As the frequency and intensity of natural hazards increases across Canada, environmental resilience is more important than ever. We need to adapt so that when floods, earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, or other natural hazards occur, we can safeguard our families, homes, infrastructure, supply chains, and ecosystems.
Building resilience requires scientific knowledge and data, including accurate and timely forecasting about where and when natural hazards are likely to occur, and how severe the damages may be. These analyses of potential future scenarios allow us to plan and effectively manage risks associated with these events.
Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) supplies reliable scientific expertise as part of an ecosystem of climate change and natural hazard science that effectively collaborates with many organizations worldwide. Our leading-edge research is used to monitor hazards and develop innovative solutions to enhance Canada’s resilience, emphasizing the value of effective evidence-based decision making in real time.
Interactions between climate, natural hazards, and quality of life—along with the importance of holistic resilience planning—is recognized in several global cooperation agreements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG2030), the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030. These agreements all specifically recognize resilience as a unique opportunity to enhance cohesion across policies, plans, institutions, goals, indicators, and monitoring systems to move towards a unified objective of ending poverty, protecting the environment, and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Canada is signatory to all of these agreements and understands the need for collaborative efforts and accountability in tackling climate resilience on a global scale.
Navigating Canada’s climate challenges
Canada’s diverse geography and climate result in a wide array of potential natural hazards—ranging from earthquakes, permafrost, flooding, erosion, landslides, and wildfires. These hazards have been a reality for countless Canadians in the past decades, and ensuring that moving forward, all Canadians can build resilience to these real-life challenges requires diverse scientific expertise and ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration and coordination for effective and timely decision making.
Climate change not only exacerbates the frequency and intensity of many natural hazards, but it also curbs our ability to use the recent past to forecast the future. The full impact of climate change on natural hazards is evolving given the dynamic nature of the systems at play. Researchers worldwide continue to monitor, assess, and model the impacts of climate change on a holistic global scale.
Specialized disciplines such as geology have provided valuable insights into the world’s evolutionary change over the last 4.5B years. Geoscientists have studied the eras of the planet within these last 4.5B years and have found past climate change events, which stand to inform and advise all research disciplines on climate change indicators and risks moving forward.
Risk modelling for earthquake resilience and beyond
Earthquakes pose a significant risk to many regions within Canada. To determine their potential impact, NRCan has created a national risk assessment of earthquakes. This risk assessment also serves as an indication for systems and populations vulnerable to other hazards.
To help communities and governments build earthquake resilience, NRCan, in collaboration with other science-based partners, has developed national-scale models of seismic hazards and higher-resolution models of building exposure and vulnerability, which when combined, paint a picture of potential damage to buildings, public safety, and the economy. The results of this scientific collaboration has resulted in an easy-to-use online tool called RiskProfiler, which provides neighbourhood-level information about potential earthquake risks to inform citizens and help them prepare for potential earthquake consequences in real-time.
Developing RiskProfiler is only the beginning. “We have a goal, as part of this broad global disaster risk reduction plan, to understand the risks of all hazards nationally: floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, among others,” says Philip LeSueur, a geological engineer who contributed to RiskProfiler development. “RiskProfiler would be a very powerful tool—the framework is now set for an approach to include the risk associated with multiple hazards to align with broader public safety goals.”
Figure 1 provides an example of earthquake risk analysis for Montréal, QC.
Figure 1. Riskprofiler.ca displays results of a probabilistic earthquake risk assessment allowing users to view and compare potential damage and losses across the country for a given return period. Here we learn that Montréal can expect to see 1,100 buildings damaged over a 50-year period, as an average value based on current exposure.
Advancing resilience across the hazards in Canada
In addition to earthquakes, Canada experiences many other hazards such as floods, wildfires, space weather, permafrost thaw, landslides, and erosion. Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) is a shared vision to support priorities on adaptation for resilient communities and a strong economy in the context of a changing climate. Effectiveness of this strategy will, in part, depend on the quantity and quality of scientific information available for the decision-making and implementation processes.
For example, the NRCan Flood Hazard Identification and Mapping Program under the NAS aims to ensure that Canada has comprehensive and up-to-date flood maps for higher flood risk areas. These maps are based on sound scientific data and support land-use planning, flood mitigation, adaptation to a changing climate, resilience building, and protection of lives and properties.
Another component of the NAS relates to wildfires, which are the second most costly disaster in Canada after flooding. To support longer-term wildfire resilience, a new Wildfire Resilient Futures Initiative is being launched, which will aim to enhance and support community resilience as the nature and behaviour of wildfires evolve. The 2023 wildland fire season is, and will continue to be, record-breaking in several ways including new records for total area burned, amount of carbon emissions being released due to wildland fires, number of evacuations, and support received through international resources. This wildland fire season has displayed what the future will increasingly look like if we do not take proactive action to prepare for, prevent, and mitigate wildland fires.
Beyond the NAS, NRCan scientists continue to conduct routine research and share findings related to hazards such as permafrost thaw and potential associated risks to infrastructure, sea level change, coastal erosion, and more.
Integrating Indigenous knowledge with scientific data enhances the holistic understanding of hazards and resilience strategies, spanning past and future contexts. For example, NRCan is working with the National Research Council and Indigenous communities in Metlakatla and Semiahmoo, BC on nature-based solutions to address shoreline changes.
The Government of Canada is making significant investments to build Canada’s capacity both to respond to wildland fires and to enhance long-term resilience. This includes the Fighting and Managing Wildfires in a Changing Climate Program (FMWCC) to train 1,000 community-based firefighters to reduce the risk from wildland fire and support community-based capacity development. As a first step, the initiative is piloting several projects with mostly Indigenous communities and organizations to train wildland firefighters and fire guardians for wildfire response in some of the most at-risk communities in the country. In light of this, NRCan is establishing an Indigenous Fire Stewardship Lab, recognizing the need and opportunity to better incorporate Indigenous knowledge of fire into wildfire management. NRCan is also working with Indigenous partners toward the establishment of a national Indigenous-led working group on wildfire management.
Ensuring that science has impact
Science is most impactful when communicated to, and used by, governments, communities, and stakeholders to inform decision making. NRCan strives to effectively communicate to governments, communities, and stakeholders the research that is conducted and to promote the tools, resources, and scientific knowledge that can empower users including emergency managers, planners, regulators, the financial sector, utility owners and operators, health authorities, and others, to act. For example, NRCan’s National Assessment Process synthesizes knowledge about how and why Canada’s climate is changing, the impacts of these changes on communities, environment, and economy, and how we are adapting—and disseminates findings through the “Canada in a Changing Climate” reports.
Another way to enhance science impact is to make user-friendly tools, like RiskProfiler, freely available to target audiences like community planners and emergency managers, and advertising them widely. It is also useful to work directly with these partners to develop innovative solutions. In NRCan’s endeavour to build community resilience, new climate change adaptation programming under the NAS supports cost-shared pilot projects in coastal regions to develop integrated regional scale plans and actions which can increase climate resilience of communities and businesses more cost-effectively.
Canadian scientific expertise is proving to be a powerful tool in enhancing resilience to natural hazards and climate change across the country. As we continue to navigate the challenges of a changing climate, Canada’s commitment to scientific rigour remains an essential tool in safeguarding communities, infrastructure, ecosystems, and future generations.
1 – https://sdgs.un.org/goals
2 – https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement
3 – https://www.undrr.org/publication/sendai-framework-disaster-risk-reduction-2015-2030
4 – Safaie, S. Johnstone, S, and N. Hastings (eds.) (2022) Resilience Pathways Report: Co-creating new knowledge for understanding risk and resilience in British Columbia. GSC Open File 8910, 278pp.
5 – Stewart, I., Capello, M. Mouri, H., Mhopjeni, K., and M. Raji (2023) Three Horizons for Future Geoscience. Policy Forum in Geoscience at the 2022 World Science Forum.
6 – https://riskprofiler.ca/index.html