OTTAWA - In the months and years to come, the creation and operationalization of a National Climate Emergency Task Force will make the difference between life and death for many across the country, the Green Party of Canada warned today. It is beyond urgent that the Federal Government works with all other jurisdictions to create such an agency.
“On June 18, 2019, the House of Commons adopted a motion recognizing that Canada is experiencing a climate emergency,” said Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader. “Yet our government never acted as though it understood the word “Emergency,” or what is needed to prepare for it.”
Two years ago, over four days, 619 British Columbians died in a heat dome. Since then, there have been more heat waves and extreme weather events of all kinds. By all scientific measures and accounts, such events will become more intensive and frequent in the future. This year’s wildfire season, as is now widely known, shattered all known records - for now.
“What is to be done when faced with events of such cataclysmic scale? Prepare and coordinate,” said Jonathan Pedneault, Green Deputy Leader. “Contingency plans are of the essence in such situations and someone’s got to establish them. Given the national nature of the threat, the feds are best placed to do so.”
Last year, Hurricane Fiona obliterated homes, livelihoods, coastlines and forests across five provinces, underscoring just how vulnerable Canada is to climate change. The tragedy highlighted the lack of adequate disaster preparedness and risk reduction strategies.
"Thus far, the foundation of Canada's disaster preparedness and response hinges on personal responsibility. But as the nature of the threats we face changes and worsens with climate change, relying on individual abilities alone won’t suffice," said Dr Farrukh Chishtie, the Green Party Shadow Critic for International Development and Co-Critic for Environment and Climate Change. "As calamities loom, residents are advised to fortify their homes and store enough provisions for 72 hours. Yet, as witnessed in the case of Hurricane Fiona, many endured over 500 hours without electricity and some don’t have the financial or physical ability to fortify their homes or stock up goods for prolonged periods of time."
As things stand, post-disaster, Canadians often end up depend on their own resources and community support for recovery. Many resort to private insurance for aid, provided they can afford it and their claims are not rejected. When insurance falls short, the government offers limited support by matching donations to charities. This is all clearly insufficient. Even the military currently lacks the resources needed to handle the growing magnitude and frequency of disasters.
To protect communities from such existential threats, the Green Party of Canada therefore calls for the establishment a National Climate Emergency Taskforce tasked with preparing communities for extreme climate events and coordinating the response to such events.
While all orders of government, provincial, territorial, local municipal and Indigenous are needed for such a Taskforce to be effective, the federal government should take the lead given its national scope. It should seek to be inclusive of diverse voices, including from members of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis, and bridge across various departments such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
« Thus far, the Liberal government has shown itself to be more of a reactive than proactive force when these disasters hit home. It simply isn’t good enough, » said Chishtie. « The scale and scope of the climate crises requires collaboration at all levels, which is why such a Taskforce is necessary. »
Part of the contingency building needs to include appropriate, climate-ready universal warning systems that do not depend on mobile technology or any device on the grid. The National Climate Emergency Task Force could help build this system, along with response planning in collaboration with various agencies and vulnerable communities.
"Effective warning systems save lives. Sadly, many regions of the country lack fast and effective ones beyond cellphone alerts," said May. "However, we know from experience that in most extreme climate events cellular service fails, land lines go down and power goes out. Getting warnings to all affected individuals is challenging but critical."
A low-tech solution could include clear and simple siren patterns of alerts for different events – shelter in place (flooding) to take cover below ground, tornado, move to higher ground tsunami, evacuate wildfire, and so on. They would require extensive public education efforts as to what the different siren signals (long blares, short blasts etc) mean and how to react quickly to them. Work to develop these clear signals and low tech warnings should begin immediately and should be in the hands of the proposed Taskforce.
We should amplify the role of amateur radio (ham radio operators) as public reliance on hand cranked radios is far better planning for multiple kinds of life threatening emergencies. Besides these signal systems, provision of research into a better understanding of climate extremes will help improve forecasting climate extremes with greater precision while increasing lead times to plan.
Other adaptation measures
In the case of heat domes, the current federal adaptation strategy is particularly flawed in assuming the response is in physical infrastructure with air conditioning. Less costly measures could be put in place much more rapidly and the Taskforce would help in sharing best practices across the board.
We need local governments and first responders to spread awareness of life-saving measures like cold water in bathtubs, cold showers and access to ice. None of these measures were employed in the BC 2021 heat dome, but the BC First Responder protocols have since been re-written to incorporate such life saving measures.
Besides developing better emergency planning and response, the proposed Taskforce would also be well suited to carry out climate vulnerability assessments (CVA) and develop adaptation strategies across municipalities. Presently, municipalities lack resources, including financial and human, to carry out the much-needed CVA assessments in order to help adapt and prepare for climate impacts.
“ It goes without saying here that active climate mitigation is required, for which Canada needs to phase out fossil fuel production completely, “ Pedneault said. “ Investments and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry must end, and the money directed towards development of renewable energy pathways as well as climate adaptation strategies."
“The climate crisis requires us to work collaboratively. Greens are dedicated to help Canadians overcome this existential threat, “ concluded May. “We ask all parties to embrace this collaborative spirit and work to establish a National Climate Emergency Taskforce and save lives.”
For more information or to arrange an interview :
Fabrice Lachance Nové