Canadians are unknowingly buying and building homes and other infrastructure in areas at high risk of flooding, wildfires and other climate change impacts. That could lead to billions of dollars in damage each year, says a new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.
Investing in adaptation could slash those costs — but just about no one has the information they need to be able to adapt, according to the report released last week from the federally funded think-tank.
“There’s pretty poor understanding of climate risks and really poor risk-disclosure practices across the country,” said Dylan Clark, a senior research associate at the institute and co-author of the report, during a media briefing.
There’s little to no public information on current flood, wildfire or permafrost thaw risks, he said, let alone taking into account the future of climate.
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“Information that’s readily available to most decision-makers and investors and consumers does not provide enough information to make informed decisions — and that’s a key barrier here to adaptation.”
For example, publicly available government data from local conservation authorities generally show only areas at risk of flooding due to rivers and coasts, the report said.
Researchers were able to obtain data — available for a fee from a private company, JBA Risk Management — that showed 325,000 buildings in Canada are at risk of flooding from heavy rainfall and another 625,000 are at risk from flooding due to rivers breaching their banks, whose owners “have no way of knowing that their properties are at risk of flooding” the report said.
Even JBA’s maps don’t have enough detail to identify individual homes at risk. However, the maps do “highlight that there is that [information] gap,” said Ryan Ness, the report’s lead author.
The report recommends that governments and regulators require owners of existing and proposed buildings and other infrastructure to disclose climate change risks, saying the government should start to generate that information and make it publicly available for that purpose.
Some federal funding has been allocated in recent years for flood mapping, but the insurance industry has complained that progress has been too slow. Meanwhile, other researchers have found the provinces haven’t been moving fast enough either on flood mapping, emergency plans and critical infrastructure protections to adapt to climate change.
How the research was conducted and what it found
The new report combined two main factors:
- Information about Canada’s current buildings, roads, railways and electricity infrastructure.
- Climate models to estimate future costs of damage from climate change.
Those climate models included:
- A “lower emissions” scenario, where the world slashes greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to a peak between 2 and 3 C compared to pre-industrial times, but 3.3 C by 2050 and 4 C by 2100 in Canada, which is warming faster.
- A “high emissions” scenario, where emissions continue on their current trajectory; in Canada, that’s 4.4 C by 2050 and 7.4 C by 2100.
The study found that under the high emissions scenario, by 2100:
- Damage to buildings from flooding could increase five-fold by 2050 and 10-fold by 2100 to $13.6 billion each year.
- Damage to roads and railways due to temperature and rainfall damage could increase to $12.8 billion each year.
- Damage to electrical transmission and distribution infrastructure could triple to $4.1 billion a year.
However, costs could be cut by reducing global warming through emissions cuts and adaptation to reduce damage from climate change impacts.
“Ultimately, we’ll need both adaptation and mitigation,” said Dale Beugin, the institute’s vice-president of analysis and research and a co-author of the report.
Buyouts in flood zones and other adaptation tactics
The report includes recommendations for steps to adapt Canada’s buildings and other infrastructure to changing climate, which would reduce the damage to people’s lives and property. They include:
- Buying out 10 per cent of houses in the highest one per cent of flood-risk areas across the country — about 7,500 properties — at a total cost of $1.9 billion, with the potential to save $200 million each year.
- To reduce coastal flooding, building sea walls, elevating buildings at risk and shoring up eroding beaches.
- Altering the materials used in asphalt to withstand higher temperatures and increase the depth of the base layer to withstand heavier rainfall.
- Installing temperature sensors on railway tracks and adjusting train speeds based on temperatures.
- Replacing electrical transmission and distribution components with more resilient versions.
The researchers acknowledged that much of that adaptation can’t happen without knowing what areas are at risk of damage.
“The current lack of climate risk information, however, does not justify continued inaction on adaptation,” the report says, adding that recent climate-related impacts and disasters provide enough evidence to start moving on the biggest risks and most vulnerable areas.
Nor does it mean the government can’t require disclosure of risks where that information is available, Ness said, so people like homebuilders, homebuyers and insurers can protect themselves.
While there isn’t the full scale of information needed for full disclosure of risks, he said, “there is information that’s out there that’s not being disclosed.”
Regulations requiring disclosure could actually speed up the availability of such data, said Beugin. “This also creates incentives to … generate that information and get more information out there.”
But will the governments act?
Researchers who study climate adaptation said the report was well done, thorough and timely.
Ann Dale, a professor and the director of the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University in Victoria, has previously done research on sustainable infrastructure. She said the report was “exactly what’s needed” to show what will happen if governments don’t act on adaptation.
She suggested it could even have gone a bit further and specifically recommended solutions that don’t just adapt, but actually help mitigate climate change, as many nature-based solutions do.
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Ian Burton, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s department of geography and planning, who was founding director of the adaptation branch at Environment Canada, said the report’s recommendations are good and he’s hopeful all three levels of government will act on them.
He noted that the federal government funded the report, saying “I hope that will motivate them a little bit to pay attention.”
But the uncertainty about which climate impacts will hit where and when, he said, makes this a challenging problem to tackle.
Even when such reports are commissioned and read by government policy experts, Dale said the pressure to build and repair infrastructure quickly may not allow for new ways of doing things. What’s needed now is political will, she said.
“We know what to do. We have enough new technology … we need political decision-making to move forward.”
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Tuesday – CBC.ca
New Zealand’s government says it will expand a vaccine mandate to include thousands of workers who have close contact with their customers — including those at restaurants, bars, gyms and hair salons.
The changes will mean that about 40 per cent of all New Zealand workers will need to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t believe the new rules were an overreach of government power, but would ensure customers and employees are treated equally.
The government had already introduced a vaccine mandate for workers in certain sectors, including those who operate in the health and eduction sectors.
New Zealand is aiming to get 90 per cent of all people aged 12 and up fully vaccinated to put an end to lockdowns. According to the health ministry, 71 per cent of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated.
As part of its plan to end lockdowns, New Zealand will also require people visiting high-traffic businesses to show vaccine passports to prove they’ve had their shots.
The island nation has seen a total of 28 related deaths and 5,822 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the global pandemic.
-From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of late Tuesday morning, more than 244.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million.
Moderna said it will make up to 110 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine available to African countries. Tuesday’s announcement says Moderna is prepared to deliver the first 15 million doses by the end of this year, with 35 million in the first quarter of 2022 and up to 60 million in the second quarter.
It said “all doses are offered at Moderna’s lowest tiered price.” The company called it “the first step in our long-term partnership with the African Union.” Africa and its 1.3 billion people remain the least-vaccinated region of the world against COVID-19, with just over five per cent fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Senegal and Rwanda have signed an agreement with German company BioNTech for the construction of its first start-to-finish factories to make messenger RNA vaccines in Africa.
BioNTech, which developed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, said Tuesday that construction will start in mid-2022. It is working with the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, and the Rwandan government, a statement said.
In the Middle East on Monday, health officials reported 7,516 new cases of COVID-19 and 140 additional deaths.
In Europe, the EU’s drug regulator said it has concluded in its review that Moderna’s COVID-19 booster vaccine may be given to people aged 18 years and above, at least six months after the second dose.
In the Americas, Venezuela reopened public schools and universities, which serve more than 11 million students, though some schools remained closed for repairs or because of lack of staff.
Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may be getting closer in the U.S. as government advisers on Tuesday began deliberating whether there’s enough evidence that the shots are safe and effective for six- to 11-year-olds.
In a preliminary analysis last week, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewers said that protection would “clearly outweigh” the risk of a very rare side effect in almost all scenarios of the pandemic. Now FDA advisers are combing through that data to see if they agree.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia is reportedly finalizing a deal with Merck & Co to procure its experimental antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 ailments.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 11:05 a.m. ET
Overcoming scandal and PTSD, Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries college sweetheart
Japan‘s Princess Mako, the emperor’s niece, has married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny that has left the princess with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mako and fiance Kei Komuro, both 30, announced their engagement four years ago, a move initially cheered by the country. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.
Their marriage consisted of an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitting paperwork to a local office in the morning, foregoing the numerous rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception.
Mako also refused to receive a one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who marry commoners and become ordinary citizens, in line with Japanese law.
Television footage showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.
Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.
In the afternoon, Mako and her new husband will hold a news conference, which will also depart from custom. While royals typically answer pre-submitted questions at such events, the couple will make a brief statement and hand out written replies to the questions instead.
“Some of the questions took mistaken information as fact and upset the princess,” said officials at the IHA, according to NHK public television.
Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including long hair tied back in a ponytail, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.
Just months after the two announced their engagement at a news conference where their smiles won the hearts of the nation, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000.
The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. In 2021, Komuro issued a 24-page statement on the matter and also said he would pay a settlement.
Public opinion polls show the Japanese are divided about the marriage, and there has been at least one protest.
Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that not the slightest hint of trouble with things such as money or politics should touch them.
The fact that Mako’s father and younger brother, Hisahito, are both in the line of succession after Emperor Naruhito, whose daughter is ineligible to inherit, makes the scandal particularly damaging, said Hideya Kawanishi, an associate professor of history at Nagoya University.
“Though it’s true they’ll both be private citizens, Mako’s younger brother will one day become emperor, so some people thought anybody with the problems he (Komuro) had shouldn’t be marrying her,” Kawanishi added.
The two will live in New York, though Mako will remain on her own in Tokyo for some time after the wedding to prepare for the move, including applying for the first passport of her life.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
EU countries splinter ahead of crisis talks on energy price spike
Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.
European gas prices have hit record highs in autumn and remained at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.
Countries are struggling to agree, however, on a longer term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake-up of the way EU energy markets work.
Ministers from those countries will make the case on Tuesday for proposals that include decoupling European electricity and gas prices, joint gas buying among countries to create emergency reserves, and, in the case of a few countries including Poland, delaying planned policies to address climate change.
In an indication of differences likely to emerge at the meeting, nine countries including Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and market for electricity – on Monday said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.
“This will not be a remedy to mitigate the current rising energy prices linked to fossil fuels markets,” the countries said in a joint statement.
The European Commission has asked regulators to analyse the design of Europe’s electricity market, but said there was no evidence that a different market structure would have fared better during the recent price jump.
“Any interventions on the market and the decoupling of [gas and power] pricing are off the table,” one EU diplomat said, adding there was “no appetite” among most countries for those measures.
Other proposals – such as countries forming joint gas reserves – would also not offer a quick fix and could take months to negotiate. A European Commission proposal to upgrade EU gas market regulation to make it greener, due in December, is seen as the earliest that such proposals would arrive.
With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions between countries over the EU’s green policies, setting up a clash as they prepare to negotiate new proposals including higher tax rates for polluting fuels.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed such plans as “utopian fantasy”, a stance at odds with other EU countries who say the price jump should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy, to help reduce exposure to imported fossil fuel prices.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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