The ultimate code red: preparing Canada for extreme heat
A new report warns extreme heat is set to cause devastating climate-related suffering in Canada, that if left unchecked, will surpass the 595 heat-related fatalities reported by British Columbia’s coroner in 2021, and 86 lives lost in Quebec in 2018.
New guidance to address irreversible extreme heat, developed by the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation in consultation with over 60 national experts, profiles steps to protect Canadians who may otherwise fall victim to lethal heat.
While urban areas are hotspots of global warming, the report highlights three “red zones” in Canada that will be hardest hit by extreme heat: valleys between the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains in B.C., prairie communities bordering the U.S, and north of Lake Erie through the St. Lawrence River Valley in Ontario and Quebec.
“Warming and more intense extreme heat will be present for decades to come,” said study co-author Joanna Eyquem, managing director of Climate Resilient Infrastructure. “If an extreme-heat event coincided with an extended electricity outage — with no fans or air conditioning running — loss of life could easily jump to the thousands.”
The new guidance outlines 35 practical actions to reduce risks from extreme heat, categorized into three types:
- Behavioural: support changes that include watching over the most vulnerable, such as regular checks on the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, and facilitating access to cooling shelters
- Nature Based: use nature to help us stay cool, such as expanding the tree canopy and natural habitats within urban areas, and
- Buildings and Infrastructure: design and retrofit buildings to include passive cooling – that does not require electricity – alongside traditional air-conditioning.
Individuals, property owners and managers, and communities all have a role to play, by taking action themselves and supporting and encouraging others to act.
Vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those who live alone, and those with fewer financial resources will require targeted support. Heat is also an inequality issue — marginalized or racialized communities are even more vulnerable.
“I see extreme heat in a different category than all other climate perils,” said study co-author Dr. Blair Feltmate. “Extreme heat is more than inconvenient, it’s potentially lethal. If we don’t prepare for extreme heat, those who are vulnerable may die.”
To help accelerate Canada’s progress in preparing for a hotter future, the report asks decision-makers to:
- recognize extreme-heat events as natural disasters
- provide Canadians with more information on how to reduce heat-related risks before a heat event
- harness public and private climate finance to maximize “win-win” For example, targeting tree-planting programs designed to reduce urban-heat-island effects while simultaneously storing carbon, and
- build heat resilience into home inspections and valuation appraisals
Extreme heat is the ultimate Code Red for Canada’s changing climate. Preparedness in anticipation of unprecedented heat – that threatens all Canadians – should top Canada’s adaptation agenda.