The Current

Is Canada prepared for climate change? Adaptation is key, say experts

In 2014, Burlington, Ont. was hit with a so-called "weather bomb" leaving many with flooded basements. But it also kicked off city-wide efforts to adapt to the new reality of disruptive weather events.

Flooding and fires are the most common identifiers of climate change in Canada

'You're far better off to prepare and get ahead of the curve than just keep waiting for these things to happen,' says Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. ( Shannon)

Originally published on September 5, 2017.

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In August of 2014, the southern Ontario city of Burlington — just west of Toronto — was hit by a torrential storm, causing severe flooding that wreaked havoc on the homes of its residents. 

The flood changed everything: from the city budget, to home renovations where thousands of people realized that climate change was happening right below them. People described sewage spewing like a fountain from their basement drains.

Around 10 per cent of the city's houses — 3,500 homes — were damaged by the flooding, the consequence of two months' worth of rain that fell in less than eight hours.

"I lost 80 per cent of my whole life belongings. I had the highest claim from that sewage flood," said Burlington resident Carol Solis.

Carol Solis had two floods in her basement in Burlington in 2014. She says the loss from the damage is 'astronomical.' (Kristin Nelson/Carol Solis)

She said in addition to repairs, her insurance claim included having to move out and live in different places with her daughter.

Solis estimated, in total, it amounted to a half-a-million dollar claim.

"The loss was just astronomical ... memories, pictures, childhood toys — you name it. It took me two years to literally get my life, my head back together to realize the loss and to let it go."

Instead of waiting for the next storm to hit, the city decided to take a proactive approach and have now become a leader of climate adaptation as local politicians work to help residents prevent basement flooding in their homes.

Anna Maria talks with Mayor Rick Goldring at his home in Burlington, Ont. He is helping his city adapt to climate change after his home was one of 3,500 homes in the city flooded in August 2014. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

"I used to think that when you say adaptation you're throwing up the white flag and you're surrendering to climate change," Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti outside his home.

"But the reality is that we know where we are with regard to increases in temperature and more extreme weather events that we do have to adapt," he explained.

"Even if we reduce carbon dramatically now the temperatures are still going to climb ... so adaptation is as crucial as mitigation."

The flood damage in Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring's basement, Aug. 4, 2014. (Rick Goldring)

A recent report shows that Canadians who experience flooding are having a hard time coping, long after they've cleaned up the mess left behind. 

University of Waterloo's Blair Feltmate heads the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. He works with insurance companies, banks, and governments to mitigate the risks involved with climate change. He and his team conducted the study.

Feltmate said he was surprised by the survey results that showed Canadians who have experienced flooding continue to feel high levels of stress when it rains.

He also heads the federal government's panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience— a 25-member panel that will provide an adaptation framework for the country.
Canadians need to feel ready for the impact of climate change to affect their community because it's inevitable, says Blair Feltmate, director of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. (Submitted by Blair Feltmate)

He's a staunch believer in preparing Canadians to minimize the impact of climate change on their communities and believes adaptation is key. 

"Preparedness or adaptation is effectively the gift that keeps on giving," Feltmate said.

It may be impossible to predict the outcome of a devastating storm when it hits but he said, "it is highly predictable that they will occur."

"So you're far better off to prepare and get ahead of the curve than just keep waiting for these things to happen."

How is Canada preparing for climate change impact?

Feltmate believes Canada should be on the path to prepare for what's coming with climate change and outlined five key questions that will shape how to proceed.

1. Understanding the science and making sure the science is available to decision makers.

2. Highlighting potential vulnerabilities in terms of infrastructure 

3. Focusing on the more vulnerable communities in the country relative to extreme weather

4. How to address health implications of extreme weather

5. Updating floodplain maps

Listen to the full documentary near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.