A more resilient Canada after the Paris Agreement

By Malcolm Araos, Dylan Clark, and Alexandra Lesnikowski

In December, leaders from 195 countries came together in Paris to adopt a historic agreement that limits global average temperature rise to “well-below” 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures. The agreement also commits countries to addressing the unavoidable impacts of climate change and enhancing the resilience of communities most at risk to climate impacts.

Commentators and activists agree that while the Paris agreement is a breakthrough in global commitment to tackling climate change, the “hard work” starts now and we are on a long and bumpy road to achieving the emissions cuts needed to meet this goal. This is true, and the ambitious Paris goal will require comprehensive policy changes that encourage a global shift to renewable energy and significant financing for adaptation to climate impacts.

We also know that a 2°C goal may not be enough to avoid catastrophic losses of life, property, and cultural heritage in some of the world’s most vulnerable locations. Dramatic images of coastal inundation in places as different as Florida and Bangladesh show that impacts of climate change are already happening and will affect the safety and well-being of vulnerable communities all over the world.

This focus on the hard road ahead distracts from another important message in the post-Paris conversation. We have before us an unprecedented opportunity to work together on building a stronger, more inclusive, and resilient society. The challenge ahead is not insurmountable and we have plenty of examples here in Canada of the inspiring work that cities and communities are doing to manage the risks from climate change.

Vancouver was the first city in Canada to adopt a comprehensive strategy on adaptation and is working to implement changes across the city, such as updating the city’s building code to account for increased frequency and severity of flooding, planting trees to make neighbourhoods more resilient to heat waves, and investing in backup power supplies in case of severe storms. In Halifax Harbour, one of Canada’s most important economic assets, the Halifax Regional Municipality has raised minimum ground elevations for buildings in response to anticipated sea level rise.

Over the twentieth century, temperatures in much of the Canadian North have increased well in excess of 2°C. In spite of the profound impacts this warming is having on people and ecosystems, we are also seeing high levels of resilience. People, wildlife, and flora change and adapt to new environments. Across the North, individuals are refining how hunting and fishing is done, and communities are engaged in planning for changes to permafrost, water, and shipping. More is needed, but the will and interest in adaptation are there.

Adaptation requires lengthy planning and funding for implementation, but has the potential to build stronger communities, improve health and well-being, and address social inequalities in addition to climate change. Adaptation parallels poverty reduction, health care improvements, and better education access and so makes sense under any climate change scenario.

Climate change is one of the most serious challenges we face in this century but step-by-step we can work towards building a stronger and more resilient future. Addressing vulnerabilities to climate change promises that countries, provinces, and communities can simultaneously improve equality. We must pressure our national and local leaders to work collaboratively and achieve inclusive and robust changes in policy and financing for low-carbon, resilient communities.

This is the promise that we can take away from Paris and start fulfilling today.

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