When we talk about climate change, there are two misconceptions that we often hear. First, we frame it as a possibility on the horizon, rather than recognizing it as a clear reality that is here today. And second, we talk about preventing it, but almost never about making our communities more resilient to it.

“Climate change is a done deal,” says Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (Intact Centre). “It is here to stay, and it is irreversible.”

While we can’t say with certainty that any specific event, like the 2013 floods in Calgary and Toronto or the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, are a direct consequence of climate change, Dr. Feltmate compares the situation to a baseball player who goes on steroids and then immediately starts hitting five times as many home runs. He might have hit some of them anyway, but we know what’s behind most of them. For seven out of the last eight years, catastrophic loss insurance claims for things like floods, wildfires, and ice storms in Canada have been over a billion dollars annually, whereas historically the average has been between $200 and $500 million. With numbers like those, a drug test would be a formality.

We can act on climate change now

“We should obviously do everything we can to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and slow the rate of change,” says Dr. Feltmate. “However, we also to need embrace climate adaptation aggressively right now.”

Climate adaptation means securing our homes, businesses, and communities against severe weather events like floods, wildfires, and ice storms. It means building better infrastructure for water drainage and preserving the wetlands in and near cities that provide vital safety valves in the case of floods. Building a network of readily available information including up-to-date flood plains maps and disaster recovery plans is integral.

We have a lot of work to do. In an Intact Centre report card released last October, rating the flood readiness in provinces across Canada, the average grade was a C-minus.
“If you want to change the national conversation, you need to begin from a foundation of strong data-driven analysis,” explains Monika Federau, Chief Strategy Officer at Intact Financial Corporation. Intact founded the Intact Centre with the University of Waterloo, with the goal of identifying gaps in preparedness and tangible solutions for communities.
“We spent a lot of time with the University of Waterloo focusing on understanding and projecting climate impact. The second step in changing the conversation is to bring a toolkit to the table where you can show field-tested solutions that actually work.”

Working together since 2010, Intact and the University of Waterloo first funded a set of 20 pilot projects under the Climate Change Adaptation Project. The best practices identified by these projects informed the development of the Intact Centre and its programs.

One of the Intact Centre’s programs is the Home Adaptation Assessment Program (HAAP). “HAAP will help homeowners identify and implement simple home improvements that can make the difference between a dry basement and a flooded one when extreme rainfall hits,” adds Federau. Burlington, Ontario is the first city to pilot HAAP.

Climate adaptation is an economic necessity

Costs from severe weather events have increased in recent years. Only $1 in $4 is insured; the other $3 has to come from disaster relief funds or other taxpayer-driven budget line items, says Federau.

“There’s a direct economic benefit to Canadians if they understand this problem and encourage adaptation. It’s simply a more efficient use of tax dollars to have them directed toward improving infrastructure to benefit all,” she adds.

Further, as Dr. Feltmate points out, every dollar spent on climate adaptation results in benefits that are felt locally. The costs of failing to adapt to climate change reach further than the insurance industry — there are devastating social costs to bear when families lose homes and community infrastructure becomes overwhelmed. Canadians need to be empowered to take action on adaptation now, in tandem with reducing our carbon impact. We must put our dollars where they can help us most against the coming storm. As Dr. Feltmate plainly puts it: “Not adapting is not an option.”