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Canadians should be grateful that cabinet ministers from across the country are meeting to discuss a co-ordinated response to a potential national climate emergency this spring and summer.

Yes, certainly, we must bolster our emergency preparedness across the country. The threat, unless we get relief in the form of heavy snowfall in the West soon and rain over much of the country in the spring, is real.

And sure, an Emergency Preparedness Week in May is a good idea. But it appears we remain stuck in the same old trap. We will deal, if we can, with the disasters as they occur, but we are not doing enough to address the cause of those disasters. We will, at great cost, staff the emergency room as it were, but we are still not spending enough on a vaccine.

What we are seeing now is exactly what scientists predicted long ago. If we did not act immediately on the climate threat, we would find ourselves in a situation where we cannot keep up with the frequency of climate-related water disasters.

As the number of these events multiply, we will not be able to recover from one before the arrival of the next. We will not be able to even partially deal with one crisis before the next event of a similar or even entirely different type delivers another knockout punch at the same location, or one nearby, or even a disaster location that is connected hydrologically, economically or politically to the first.

Look at British Columbia’s heat wave, wildfires and then floods in 2021 and the heat wave, permafrost thaw, hydrological drought and recurring wildfire evacuations in 2023 in the Northwest Territories. These kinds of “compound events” are already occurring in the same places with little or no relief in between.

As we have seen elsewhere, recurring climate disasters can bankrupt nations. And they are going to keep happening. Leaders ignore this threat at their political peril. The failure of governments to manage and prevent water-related climate disasters now threatens the trust Canadians once had in their governments to manage such crises.

We already know that the climate threat will largely express itself through the hydrological cycle. Canada needs greater federal leadership on water because adapting to climate change requires national water solutions that bring together provincial, local and Indigenous jurisdictions.

The proposed Canada Water Agency is a start but we need much more. We need to adapt by creating a National Wildfire Fighting Service, a National Flood and Drought Prediction Service and a National Emergency Management Agency, not unlike FEMA in the United States, to better co-ordinate national responses to disasters.

Last year gave us an indication of what we can expect in a hotter Canada in the future. In the 2023 “snow drought” year, low snowpacks led to record-setting wildfires, agricultural drought, low river flows and glacier melt.

The drought situation in Western Canada looks dire in 2024, with snowpacks well below normal and temperatures well above normal. This may mean restricted water supplies from British Columbia to Labrador and north to the Northwest Territories. The need to adapt to the loss of snow and ice through improved and nationally co-ordinated water observations, predictions and management is urgent and timely with the UN Year of Glaciers’ Preservation coming in 2025.

We need national co-ordination, new investment and novel technologies applied to the prediction of floods, water quality and droughts, and identification of risk to properties and infrastructure, write John Pomeroy, Bob Sandford and Thomas Axworthy.

We can no longer just wait for climate disasters to happen and try to manage them. We need national co-ordination, new investment and novel technologies applied to the prediction of floods, water quality and droughts, and identification of risk to properties and infrastructure.

We need to identify the vulnerabilities of communities and focus on mitigating suffering — it's not just about property damage and value.

We need integrated river basin planning for disaster mitigation, adaptation, flood and drought recovery, pollution abatement, transboundary allocation, U.S. water relationships, and the use of natural infrastructure such as wetlands, lakes and forests to restore river basin function.

We need the leading-edge research and science capacity to inform wise water decisions and build state-of-the-art water prediction and management systems to support decision-making.

We need an integrated, service-oriented federal water and water-related climate initiative that brings the full capacity of the federal government, in co-operation with provinces, territories, First Nations and communities, to protect Canadians in a drier, hotter, stormier and more catastrophic future.

Canada can still choose to successfully adapt to the climate crisis. However, there is great urgency now and mere caution is no longer a sound strategy. We cannot be the generation that knew what to do and yet failed the future. It is up to us to lower the temperature before we, and the frog, boil.

Prof. John Pomeroy is the Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change and the director of the Global Water Futures Program at the University of Saskatchewan.

Bob Sandford is the senior government relations liaison for global climate emergency response at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

Dr. Thomas Axworthy was the senior adviser and then principal secretary to former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He is now a distinguished fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and a member of Canada’s National Forum for Leadership on Water.

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The arguments and ideas expressed by the authors are well thought out and based on experience. The recommendations they put forth remind me of Benjamin Barber's tack in 'Cool Cities' that outlined urban adaptation responses to a warming planet and the policy mechanisms needed to bring them forward.

I hope the message reaches people in high places.

What was NOT mentioned in the whole "what we need" category is the MAIN THING, the prerequisite to everything else, which is as simple as ABC, i.e. ANYTHING BUT CONSERVATIVES.
To STOP them from attaining political power everyone should expose their underbelly in EVERY single communication at every single opportunity by hammering the simple, straightforward truth about them, that they are dangerous out-LIARS who DENY the SCIENCE of CLIMATE CHANGE, do NOT believe it, and so actually threaten our very survival.

Well said Tris....and its the simple truth. But I fear there are many of us who don't vote conservative who still don't know as much as we should about the science that has predicted these effects of a warming planet for a few decades now......we are like the frog in a pot of warming water, too comfortable by far. And too many of us continue to do politics in that old, half informed way that puts Liberals in for a decade then Conservatives in for a decade.......for no other reason than that we 'desire change'.

Well Change is coming..........and at some point in the not top distant future, those changes will be on us too fast and furious to handle. At that point, the politics of blame won't be as pleasant as they seem to be currently.

I keep hoping for a summer bad enough to wake more of us up........before we throw away 4 more years on a Pierre Poilievre government. You can't vote for that guy if you know anything about what we're facing in western Canada.......and around the and in the years to come. The science of climate change, if anything, has been too conservative as to time lines: IT'S HERE NOW, AND MOVING FAST.

Past time we all woke up and started doing what we can to build the clean grid, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shrink our fossil fool footprints.