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article imageExpert panel identifies Canada's top climate change risks

By Karen Graham     Jul 8, 2019 in Environment
Ottawa - An expert panel has identified Canada's top climate change risks and determined that many costs and damages could be avoided with prompt and thoughtful adaptation.
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat asked the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to examine the top climate change risks for Canada and their relative significance. That report was released on July 4, 2019.
The panel of experts consisted of some of Canada’s leading academics and researchers in a number of fields, including industry, insurance firms, engineers, sociologists, and economists.
“Climate change is increasingly leading to costly and disruptive impacts, and current projections suggest the warming in Canada and globally will continue, regardless of the trajectory of global emissions,” said L. John Leggat, Ph.D., FCAE, Chair of the Expert Panel. “Understanding our top climate change risks and the role of adaptation in reducing these risks can help to support an effective response.”
The panel's method of going about identifying the most critical climate crisis risks was based on the extent and likelihood of the potential damage, and the size of the risk areas according to society's ability to adapt and reduce any potential negative outcomes.
And there's that word "adaption" again. The same word was used by Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on disaster risk reduction in an interview with The Guardian.
She stressed that “People need to talk more about adaptation and resilience," when discussing how we can reduce the damages from extreme weather events.
River flooding in eastern Canada.
River flooding in eastern Canada.
Natural Resources Canada
Canada’s Top Climate Change Risks
The panel narrowed down a presumptive list of 57 issues to 12 major climate change risks. These are based on the magnitude of the threat and the availability of remedies. These 12 major areas of risk include agriculture and food, coastal communities, ecosystems, fisheries, forestry, geopolitical dynamics, governance and capacity, human health and wellness, Indigenous ways of life, northern communities, physical infrastructure, and water.
Out of the 12 listed climate change risks, the panel further narrowed the list to six of the most critical areas: physical infrastructure, coastal communities, northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems, and fisheries. And the reader will notice that infrastructure is at the head of the list, as it should be.
The federal government's role in planning and prioritization of climate change threats has led to a comprehensive understanding of the nature of the federal role in each risk area across three main categories: coordination and collaboration, capacity building, or managing government assets and operations. Let's look at the major threats.
A male and female sockeye salmon spawning in the Adams River of British Columbia Canada in October  ...
A male and female sockeye salmon spawning in the Adams River of British Columbia Canada in October, 2014.
William Rosmus (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Extreme weather events, like flooding, high winds, tornadoes, and heavy rains are growing threats to infrastructure, including homes and businesses, roads and railways and utilities. Extreme weather events increase the chance of power outages and grid failures, even what the report calls “cascading infrastructure failures.”
Coastal communities
Canadians living in coastal communities on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the country have already been experiencing what appears to be an increase in extreme weather events. The climate crisis is slowly raising sea levels, making floods more common and surges heavier and more powerful.
People living in Canada's northern regions are facing some unique threats brought on by the climate crisis. Permafrost that has remained frozen for 40,000 years is beginning to thaw, affecting homes and infrastructure. “They really rely on and are closely connected to the land,” said co-author Bronwyn Hancock. “The way the culture is set up — governance, spirituality, the way language is passed — all really pivot around that connection to the land.”
File photo: A lake  which has no name and sits in the Northwest Territory s northern corner near the...
File photo: A lake, which has no name and sits in the Northwest Territory's northern corner near the community of Fort McPherson, is a victim of the region's geology and changing climate. In a dramatic example of how climate change is altering the Arctic landscape, the small northern lake has fallen off a cliff after bursting through the melting earthen rampart that restrained it. Date: Dec. 21, 2015.
Handout / Government of Northwest Territories
The next three on the list are human health, ecosystems, and fisheries. Basically, Leggat noted that damage to roads and buildings is a lot easier to prevent or fix than damage to sensitive and poorly understood natural ecosystems. Not only that, but thinking ahead and building roads that are better able to withstand extreme weather is less costly than constantly repairing damaged roads.
It will cost money
“We have to start thinking about ways we can protect the natural systems so the human systems can survive,” Leggat said. But he added that the biggest challenge will be in trying to get Canadians to " pony up for ways to reduce the threat."
A recent poll showed that while most Canadians understood that the climate crisis presented a risk, very few were willing to pay anything to reduce the risks. “The majority of Canadians weren’t prepared to pay any amount of money for mitigation,” he said.
Leggat is hopeful that the Council's report will reduce some of the uncertainty over what needs to be done, and will give the public someplace to start. “We know what to do. We understand what the risks are and we can invest with confidence," Leggat said.
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