As Canada experiences its worst wildfire season on record and unusually hot weather is predicted for the duration of the summer, the health impacts of a warmer planet are top of mind. On Tuesday, the federal government released its final climate adaptation strategy to address those concerns in tandem with provinces, territories and national Indigenous organizations, all of which are on board with the plan.

The strategy is an “agreed-upon framework to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, improve health outcomes, protect nature and biodiversity, build and maintain resilient infrastructure, and support a strong economy and workers,” says Environment and Climate Change Canada. In it, goals and targets will help governments “ensure future investments are targeted and effective.”

The strategy includes $1.6 billion over five years to put the measures in place, said Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault. More details on regional implementation are expected in the coming months following talks between the federal government and the provinces and territories.

Guilbeault said one of the most notable updates in the final version of the plan is specific, “measurable targets that we want to be able to achieve collectively over the coming years.” However, much of the draft plan remains the same.

At the release of the plan in Vancouver, Guilbeault noted deaths from heat are a top issue addressed in the strategy. In the 2021 heat dome, around 600 people died in British Columbia due to extreme heat, prompting a wave of calls for better government support to make homes more resilient to hot temperatures. As noted in the plan, 70 per cent of people who died were over 70 years old and 61 per cent lived in low-income neighbourhoods.

One of the plan’s targets is to eliminate deaths due to extreme heat by 2040, and says access to “reliable cooling systems will help people withstand the worst effects of these events in their own homes.” It also says 80 per cent of health regions should have a plan to protect people from extreme heat events by 2026.

However, with a hot summer looming, Guilbeault said more immediate actions to keep people safe from the heat will need to include public messaging, which is why the federal government is working with the provincial and territorial governments, as well as municipalities.

“I think the easiest things are community-based measures, like what the City of Vancouver and other cities are doing. First, making sure that we know who the vulnerable people are and how to reach them, those are some of the lessons we've learned from past heat waves,” he said in a followup conversation with Canada’s National Observer.

“So, you need to work with health departments to ensure that we know who vulnerable people are. How are we able to reach them? You know, going to knock on doors of seniors who are alone, who may not know that this is happening, who don't watch the news. So there's community-based measures, I think, in the short term that will help us significantly reduce the rise of heat-related deaths.”

One of the plan’s targets is to eliminate deaths due to extreme heat by 2040, and says access to “reliable cooling systems will help people withstand the worst effects of these events in their own homes.”

On the heels of Tuesday’s announcement, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced an investment of $10 million for air conditioners for the most vulnerable, which will translate to about 8,000 AC units.

In the long term, Guilbeault said the next edition of the National Building Code — which he said Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who also spoke at the announcement, is working on for 2025 — will include energy efficiency and climate resilience measures. Guilbeault said we will “need to invest a lot in retrofitting our buildings.”

As of now, most federal energy-efficiency programs target homeowners: the Canadian Greener Homes grant, for example, offers $125 to $5,000 to install heat pumps, swap out insulation and more. Last week, Efficiency Canada told Canada’s National Observer these measures almost always leave behind renters, who make up a third of Canadians.

A draft of the National Adaptation Strategy was first released in November 2022 following a period for feedback, which Guilbeault said has been folded into the final version of the strategy.

When it was announced, the feds said $29.9 million of the strategy’s funding will help expand a Health Canada program to provide guidance and resources to Canadians experiencing extreme heat, $284 million will go to reducing wildfire risk in communities and $164.2 million will help provide Canadians with up-to-date flood risk maps. There’s also a $489-million top-up to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund and $530 million to expand the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund.

Floods and fires

One target from the strategy starts next year and says “resilience to climate change impacts [will be] factored into all new federal infrastructure funding programs.” As reported by The Canadian Press, by 2025, provinces and territories will need to include climate resilience measures in disaster recovery to qualify for federal help.

Also highlighted in the strategy were wildfires and floods. The strategy says floods are “one of the most costly and widespread hazards, with annual coastal flood damage to buildings and homes projected to increase from $60 million to $300 million in the next 30 years.” It notes wildfires have a direct cost of around $1 billion each year in fighting fires, along with indirect costs associated with health and property loss.

To address the impacts from wildfires, the government wants provinces and territories to have prevention and mitigation measures implemented by 2028 for 15 per cent of their most high-risk wildfire areas, and all high-risk areas covered by 2030. The plan also says the federal government will work with provinces and territories to “prioritize at least 200 higher-risk flood areas for new flood hazard maps.”

Other commitments include 15 new national urban parks by 2030 and the federal government wanting a plan implemented by 2028 that addresses how communities recover following floods and fires to allow “displaced individuals to be able to return to their homes or resettle after climate change disaster events.”

Following the release of the plan, Ryan Ness, director of adaptation for the Canadian Climate Institute, said climate change is already costing billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure. The institute notes that every dollar invested in climate mitigation saves $13 to $15 in avoided costs.

“The National Adaptation Strategy is a strong tool to address the biggest climate risks facing the country. The federal government needs to move quickly to fund and implement it to insulate Canadians from the growing threat and mounting costs of climate disasters,” he said.

“Finalizing this national strategy is an important milestone. Ensuring it delivers the results Canadians are counting on will take significant new funding, sustained focus and co-ordinated action by governments across the country.”

— With files from The Canadian Press and Natasha Bulowski

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“$1.6 billion over five years” for adaptation to protect citizens vs $35.4 billion to buy and expand the Trans Mountain pipeline to further destabilize our climate system…one step forward, 22 steps backward

Hmpff. No more dying from heat in 7 years? That sounds about right. In 7 years, those who are 63 now, will be 70. In the meantime, since we can count on summers being hotter as the years go by, and the poor, elderly can solve the housing crisis, by popping off on the days over 30.
Someone needs to show those people a dictionary. Counting the dead and providing some money after the harm's done isn't protection. It's not even an apology for having sat on their hands since 2015, lying and to all intents and purposes, throwing gas on the forest fires -- not counting those emissions either. All while crowing at home and abroad about "being climate leaders."
What a disgusting performance.

Without wishing to accelerate the doom and gloom brigade I have just a teeny litte quibble with the notion of firebreaks stopping wildfires.
After seeing footage from some of the recent wildfires in Canada and US and listening to accounts by those who are fighting the fires, I am wondering just what constitutes a sufficient fire break in the face of wildfires. It seems that fires fueled by dead and dying trees, desiccated undergrowth and high winds, creating tornado like updrafts are capable of leaping obstacles in a single bound. Those who have witnessed these phenomena have no confidence that the current technologies of firefighting are capable of containing, let alone extinguishing these wildfires. Fire breaks or no.