BALDREY: B.C. climate risk assessment an alarming read

Greenland is experiencing a heat wave and the massive melting of its ice shelf.

Paris recently sweltered in 40-degree heat and it now looks like this past July may have been the hottest month ever recorded.

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All of this makes a report quietly released last month by the B.C. government that predicts what this province can expect from the effects of climate change even more alarming.

The report, entitled Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for B.C., was startling enough when it was made public without fanfare (not even an accompanying news release), but recent real-time events underscore its dire warnings.

It is pretty much bad news all around.

Frequent flooding. More wildfires. Long periods of drought. Sustained heat waves. Long-term water shortages.

In addition, dealing with these potential disasters is going to cost a lot of money, much of it government money. Which means more of your tax dollars will be needed to take the necessary steps in a proactive manner to minimize the damage, as well as paying for what could be massive clean-up costs after the event.

This grim scenario is supposed to unfold in B.C. over the next 30 years or so. Some of this is already happening of course (while this summer so far looks to be a comparatively mild wildfire season, we have recently experienced two of the worst wildfire seasons ever) and it looks like things are just going to get worse.

What is truly unsettling is the prospect that some of these events could occur simultaneously, leading to potentially catastrophic outcomes. An out-of-control wildfire, coupled with a prolonged heat wave and massive flooding could lead to everything from loss of life to community breakdowns to the loss of an energy or water supply.

The report evaluated 15 specific “climate risk events” driven by climate change and rated them from “low” to “catastrophic” and considered their likelihood and impact on infrastructure, human life, and “cost to the provincial government.”

In terms of costs, a bad wildfire and flooding season can easily approach $1 billion drained from the provincial treasury. However, that will not necessarily be the “new normal.”

If we start seeing events considered unlikely today but considered quite possible down the road – saltwater contaminating rivers, glacier mass loss and loss of natural resources – the costs will soar well beyond what they are right now.

If there is any good news in all of this, the report is evidence that B.C. is leading the country in assessing climate risks and how to deal with them. To its credit, the B.C. NDP government is blazing a new path that hopefully other provinces can emulate.

B.C. is also the only province (along with the federal government) to implement what is called the “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction,” designed to mitigate the damage caused by natural disasters and human-caused ones.

The Sendai Framework (created by the United Nations) emphasizes the four pillars of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

We may soon see if and how such a framework will pay off as these climate change disasters begin occurring more regularly and rapidly. The first evidence will likely come from another wildfire season and the steps towns like Grand Forks are taking in the aftermath of severe flooding.

As an aside, the NDP government’s handling of this report was puzzling. There seems to be a consensus that the general public needs more education about climate change and its destructive impact and this report seemed like the perfect tool to provide just that.

Unfortunately, the government chose to simply post the report online without announcing anything, and as a result there has been relatively little media coverage of its startling conclusions (I only discovered its existence courtesy of New West Record reporter Dustin Godfrey’s Twitter feed when he tweeted a link to it).

This was only the preliminary report. The final report will be released next year.

It is unlikely the final report will pull any punches and it will no doubt contain the same nightmarish predictions of what lies ahead.

If so, here’s hoping the government will put it in front of as many British Columbians as possible, rather than burying it on a website.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.


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