Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not being reduced quickly enough, and our communities, cities and lifestyles must adapt to the consequences of climate change. The intensity of the impacts will vary depending on our emissions reductions, but even if we achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the impacts of the climate crisis will continue to be felt.
By way of comparison: reducing our emissions is a bit like applying the brakes to a car that's headed toward a wall, whereas adapting means putting on a seatbelt and activating the airbags in order to protect yourself from the impact.
What can we do to adapt?
There are numerous ways that we can reduce the vulnerability of communities and strengthen their resilience to better manage the current and future effects of climate change. For example, building dikes to protect coastal communities from flooding, or developing drought-resistant agricultural crops.
Adaptation measures not only increase our resilience, but a number of them can also help reduce GHG emissions. Greening initiatives that help reduce urban heat islands to provide shade and absorb heat is one example that has been done in a number of Quebec cities. This type of action also helps to mitigate climate change, since vegetation absorbs CO2, the primary GHG emitted into the atmosphere by human activities.
Where are we at on adaptation in Quebec?
A number of cities have already implemented some adaptation measures, but there's still a lot of work to do. For example, the flooding that occurred this year in residential basements and subway stations in Montreal demonstrated the importance of developing "sponge" parks and sidewalks designed to absorb water, as featured in an announcement last October by Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.
Municipalities in coastal areas of eastern Quebec have had to deal with other issues, such as erosion and submersion. These issues require measures such as replenishing beaches with sand, maintaining the highway network by adding gravel, revegetating shorelines to stabilize the soil or even, in extreme situations, relocating families.
There is no one single adaptation measure that will work for all of Quebec because each individual community will need to identify solutions tailored to its specific needs. It's up to the provincial government to provide communities with the financial and technical resources needed.
Funding is far from adequate
The provincial government wants all Quebec municipalities to have an adaptation plan in place and have their climate risks assessed by 2030. But adaptation measures are expensive, and costs will only increase in the years to come. In 2022, the province's municipalities forecast that they will need $2 billion a year for five years in order to adapt their infrastructure to the effects of climate change. Funding offered by the provincial government totals just $360 million per year over the same period, even with the additional assistance announced in the past few weeks.
Clearly, too little money is being put on the table to help regions and municipalities adapt.
The importance of taking action now
Investing in climate adaptation now will generate significant savings by avoiding additional costs associated with the damage and disruption resulting from the impacts of severe weather events. Every dollar invested now in implementing major adaptation measures in Canada can result in long-term savings of $13 to $15.
Adaptation as a common thread
Much of Équiterre's work, particularly in the areas of land-use planning and food sovereignty, focuses on climate adaptation. This is because extreme climatic events have revealed vulnerabilities in our global food system, such as the shortage of Dijon mustard resulting from the recent drought in Western Canada.
In 2024, the cost of the average grocery basket could increase by $700 for a four-person Quebec family as a result of the droughts in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, for example, which are affecting cocoa production, and the droughts in California, which are limiting the supply of cauliflower and other vegetables.
Boosting our food autonomy is therefore a crucial strategy for collective resilience in the face of weather disturbances.
Recent events leave no doubt as to the need for investing in disaster prevention and adapting our living environments. Adapting to climate change doesn't mean giving up on reducing GHG emissions. Adaptation and emissions reduction must be implemented simultaneously if we are to limit human-caused damage and ensure that it doesn't end up costing us even more. Disease, premature death, forced relocation and irreversible property and cultural losses, such as the loss of one's home or land, whether due to floods or forest fires, are examples of some of the tragic consequences that we must anticipate, but above all, prevent.