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| 04/05/18

Canada’s climate action planning a mess, the north faces grave permafrost risks


Canada is woefully underprepared to respond to the risks from climate impacts, according to an assessment by the country’s auditors general, and is very far from meeting its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. Northern Canada in particular faces a significant threat from the lack of planning, they warn.

For the first time, the auditor general offices at national, provincial and territorial levels have collaborated to assess the state of the country’s action on climate change. In the report issued last Tuesday, the auditors found that most governments have not properly assessed what climate risks they face, or depend on out-of-date assessments performed over a decade ago. While eight provinces and territories have developed strategies for adaptation to the changes that are unavoidable regardless of how aggressively the global community acts to reduce emissions, most have also not developed any detailed plans for how to carry out these strategies. Few jurisdictions have interim steps or timelines to achieve certain actions, and have yet to allocate funding for resources.

At the federal level, only five departments and agencies out of 19 that were examined had undertaken comprehensive climate risk assessments. These were the departments of Fisheries and Oceans, Health Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Natural Resources and Transport Canada.

The auditors highlighted that Nunavut had assessed climate risks only with respect to drinking water and the mining industry, and BC had only assessed the risks to mining and agriculture.

Only Newfoundland and Labrador have performed the necessary work to comprehensively assess climate risks and develop a detailed adaptation plan. In addition, only Alberta, New Brunswick and the Yukon have adequate adaptation coordination between agencies or across different levels of government.

“Without a government-wide assessment, governments cannot prioritize and assign resources to manage risks efficiently,” the authors warned.

They flagged northern Canada as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, especially as the vast region confronts thawing of permafrost. This phenomenon is already contributing to structural problems in buildings such as shifting of foundations, cracking of walls and warping of doors, as well as exacerbating the slumping and appearance of sinkholes in roads.

In the Yukon, the Department of Highways and Public Works had worked to evaluate, monitor, and remediate roads and highways affected by permafrost thawing, but it had not performed any geotechnical, geophysical, or engineering investigations on buildings. In the Northwest Territories, the Department of Infrastructure does not consistently follow its own public building maintenance practices for permafrost risk management. In Nunavut, while some permafrost planning had been undertaken, measures identified were not fully implemented.

The country has missed two previous internationally agreed emissions reduction targets and is currently off track from meeting its 2020 target. Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna accepted the auditors’ damning assessment, but placed the blame for the problems on the previous government. Since the auditors-general were tasked with their assessment, the federal government has developed its Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Only Saskatchewan has not signed on to the framework.

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