local governance models can also identify underlying structural barriers like gender, racial, income and other inequalities that can exacerbate climate impacts unfairly among different groups.

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