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Unknowingly, Canadians are buying and building homes and other infrastructure in areas at high risk for floods, wildfires and other impacts of climate change. This could result in billions of dollars in damage every year, according to a new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.
Investing in adaptation could lower those costs – but hardly anyone has the information they need to be able to adapt, according to the report released last week by the federally funded think tank.“There is a pretty poor understanding of climate risks and really poor risk disclosure practices across the country,” Dylan Clark, senior research associate at the institute and co-author of the report, said at a briefing.
There is little to no public information about the current risks of flooding, wildfires or permafrost thawing, he said, let alone the future of the climate.
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“Information readily available to most policymakers, investors and consumers does not provide enough information to make informed decisions – and this is a key barrier to adaptation here. “
For example, publicly available government data from local conservation authorities typically only shows areas at risk of flooding due to rivers and coastlines, according to the report.
The researchers were able to obtain data – available for a fee from a private company, JBA Risk Management – which showed that 325,000 buildings in Canada were at risk of flooding from heavy rains and another 625,000 were at risk of flooding. due to their banks being ruptured by rivers, whose owners “have no way of knowing their properties are at risk of flooding,” according to the report.
Even JBA’s maps don’t have enough detail to identify single-family homes at risk. However, the maps “show that there are [information] gap, ”said Ryan Ness, lead author of the report.
The report recommends that governments and regulators require owners of existing and proposed buildings and other infrastructure to disclose the risks of climate change, saying the government should start generating this information and make it publicly available at this end.
Federal funds have been allocated in recent years for flood mapping, but the the insurance industry complained that progress has been too slow. Meanwhile, other researchers have discovered the provinces are not moving fast enough either on flood mapping, emergency plans and protection of essential infrastructure to adapt to climate change.
How the research was conducted and what it found
The new report combined two main factors:
- Information on Canada’s current buildings, roads, railways and electrical infrastructure.
- Climate models to estimate the future costs of damage caused by climate change.
These climate models included:
- A “reduced emissions” scenario, where the world reduces greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to a peak between 2 and 3 C compared to pre-industrial times, but 3.3 C by 2050 and 4 C by 2100 in Canada, which heats up faster.
- A “high emissions” scenario, where emissions continue on their current trajectory; in Canada, it is 4.4 C by 2050 and 7.4 C by 2100.
The study found that in the high emissions scenario, by 2100:
- Flood damage to buildings could increase five-fold by 2050 and ten-fold by 2100 to reach $ 13.6 billion annually.
- Damage to roads and railways from temperature and precipitation damage could reach $ 12.8 billion annually.
- Damage to electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure could triple to $ 4.1 billion per year.
However, costs could be reduced by reducing global warming through emission reductions and adaptation to reduce damage from climate change impacts.
“Ultimately, we’ll need both adaptation and mitigation,” said Dale Beugin, the institute’s vice president of analysis and research and co-author of the report.
Buybacks in flood-prone areas and other adaptation tactics
The report includes recommendations on how to adapt Canada’s buildings and other infrastructure to climate change, which would reduce the damage to people’s lives and property. They understand:
- Buy 10% of homes in the 1% of the most flood-risk areas across the country – around 7,500 properties – at a total cost of $ 1.9 billion, with the potential to save $ 200 million every year.
- Reduce coastal flooding, build dikes, raise buildings at risk and consolidate eroding beaches.
- Modified materials used in asphalt to withstand higher temperatures and increase base course depth to withstand more heavy precipitation.
- Install temperature sensors on the tracks and adjust the speed of the trains according to the temperatures.
- Replacement of electrical transmission and distribution components with more resistant versions.
The researchers recognized that much of this adaptation cannot occur without knowing which areas are at risk of damage.
“The current lack of information on climate risks, however, does not justify continued inaction on adaptation,” the report says, adding that recent climate-related impacts and disasters provide enough evidence to start taking action. on the most important risks and the most vulnerable areas.
It also doesn’t mean the government can’t require risk disclosure when that information is available, Ness said, so people like home builders, home buyers and insurers can protect themselves.
While there is not the full scope of information needed for full risk disclosure, he said, “there is information that is not disclosed.”
Regulations requiring disclosure could actually speed up the availability of that data, Beugin said. “It also creates incentives to… generate that information and get more information. “
But will governments act?
Researchers studying climate adaptation said the report was well done, comprehensive and timely.
Ann Dale, professor and director of the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University in Victoria, has previously conducted research on sustainable infrastructure. She said the report was “exactly what is needed” to show what will happen if governments do not act on adaptation.
She suggested it could have even gone a little further and specifically recommended solutions that don’t just adapt, but actually help mitigate climate change, like many nature-based solutions.
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