Opinion: British Columbia Floods Remind Us of the Consequences of Ignoring the Need for Infrastructure Investment
Rick Smith is the president of the Canadian Institute for Climate Options.
For years, climate action has been tied to a false dichotomy of the economy versus the environment: two intractable enemies, pitted against each other. The greens versus the bean counters. The pockets of Canadians versus the safety of the planet.
As of this week, that framework has been deeply discredited. It never was the economy or the environment, it is climate action and future prosperity or inaction and economic destruction.
British Columbia’s floods and landslides are shaping up to be Canada’s biggest climate-related disaster this year. Businesses have been forced to close: either they are literally under water or their balance sheets will soon be, as their supply chains are abruptly cut off.
RELATED: Time to come together on the weather.
A terrorist attack at multiple points on our rail and road system could not have been more destructive to the British Columbia economy than the “atmospheric river” caused by our increasingly volatile climate. Rail traffic has come to a halt in and out of the Port of Vancouver, with losses estimated at more than $ 300 million per day until service can be restored.
The floods, wildfires and heat domes that BC experienced in 2021 can no longer be considered anomalous and bizarre events. As the weather warms up, they will become unavoidable. And as described in our recent report UnderwaterWe must prepare to meet them urgently and on scale, just as we would respond to any other known threat to our national and economic security.
Climate and meteorological impacts already had the economy at a standstill and have been putting pressure on our growth. Since 2010, the costs of climate-related disasters and catastrophic events have amounted to about 5 to 6 percent of Canada’s annual GDP growth, compared to an average of 1% in previous decades. The 2013 floods in southern Alberta cost the province more than $ 5 billion in economic production due to interruption of employment; BC costs will be much higher.
MORE: British Columbia’s floods are just one indication of how climate change could affect the food supply
Climate change may depress us, but we are not out.
We need to prepare for what lies ahead, and that means better information. Where are our weak spots, the regions, people and infrastructure most vulnerable to catastrophic risk? Many times we do not know, because in Canada information on climate-related risks is often not available or, at best, not up-to-date. For example, the British Columbia flood map for the Nicola and Coldwater rivers around the evacuated city of Merritt was last updated in 1989, 32 years ago. Government flood maps are, on average, 20 years out of date and do not adequately account for changing weather. There are even bigger information gaps for climate-induced threats, such as wildfires. The lack of transparency and information on climate risks is an obstacle that prevents us from preparing. This can be fixed.
Looking at the razed roads and rail lines in British Columbia, it’s clear that we need a lot of investment in weather-resistant infrastructure. The current crisis in BC shows that such investment is the most profitable way to protect the services that people and businesses depend on. Canada already has an infrastructure deficit, with governments, utilities, businesses and homeowners already struggling to keep what already exists in good condition; We need to ensure that this deficit is addressed with a low-carbon and future-proof infrastructure that is adapted to the climate of today and tomorrow.
READ: A heartbreaking picture of British Columbia flooding causing landslides and trapped drivers
It is difficult for municipalities, provinces, and the federal government to spend money on improving infrastructure to address long-term risks, when there are so many short-term demands that they seem more urgent. But future-proof infrastructure is a good investment. New infrastructure lasts a lifetime and is far less expensive to build now for a warmer, low-carbon future than for a past that no longer exists.
While the flooding in British Columbia is a disaster that has caused the country to feel and realize, it is important to remember that the weather-related disruption was already regularly damaging productivity, mobility, commerce, communications and communication. food and water security, which affects the economy. the growth and health and well-being of people across Canada. We live in a country that is warming twice as fast as the world average. It is time for us to start building for that reality.