Many Canadians live in climate risk areas and don't know it: report

Canada’s outdated approach to assessing the risks of climate change means that many Canadians are currently living in areas considered at risk of climate-related flooding and wildfires without knowing it, says a new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.

The study, released last week by the government-funded think tank, projects risks and costs to Canadian infrastructure – homes, buildings, roads, railways and electrical systems – over the next several decades based on various climate change scenarios.

It identifies flooding as the greatest risk to homes and buildings, and concludes that many Canadians are unaware of the flood risk to their homes.

“Canada has a flood risk information deficit,” the report says.

The study estimates that some 650,000 homes are currently at risk from river flooding, and that another 325,000 are at risk of local flash floods of streets and sewers, which it says is a risk government flood maps rarely take into account.

However, property buyers are often unaware of the climate-related risks they may be buying into due to a lack of regulations that would force disclosure, say the authors, who cite research showing that only six per cent of people in Canada who live in flood risk areas are aware of it.

“Physical climate risks to residential real estate are not disclosed by home insurers, banks, or other mortgage lenders,” the report says. “This means that investors have no idea how likely it is that infrastructure, companies, and sectors in which they are invested could lose value because of growing damages from climate change.”

Among other findings are that climate change-related costs to Canadian infrastructure are on track to rise to tens of billions of dollars each year, and that decisions on new infrastructure currently do not adequately take the risks of climate change into account.

“Our analysis shows that the cost of climate change-induced damage to key infrastructure could be massive, yet our projections of costs are only a low-end estimate,” the report says.

The report also found that Canada does a poor job of both providing information on climate risks to infrastructure and ensuring that the information that does exist is disclosed to consumers and investors.

Indeed, because Canada does not produce flood-risk maps for much of the country, the report authors used publicly-available data from private firm JBA Risk Management for much of their analysis.

Additionally, because of the lack of available information on climate-related infrastructure risks, homes and other buildings continue to be built in high-risk areas.

“The lack of risk information and guidance in codes and standards means that new infrastructure continues to be designed, and existing infrastructure continues to be managed, for the climate of the past,” the report says.

For its projections, the study’s authors used two different scenarios, both of which reflect the fact that Canada warmed much faster than the global average and is expected to continue to do so.

The first scenario reflects the adoption of emission reductions policies announced globally in 2020. In this scenario, Canada warms by 3.3 C by mid-century and 4 C by 2100 when compared with average temperatures in the 1981-2010 period. The second scenario reflects a continuation of current emissions trends, resulting in an average temperature increase of 4.4 C by mid-century and 7.4 C by the end of the century.

In the higher emissions scenario, the report says that flood damage to homes and buildings could rise by a factor of ten by the end of the century to as high as $13.6 billion annually, while temperature and rainfall-related damage to roads and railways could rise by up to $12.8 billion by the end of the century.

These costs will not be evenly distributed, as those living in flood-prone areas or in remote communities that are already lacking infrastructure face higher risks.

“Infrastructure impacts and costs induced by climate change will also have greater impacts on people and communities that are already at an economic disadvantage,” the report says.

Among its recommendations, the authors say governments need to develop and publish accurate and practical information about climate-related infrastructure risks, while regulators should require owners of existing and proposed infrastructure to disclose climate change risks.

It also recommends that governments create safety nets for the most vulnerable to make climate risk pricing equitable.