Natural landscapes key to Canadian cities, rural areas for building climate resilience, experts say

Cities and private companies should be investing in natural infrastructure, like salt marshes or green roofs and trees in urban settings to help build climate resilience.

'We're being reminded that climate change is happening faster than we were even anticipating'

The Nature Trust of B.C. purchased 61 hectares of land in the South Okanagan known as the Park Rill Floodplain. Officials say preserving the land will help in the fight against climate change. (Supplied by the Nature Trust of B.C.)

In the South Okanagan area of B.C. lies an important area of grassland and wetlands known as the Park Rill Floodplain.

It's home to species at risk like the peregrine falcon and the western screech owl. And as of last week, the 61 hectares of land are now protected from development after being purchased by the Nature Trust of B.C.

The area is being added to the White Lake Basin Biodiversity Ranch conservation complex in the South Okanagan, said Jasper Lament, CEO of the Nature Trust of B.C.

"Grasslands are very important carbon sinks ... and the White Lake Basin Biodiversity Ranch is a key grassland landscape in the southern interior of British Columbia," he said.

Investing in natural infrastructure like the Park Rill Floodplain will be key to building climate resilience in Canada, according to a new report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) released Monday. 

The report's authors said one-third of Canada's public infrastructure — from roads to buildings to wastewater facilities — is crumbling under the pressures of climate change and extreme weather conditions. 

More than 200 wildfires were burning in B.C. on Friday as a recent heat wave and parched conditions combined to raise the fire risk in many parts of the province to high or extreme. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

But there is a glimmer of hope. The report's authors said that preserving and investing in natural infrastructure — a naturally occurring area managed by people — could be one solution to deal with changing weather patterns and increasing temperatures. 

"The Prairies alone this past decade have experienced some of the costliest extreme weather on record: flooding, drought, wildfires, and that's just the past 10 years," said Darren Swanson, lead author of the report and an associate with the IISD.

"That's really the catalyst for why this is important. It's important to design infrastructure with the future in mind, because designing infrastructure based on past climate just doesn't cut it anymore."

What needs to happen

Investing in natural infrastructure, like salt marshes or green roofs and trees in urban settings, and incorporating natural elements into man-made landscapes will help to build climate resilience, according to Swanson and the report's contributors. But investing in natural infrastructure can only be one piece of the puzzle, they say.

Swanson said more money, effort and thought need to be put into making infrastructure in the country more climate-resilient.

Using concrete in buildings that respond better to freeze-thaw cycles; beefing up stormwater and drainage systems; and dealing with changing rainfall patterns are other ways both the public and private sector could strengthen Canada's infrastructure, according to the report. 

Governments on the municipal, provincial and federal levels also need to be investing and planning for climate change, Swanson said.

"We're being reminded that climate change is happening faster than we were even anticipating," he said. 

"Even with the recent heat dome across western Canada and the northwestern United States, that was coming and happening quicker than what the climate models were projecting. The timeline is quite urgent because we are seeing the [changes] now." 

At least 200 people fled their homes on a moment's notice after a fast-moving wildfire tore through the community of Lytton in B.C.'s Fraser Valley almost two weeks ago. Conditions in the area were dangerously dry and windy after the record-breaking heat wave. (Edith Loring-Kuhanga/Facebook)

The report notes the estimated infrastructure deficit to deal with climate resilience in the country ranges from $150 billion to $1 trillion. That number is $25-30 billion alone for First Nations, the report says, which notes northern Indigenous communities are at the greatest risk from drastic climate change.

But the responsibility to invest in making sure buildings, roads and information systems are climate-resilient shouldn't fall only to governments, Swanson said — the private sector also needs to keep this top of mind. 

"We're seeing that there needs to be more and diverse financing sources to really pave the way, so to speak, to seeing climate-resilient infrastructure become really mainstream," Swanson said. 

"Investments in billions of dollars, both built and natural, are really needed to close this infrastructure gap."


Stephanie Dubois is a journalist with CBC News. Share your story ideas with her at