Cascading natural disasters in British Columbia have destroyed key pieces of infrastructure that experts say should trigger a nationwide risk assessment to prepare for Canada’s rapidly changing climate.
An atmospheric river dumped a month’s amount of rain in British Columbia, which when combined with melting snow and mountains already marked by a catastrophic wildfire season, triggered landslides that destroyed segments of Trans- Canada and Coquihalla.
“Recovering from this natural disaster will take time and a significant amount of collaboration and cooperation among all levels of government,” Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday with other federal ministers.
“The damage to roads and railways is significant, and how we move forward in terms of response will not only guide our emergency response efforts at the local level, but may cascade nationwide,” he said.
The Minister of Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson, said that the climate crisis is here and that the country will have to adapt to this reality.
“Climate change mitigation, and certainly adaptation, will have to be front and center of the decisions we make going forward at all levels,” he said.
Wilkinson said the short-term focus is protecting people in distress, helping those affected and restoring transportation routes. But as the immediate crisis subsides, he said better decisions must be made.
“In the medium term, however, we will have to think about how we can rebuild smarter, with more resilience in the infrastructure that we have,” he said.
Experts National Observer of Canada He spoke with said a priority should be to make climate risk assessments standard practice across the country. This is partly because the infrastructure is designed to withstand climate impacts based on historical climate data, a design standard that has little relevance in the emerging era of climate collapse.
“Infrastructure continues to be built that way, making it obsolete in many ways as soon as it is built (because) it will be there for decades or even a century,” explains Canadian Institute for Climate Options director of adaptation research Ryan Ness.
The infrastructure is designed to withstand climate impacts based on historical climate data, a design standard that has little relevance in the emerging era of climate degradation. #cdnpoli #BCStorms
“Climate change poses great risks to Canada’s infrastructure … and given that, it is surprising that infrastructure decisions do not take into account the warming climate in Canada, even as we see an increasing number of climate-related disasters.” .
The institute produced a report in September called Under Water which found a warmer climate translates into billions of dollars in additional damage to Canadian infrastructure. Costs grow as the climate crisis deepens, but by the end of the century, flood damage costs could reach $ 13.6 billion annually, road and rail damage could be $ 12.8 billion annually, and damage to the power grid could cost more to utilities and consumers. to $ 4.1 billion annually. Preventive measures to adapt can cut those costs by 80 to 90 percent, according to the report.
The report also found that Canada lacks information on climate risks, which is leading to poor decision making. For example, the available flood maps are an average of 20 years old, and “virtually none” takes into account how climate change can affect flood risk. At least 500,000 buildings are at risk of flooding and are not identified by available government flood maps, the report estimates. Information on other climate hazards, such as forest fires, is also largely lacking.
“In the absence of this information, few infrastructure owners or investors can assess and manage existing climate risks, much less future risks associated with climate change,” the report concluded.
Novel Futures Corporation Director and International Institute for Sustainable Development Senior Associate Darren Swanson said the unfolding disaster in British Columbia is highlighting the importance of widespread risk assessments as a precursor to building resilient infrastructure, because Without knowing what the risks are, it is impossible to prepare properly.
Swanson explained risk as a function of three things. The first is the danger itself, like heavy rain. The second is the exposure to the hazard and the third is what is the vulnerability to the hazard.
“So infrastructure owners and operators have three dials to grapple with when reducing risk, and a risk analysis or risk assessment helps you understand how to turn those dials,” he said.
“The final step in the risk assessment process is figuring out which are the most critical mitigation measures based on the most critical risks,” he said.
BC already takes some mitigation measures to deal with natural hazards. For example, you have a avalanche safety program where personnel monitor avalanche risk, and will literally set off avalanches by dropping explosives from a helicopter when safe to do so.
TO 2019 Climate Risk Assessment of the province identified the risk of “extreme rainfall and landslides” as something that would increase in a warmer climate. That assessment identified major landslides that occur once every 52 years and projected that probability will increase to a range of 11 to 50 years by 2050.
The assessment indicated that, in addition to extreme rains that contribute to landslides, the risk is highly dependent on physical characteristics such as “steepness of hills and bedrock deformation”, which means that serious risks are located.
John Woodside / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer