“Unlike 5 or 6 years ago, today the audience has no patience for a question on whether climate change is real or not.”
Over the past six years, I have presented scores of keynotes on adaptation to climate change to planners (and those who provide direction to planners), such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Over this period, I have seen substantial positive change by the planning community regarding the need to factor adaptation to climate change into planning frameworks. Indeed, five or six years ago, the question of whether climate change was real or not would often be asked; in contrast, recently, this question was presented to me in front of several hundred planners, and the questioner was almost immediately dismissed with a collective moan from the audience.
I believe the positive response to embrace adaptation comes from a visceral driver: most have either experienced the horrendous impacts of flooding directly, or they have seen extreme weather hit a nearby town that could have easily been their own. And by the way, it is flooding that is the big challenge—more than 50 per cent of all property and casualty claims in Canada are flood related, with hail, wind, ice, and fire comprising the rest.
“The new challenge for the planning sector is to appreciate that we still have greater climate change and extreme weather yet to come.”
The new challenge for the planning sector is to appreciate that we still have greater climate change and extreme weather yet to come. As challenging as the new weather regime is today, things will for certain get worse going forward. Planning for future extreme weather is critically important, as the capital stock turnover of built infrastructure tends to be slow, typically exceeding 50 to 100 years. Thus, as we build housing, commercial real estate, drainage systems, electricity infrastructure, et cetera, we must anticipate weather that will be more challenging than we are currently experiencing.
“Between now and 2030, the world’s population will increase by 1.5 billion people, which when added to the current level of 7.3 billion, will yield 8.8 billion people that will demand GHG-intensive goods and services.”
To expand on this point, it is attractive to think that through meetings like COP 21 that the world will reduce its global greenhouse-gas (GHG) footprint as a result of COP commitments. However, nothing achieved at COP will change the reality that 80 per cent of current world energy supply comes from approximately one-third each of coal, oil, and natural gas—all of which are fossil fuel sources. By 2030, according to the International Energy Agency, this ratio will remain, but with a total global GHG emissions footprint that will be at least 20-per-cent greater than present, which will result as a direct outcome of population growth. More specifically, between now and 2030, the world’s population will increase by 1.5 billion people, which when added to the current level of 7.3 billion, will yield 8.8 billion people that will demand GHG-intensive goods and services.
So how should planners think about and address this formidable reality?
- It should be a call to arms to align their profession with climate modellers who can help them to better anticipate the new climate and extreme weather reality to be factored into planning decisions.
- Planners need to understand that extreme weather cannot be ignored. If you try to cheat the system, you will eventually lose, and management by disaster will be the outcome.
- Planners need to understand that at the time of new build or retrofits, it generally costs no more to build a system properly that to build it improperly; however, if you build it improperly, and soon thereafter have to retrofit a system to take climate change into account, the costs will be formidable.
“The one thing we now know for certain is that the costs of not acting far exceed the costs of acting—financially and socially.”
The one thing we now know for certain is that the costs of not acting far exceed the costs of acting—financially and socially. Accordingly, the expertise of planners to factor climate change adaptation into infrastructure development is inextricably linked to future societal well-being.
This article was originally published on ReNew Canada’s website
Blair Feltmate is the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation with the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment.