Two months ago, in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, I wrote a column about the necessity of climate adaptation in Canada.
Adaptation efforts recognize we are experiencing the impacts of climate change now, and ensure our communities are as safe as possible from future floods, fires, heat waves and hurricanes.
Two events last week prompted me to revisit the subject of adaptation. First, we marked the sombre anniversary of the floods that ravaged Princeton, Merritt, Abbotsford and many other communities and rural districts in southwestern British Columbia in November. Second, the federal government released its long-awaited National Adaptation Strategy and I’d like to comment on the actions proposed in that strategy.
The anniversary of the atmospheric river that hit B.C. a year ago has prompted renewed media coverage of that event and how communities and rural residents are faring one year later.
It’s clear small communities like Merritt and Princeton are still suffering. Many residents of Princeton still don’t have potable water and have to drive to a central depot to get clean water every day. Temporary housing is available for some Princeton residents who lost their homes, but others are still waiting.
The residents of Merritt still feel unsafe. They have a diking plan that would create flood protection to provide some comfort ahead of the spring freshet season, but it is estimated to cost $90 million and there is, as yet, no funding available for that expense.
The federal government has pledged more than a $1 billion to cover some of the rebuilding costs after climate disasters across the country in the past year, but that is only a small portion of the more than $5 billion annual cost of repairing damages from extreme weather events. It also provides nothing for adaptation costs that would make communities safer across the country.
So what does this new national strategy propose?
Off the top, it promises $1.6 billion to help communities across the country prepare for climate change. That is indeed a good start, and I’m happy to see it includes a top-up to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund that will be available for both disaster repairs and adaptation. The problem is the fund is already over-subscribed and overwhelmed, and I’m very concerned little will be spent on adaptation when governments are faced with rising pressures to help communities that have suffered disasters.
As I said in my last column on this subject, recent analyses have showed that economic climate impacts will rise steeply in the coming years. By 2025, just three years from now, climate impacts will slow economic growth by $25 billion every year.
Investments in adaptation have huge paybacks. Every dollar spent on adaptation will save $15 in future damage repairs. We need to make sure that funds for adaptation are more or less on par with those for repairs, and we need to make sure that both are increased substantially to reflect ever-increasing costs.
Rebuilding a community after a flood or fire is not easy. It’s not just a matter of cleaning up houses and building new dikes. The human impacts are immeasurable.
Grand Forks suffered disastrous floods four years ago. The rebuilding process was very difficult and painful in the community. It would have been so much better had the region been prepared for that flooding, so no-one was affected, no-one lost their home and had to move away and no business had to close.
We need to plan for the future and spend the money up front to make sure our communities are safe from future climate disasters. This new strategy begins that shift but it has a very long way to go.
The need for climate adaptation is crucial and I will keep pushing the government and sharing my work on this issue in columns until we are truly making the investments that build safer and more resilient communities.
Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.