A new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices (CICC) has found that Canadians are largely unaware that they are building homes and infrastructure in areas that are at high risk of wildfire, flooding, and other natural disasters brought about by the impacts of climate change.
CICC’s third report in its “Costs of Climate Change” series noted that Canada’s infrastructure decisions “aren’t accounting for climate change.” It noted that in the last three years, 10% of building permits in Vancouver alone were granted in areas that are already at risk of flooding – a risk that is only expected to grow even more over time under climate change.
The report said that – based on CICC’s estimates – climate change will likely increase annual coastal flood damages to homes and buildings from about $60 million currently to as much as $300 million. CICC also said that by the end of the century, coastal flood damages could approach $1.2 billion per year, if sea levels continue to rise.
Wildfires have become more dangerous and costly in recent times, CICC also said. The report points to the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, a fairly recent catastrophe considered the costliest weather-related disaster in Canada’s history. Total insured losses from wildfire from 2003 and 2017 were nearly $5 billion – $3.8 billion of which was caused by the 2016 Fort McMurray fire alone.
Even public infrastructure is not safe from the effects of climate change. CICC said that electrical transmission and distribution systems are being damaged by mounting heat and rainfall impact over time. Extreme weather conditions can reduce the capacity of power lines, accelerate the breakdown of poles and transformers, and ultimately lead to increased costs and reduced energy reliability. The report also warned that over the next few decades, extreme weather damage to electrical systems could cost providers up to $3 billion each year.
According to the CICC, it is the lack of climate risk information, transparency and government-led regulation that is leading to these poor infrastructure decisions. The institute has estimated that at least half a million buildings at risk of flooding in Canada are not identified by government-produced flood maps, adding that the flood maps are also 20 years out of date. The institute also commented that current Canadian building codes and standards are not being updated and do not account for climate change, which meant that infrastructure is being built based on the climate of the past. But as bad as the outdated flood maps are, CICC also said that there are even bigger information gaps for other major climate hazards like wildfires.
CICC recommended that early investment in adaptation methods by governments, businesses, and communities could “substantially reduce the impacts and costs of climate change. Building and moving homes out of high-risk areas can reduce the costs of coastal flooding by up to 90% by the year 2100, or up to $1 billion every year.
“Quite simply, when it comes to forecasting the true scale of damage and disruption of infrastructure in a warming climate, we don’t know what we don’t know,” the report said. “The scale and extent of climate-related risks to Canada’s infrastructure are only now coming into focus as climate models are updated, and the complex consequences of increasing infrastructure damage and loss of service for the financial system and the broader economy are beginning to come to light.”