We need to spend more on preventing impacts of climate change

Climate adaptation

On Sept. 24, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in Atlantic Canada laid waste to large swaths of the Atlantic provinces and eastern Quebec.

Hurricane Fiona took the lives of at least three people, destroyed many homes with gigantic storm surges and left a million people without power. Immediately after Hurricane Fiona hit, I sent a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons asking for an emergency debate to discuss the federal government’s response.

He granted my request, and the House debated the matter until midnight on Sept. 26—bringing reports from MPs in affected ridings, stories of courageous individuals and communities, but also talking about more long-term considerations.

We are living the impacts, and paying the costs, of climate change right now.

It is becoming increasingly clear we must re-assess federal programs designed to help communities prepare for the future, as well as deal with a litany of disasters.

While the full cost of Fiona remains to be calculated, the federal government has pledged $300 million to help the region recover. And Fiona wasn’t the only unprecedented storm in eastern Canada this year. On May 24, a “derecho” brought record-setting thunderstorms and tornados to a corridor between Windsor, Ontario, and Quebec City, killing 11 people and causing widespread damage. The insured cost of that event is estimated at $875 million.

These massive weather events are happening more often and with more intensity, and the costs are rising quickly every year. Coincidentally, the Canadian Climate Institute released a major study on these costs a few days after Hurricane Fiona struck.

Not surprisingly, the study found climate change is a serious and growing drag on Canada’s economy and a major financial burden on households in Canada. Specifically, it estimated climate change will add $25 billion in annual losses by 2025, with that figure rising to about $100 billion annually by 2050.

These losses go beyond the simple but substantial cost of repairing or replacing damaged homes and infrastructure. There are considerable knock-on effects that will have a huge impact on our economy. Increased infrastructure damage will slow economic growth, which in turn will lower household incomes. Investments will decrease as economic opportunities are reduced. Taxes and the cost of living will rise as governments are forced to spend more money on damage repair.

The Canadian Climate Institute’s report has five recommendations for governments. The first of the three I want to draw attention to is for governments to actually account for the economic threat posed by climate change. They should build these costs into economic analyses and decision-making. Secondly, they should strongly encourage, or even mandate, the private sector to take a similar approach. Thirdly, and perhaps most important from a climate adaptation viewpoint, the federal government must scale up adaptation funding to match the risks we are facing.

I have called for this action for more than a year now. We must spend at least as much preparing for climate change as we spend repairing damage from extreme weather events. That would save us a huge amount of money over the medium and long term. The report estimates that proactive action wwould provide a return on investment of up to $15 for every dollar spent.

Providing funds to communities to prepare for future climate events will also save lives and prevent heartbreaking destruction. Governments must truly act in a way that recognizes we are living the effects of climate change right now. They must also recognize even if we halted all greenhouse gas emissions today, the firestorms, floods and hurricanes we are witnessing now will be with us for centuries.

We must also act boldly to reduce those emissions to ensure these impacts don’t become intolerably worse.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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