Climate change is already having a big impact – and Canadian governments urgently need to collect and publish data showing how safe their citizens are from floods, fires and other hazards, a federal advisory panel says.
In a report Tuesday, the panel says basic information such as the percentage of poor Canadians who are living in high-risk areas, or the readiness of infrastructure for the change in temperatures and rainfall, are inconsistent or simply not kept.
Panelists say 54 key indicators should be put in place by governments.
“It’s essential that Canadians act now to adapt and build their resilience to climate change,” the panel’s report says. “Climate change impacts occurring across the country pose significant risks to Canadians’ health, safety and well being.”
Louise Comeau, a University of New Brunswick research associate in the faculty of environmental management, says the data will allow auditors general and other assessors to monitor how well prepared Canada is, particularly in areas where poorer and Indigenous Canadians face growing risk.
“The only way for the national government to do its job is for every province to commit to tracking these indicators,” said Comeau, a member of the advisory panel. “That might sound boring, but … it ends up being an evaluation of whether the governments are making their citizens and communities safer in the face of known climate change risk and emerging climate change risk.”
“This is exactly the kind of detail that auditor generals use.”
The study, titled “Measuring Progress on Adaptation and Climate Resilience,” devotes a portion of its attention to more vulnerable northern, remote and coastal regions.
Among the points the experts want tracked are the percentage of people – including Indigenous people – whose access to the land, including traditional foods and ways of life, is impacted by altering coast lines and rising precipitation.
The panel of experts is also calling for measurements of how well the country is situated to bounce back from climate disasters.
It suggests governments start keeping data on whether communities have rebuilding bylaws that take climate change into account after a disaster hits, a process referred to as “build-back better.”
Another recommendation says cities and provinces should start publishing whether building codes and standards in their area have been updated to reflect climate risks.
The panel chaired by Blair Feltmate of the University of Waterloo included 22 representatives from academia, the private sector, governments and Indigenous Peoples chosen to submit the report to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
“It’s putting a focus on a measurement system where we can start to calculate or document the negative impacts associated with climate change and extreme weather events that goes beyond cavalier or anecdotal evidence,” said Feltmate in an interview.
The study is among the Liberal initiatives stemming from the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which in December 2016 set out a national plan to reduce carbon emissions and “build resilience” for the effects of climate change.
The report also includes a chapter giving Ottawa advice on how to set up a national monitoring program to track the country’s readiness, and calls on the federal government to build on the experts’ advice.
The panel cites federal data on changes already underway.
Average temperatures in Canada have increased by 1.5 C between 1950 and 2010, with higher rises in the north, average precipitation has been rising, and “both heavy precipitation and extreme precipitation events are projected to become more frequent.”
There has also been accelerated melting of glaciers in both western Canada and the Arctic, as well as Arctic sea ice, says the report.
The study suggests more forest fires and increasing flooding are on the horizon, with the 90,000 person evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016 cited as a recent example.
“A suite of … indicators is required to reflect the complexities and uncertainties inherent in climate change impacts and adaptation,” it says.