Provinces and territories sign on to Ottawa's national climate adaptation strategy

As Canada suffers through one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, the federal government confirms its national climate change adaptation plan has the support of all provinces and territories.

Critics say Ottawa must do more to make homes resilient to climate-driven threats

A fire burns through a forest in Quebec.
A wildfire rages west of Chibougamau in Northern Quebec on June 4, 2023. (Audrey Marcoux/The Canadian Press)

As Canada suffers through one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, the federal government confirms its national climate change adaptation plan has the support of all provinces and territories.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, other cabinet ministers and senior federal officials were in Vancouver on Tuesday to present the final document.

"I think we all recognize that Canada is not ready to face the effects of climate change. And that strategy is our response to that," Guilbeault said.   

The government released a draft adaptation strategy in November. Although not much has changed in the final version, federal officials confirmed it has the blessing of the provinces, territories and national Indigenous organizations. 

"Canada's new national adaptation strategy is a great step. It's a concrete plan with goals, with objectives and with targets," said George Heyman, British Columbia's environment and climate change strategy minister.

The adaptation policy is getting a much kinder reception from provinces and territories than other aspects of federal climate policy — such as carbon pricing, which has been the focus of political conflict for years.

WATCH | Plan aimed at helping Canada adapt to heat, floods and wildfire: 

Provinces, territories sign on to national climate adaptation strategy

3 months ago
Duration 2:02
Jurisdictions across Canada are greenlighting a new government strategy aimed at helping communities adapt to increasingly severe weather caused by climate change, including extreme heat, wildfires and flooding. It aims to end extreme heat deaths by 2040 while pushing for urban tree planting and changes to building codes.

The plan comes with $2 billion to implement the strategy.

The plan reaffirms the commitment of governments to achieve high-level and specific targets. Those targets include eliminating all deaths due to heat waves by 2040 and establishing 15 new national urban parks by 2030.

The plan also states the federal government and its partners are committed to incorporating "additional climate change resiliency considerations" into the three Canadian building codes — the National Building Code, the Canadian Highway Bridge Design Code and the Canadian Electrical Code.

Ahead of the updated strategy's release, the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think-tank, called for a plan to make homes and apartments more resilient to wildfires, heat waves and other climate threats. 

While Ottawa is developing a separate "Canada Green Buildings Strategy," Pembina said it should be integrated with the adaptation strategy.

Noting that many older rental units don't have air conditioning, Betsy Agar, director of Pembina's buildings program, called for a national adaptation strategy for homes.

"When air quality outside is poor due to forest fires, it means that people simply can't open their windows," she said.

Pembina called for a strategy that prioritizes deep building retrofits through developing and implementing new building codes. 

These retrofits would include insulating and sealing leaky buildings to make them more energy efficient, and transitioning homes from gas-powered furnaces to more efficient and reliable heat pumps.The independent Canadian Climate Institute, meanwhile, has called for more public and private spending to support adaptation projects across the country. 

Federal spending has 'lagged behind'

Ryan Ness, the institute's adaptation research director, said federal funding for adaptation has "lagged behind" the money Ottawa has announced for reducing emissions and investing in technologies to reduce emissions. 

"While ultimately the federal government can't pay for everything, there's certainly more room ... for investment in adaptation," Ness said.

The Canadian Climate Institute's analysis projects the impact of rising emissions between 2015 to 2025 will cost the Canadian economy $25 billion a year.

"That number is only going to get bigger if we don't adapt," Ness said.

The skyline of Montreal is obscured by a haze of smog, Sunday, June 25, 2023, as a smog warning is in effect for Montreal and multiple regions of the province due to forest fires.
The skyline of Montreal is obscured by a haze of smog from forest fires on June 25, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

A recent analysis by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo found the United States is vastly outspending Canada per capita on climate adaptation. Blair Feltmate, the head of the centre, said for every $1 Canada invests the U.S. spends $3 to $4.   

Canada he said needs to close gap sooner rather than later. 

"Every day we don't adapt is a day we don't have," Blair said. "We have to work with greater haste to prepare for extreme weather events."


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories. He can be reached at david.thurton@cbc.ca