Canada must do its part to bring down planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, but the country also needs to prepare for harsher consequences from climate change, the federal environment minister said Monday in the wake of a new United Nations report.

“We need to reduce our emissions [but] we've entered the era of climate change. We know there will be more catastrophes, we know they will be more severe. So, we need to better prepare,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer in an interview.

Even if countries act urgently and limit global warming to 1.5 C, the world will still face “unavoidable” and steadily worsening impacts from climate change over the next two decades, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released Monday, says.

In North America, people’s lives, safety and livelihoods will be at risk regardless of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, particularly coastal areas vulnerable to sea-level rise, severe storms and hurricanes, according to the report.

British Columbia had a particularly rough year with raging wildfires, a deadly heat dome and destructive flooding from an atmospheric river now officially linked to human-caused climate change by federal scientists.

The latest IPCC report says the world is not prepared for the coming climate impacts, particularly if the planet warms beyond 1.5 C, which is more likely than not, according to a previous report.

The new report says “minor, marginal, reactive or incremental changes” won’t be enough — transformational change is needed to make sure no one is left behind as the impacts of climate change worsen.

But this urgent adaptation action has been delayed by misinformation and the politicization of climate change science in North America, the report says. Polarized support from the public, politicians and policymakers on climate action “is delaying urgent adaptation action.” For example, the Conservative Party of Canada did not have a climate plan until April 2021, and the party’s interim leader Candice Bergen has already shelved the party’s paltry carbon pricing scheme.

The misinformation and polarization of climate change science “does keep me up at night,” said Guilbeault. Governments and institutions — himself included — need to do a better job communicating the realities of climate change, he said, particularly because concepts like emissions reductions targets can be technical and complex.

A new report by @IPCC_CH says the world is unprepared for the "unavoidable" impacts of climate change. @s_guilbeault and @Laurel_BC weigh in on what these findings mean for Canadians. #cdnpoli #ClimateChange #IPCC

“We should be talking to people about quality of life and healthy communities … preparing to face what we know will be more frequent and violent natural catastrophes,” he said. “I think people would understand that way more than … the modelling nuances of this group versus that group on our 2030 targets.”

The report is clear: our current practices are not enough to adapt to the myriad risks climate change poses to infrastructure, food and water security, and human health.

Advancing equity and justice is key to creating a climate-safe future and will lead to “more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions,” the report said, noting adaptation policies must prioritize the needs of climate, nature and local communities.

Canada’s first National Adaptation Strategy will be launched this fall to co-ordinate how federal, provincial, territorial, municipal governments and Indigenous communities will work together to prepare for climate-related disasters and create resilient infrastructure and communities, according to a statement from Guilbeault.

The IPCC report noted North America’s approach to climate adaptation is “fragmented” and that misaligned policies at different levels of government and insufficient funding can prevent the implementation of critical, local solutions.

First promised by the Liberal government in December 2020, the national adaptation strategy has the potential to address these gaps.

The federal government has “hugely important” responsibilities here, including providing funding and a framework on how to respond to climate-related risks, but it “doesn't hold all the levers,” said Guilbeault. “In many cases, provinces and municipalities have a huge role to play,” he said, referring to questions such as whether development should be allowed in floodplain zones.

The NDP’s environment and climate change critic, MP Laurel Collins, said the report’s findings are “terrifying” for the community in her coastal riding of Victoria, B.C.

“This past year … especially here in British Columbia with the droughts, the climate fires, the heat wave … it is impacting the way that we live and we work, and the report released today confirms it's only going to get worse,” she told Canada’s National Observer.

“This report is yet another dire warning about what happens when governments like the Liberals delay action,” said Collins. “It's a call to stop with the empty promises … the time for promising and planning is done, we have to actually take action now.”

On Monday, the NDP’s natural resources critic, Charlie Angus, rose in the House of Commons during question period and said: “The climate can’t afford this environment minister,” citing the oil industry’s plans to increase production. Angus said the IPCC report has been described as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership” and that this government is “exhibit one.”

Guilbeault responded that the federal government “went all the way to the Supreme Court against four provinces … to fight to ensure we can use one of the best rules to fight climate change, which is carbon pricing.”

Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May told Canada’s National Observer this latest IPCC report makes it clear “we are running out of time to hang on to a livable world.”

“This is not about hitting political targets,” said May. “It is about real limits in chemistry and physics. There is a real carbon budget and we are blowing through it.”

“We are distracted by pandemic and by war," she said. "We cannot afford to be distracted.”

Canada has had the highest emission growth of the G7 countries since the Paris Agreement was signed.

This country urgently needs to “commit to a meaningful 2030 target to hold to 1.5 degrees C,” said May.

Conservative MP Kyle Seeback, the party’s shadow critic for environment and climate change, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
March 1, 2022, 08:54 am

This story has been updated to include comments from Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May.

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