Summer of Extreme Weather Confirms the Need for Climate Action, Canadian Private Sector Responds
Extreme weather events in Canada are intensifying, highlighting the financial and social cost of climate change. After a summer of heat waves, flooding and wildfires across the country, it is becoming increasingly clear that climate impacts are real and imminent. We need to do more – both in terms of preparing for these impacts, but also in terms of reducing the harmful emissions causing the global problem of climate change to occur in the first place.
Extreme weather events are costing our economy
Communities across Canada continue to feel the impacts of a changing climate. In early July, a major heat wave swept Central Canada, potentially contributing to up to 93 deaths in Quebec. Those who lived alone, in elderly residences and without air conditioning were most vulnerable.
In early August, heavy fains fell on downtown Toronto in an event equivalent to what was supposed to be a 1-in-100 year storm. Bay street business towers were inundated and lost power. Union Station, a central transit hub, was interrupted, meaning people couldn’t get to their families or their jobs. Streets and basements were flooded. The event cost more than $80 million in insured losses.
That same month, wildfires blazed out west, causing British Columbia to declare a province-wide state of emergency for the second year in a row. Thousands were evacuated from their homes. Scientists say there are several reasons for the increasing severity of wildfires in BC but a change in weather patterns driven by climate change has “pushed things over the edge.” Climate change brings warmer and drier conditions, as well as more lightning, to BC. This year, 443 fires were started by human activity, while 1,467 were due to lightning. As of early September, the amount of forest burned had reached 1.3 million hectares, breaking last year’s record of 1.2 million hectares.
Finally, in early September, three tornados ripped through Ottawa. They tore apart homes, critically injured residents and disconnected parts of the city from the transmission grid. Some 174,000 customers were left in the dark, some without power for three days following the event. Six hundred people in the neighboring area of Gatineau sought shelter after their homes were destroyed by the storm.
We cannot continue to watch events like these happen without taking proactive steps to better prepare.
Adaptation efforts should not come at the expense of emissions reductions
Both public and private sector efforts are needed to build climate resilience and invest in our future. But adaptation efforts should not overshadow or reduce the urgency of slashing emissions and transitioning to a lower-carbon economy. We need to continue to push forward on both fronts. As Zizzo Strategy’s CEO, Laura Zizzo, stated in a recent Globe article, “[w]e have to work hard to avoid the unimaginable and manage the inevitable.”
Business continues to drive the transition
While recent developments in Canada have left the state of many carbon pricing policies in limbo, corporate climate action continues to gather momentum. Since the Paris Agreement was signed, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of companies committing to accelerate the transition and decarbonize the economy. Their combined value of $15.6 trillion USD represents approximately 20% of the global economy. Company climate commitments include pledges to reduce emissions, increase the use of renewables and set meaningful targets. For instance, 1200 companies have implemented science-based targets, seeking to align their business plans with a 2-degree scenario. About 118 of the world’s biggest companies have signed onto 100% renewable energy mandates. And 1400 companies, including over 100 Fortune 500 companies, are implementing an internal carbon price.
The private sector is not waiting for government mandates to act. Rather, smart companies are looking ahead and have internalized the need to transition and build resilience.
In Canada, the same holds true. Investors, pension funds and banks are leading the way by disclosing in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure recommendations and integrating climate considerations into their strategies. A recent RI Europe article spotlights the growing Canadian leadership in this space, stating that “practices in climate disclosure and risk assessment have seen a strong presence from Canadian financial institutions.” In the article, Laura Zizzo explains that some of this shift is due to Canada’s own Mark Carney in promoting awareness of climate change in the markets. “Canadian banks hold him and his recommendations in very high esteem,” she said. “This was no longer a not-for-profit pushing for this – it was Mark Carney.” Canadian pension funds are also stepping up in a big way, with recent announcements from BCI and OPTrust to release a climate action plan and integrate climate considerations into strategic investment decisions, respectively.
Every organization needs to be part of this shift. As recent extreme weather events and private sector action have shown, climate resilience isn’t just a public safety issue; it’s an economic priority.