Quebec infrastructure must adapt to a future with more extreme weather: experts

Quebecers will need to rethink how they design their homes to prevent further destruction from the effects of climate change, experts say.

It's a solemn reality that comes in the face of a devastating storm that killed 10 people and destroyed several homes in Quebec and Ontario over the weekend.

Homes in Quebec should be built to better endure strong winds, heavy rain and hail, said Alain Bourque, executive director of Ouranos, a Quebec consortium on climate change.

"Cities that go through hurricanes or severe thunderstorms, we just have to do [it] like them," he told CTV News.

This philosophy can be applied to all sorts of weather extremes, from heatwaves to drought, to floods to fire.

"You just need to go in California to see how they use water differently than we do in Canada in Quebec. And that's a good example of adapting to less water availability because of climate change and increased drought frequency."

A March survey commissioned by the federal government found that only four per cent of Quebecers have taken steps to protect their home from flooding, compared to an average 11 per cent of Canadians.

These measures can be as simple as applying caulk around basement windows or using water-resistant building materials when renovating.

But Bourque says the bulk of these changes needs to happen on an institutional scale; this is where "the engineers, the land-use planners, the health specialists, the urban planners" come in.

In his eyes, redesigning our lives around the "unavoidable" nature of climate change is key.

"Depending on where you live, adaptation is going to be different because adaptation is very local or regional in nature," he said.

"We need to be able to shelter our communities with respect to those risks."

POWER PROBLEMS

One risk on the minds of many Quebecers is power outages.

As of Wednesday morning, tens of thousands of Quebec households are still without electricity, with the efforts to restore power hindered by mangled wires, fallen trees and debris.

Francis Labbé, a spokesperson for Hydro-Quebec, said the corporation is expected to come up with a climate change adaptation plan in the fall to cushion the impact of future weather events.

Labbé acknowledged that although such severe storms are relatively rare, they're expected to become more common as a result of climate change. 

One approach that has been adopted in some countries, such as Sweden, is the installation of underground power lines.

But Labbé said it's unlikely this measure will be included in Hydro-Quebec's plans.

"It's way too expensive," he said, adding that Hydro-Quebec's distribution grid is long enough to wrap around the globe six times.

Burying all that underground would cost an estimated $100 billion and "would impact the electricity bill of our customers."

MORE FREQUENT STORMS

According to Bourque, the type of storm seen on Saturday is only going to become more frequent.

"There's going to be much more," he said.

"My immediate thought was, 'There we go again with another weather extreme,'" Bourque said. "[The storm is] very coherent with everything that is expected out of climate change science."

If global temperatures continue to rise, Bourque said, so will the frequency of devastating weather events like this one.

The solution?

A time machine.

"If we absolutely wanted to avoid the changes that are happening now, we should have executed the promises that we did in Rio in 1992. And in Kyoto in 1997, which we did not," he said.

Since changing the past isn't an option, Bourque said the next best solution is dramatically reducing greenhouse gases moving forward.

"So we are talking about completely changing our economy to make it completely disconnected with greenhouse gases and oil and gas," said Bourque, adding that society must "go towards renewable energy" and reduce its consumption overall.

It's a predicament made all the more urgent by a recent United Nations (UN) report, which found carbon emissions were at an all-time high between 2010 and 2019.

António Guterres, secretary-general for the UN, said the world is facing "unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals" and urged immediate action from all governments. 

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