Severe wildfires. Floods. Water shortages. Coastal storm surge. These are some of the catastrophic events that British Columbians may face in 2050 as a result of climate change. The province has just released a risk assessment that measures the likelihood and consequences of 15 apocalyptic events that are now more likely as a result of climate change.
It doesn’t mean that all or any of them will happen, or that they will be as bad as forecast if they do. It just means that the risk has been elevated, and governments must begin planning for them with a greater sense of urgency.
The risk assessment uses five parameters — health, social functioning, natural resources, economic vitality and cost to the provincial government — to weigh the potential consequences of each disaster. A one-in-500-year flood of the Fraser River, for instance, would affect more than 30% of the province’s total population, potentially kill between 10 and 100 people, and would be the costliest disaster in Canadian history. By 2050, that one-in-500-year likelihood may have been reduced to one-in-100 years.
Extreme heat and wildfires are the two highest risk events that show the greatest likelihood of happening. Heat waves can have dire consequences because people adapt gradually to changes in temperature. A three-day heat wave could cost 100 lives, more than $100 million in total economic losses, and disrupt electricity and transportation systems. By 2050, the risk assessment says, such a heat wave can be expected every three to 10 yeas.
British Columbia has already felt some of the impact of severe wildfires. The risk assessment says there are worse to come. Wildfires that consume at least one million hectares and that affect human settlements and significant infrastructure will become more common by 2050. Each of those fires could claim more than a 100 lives from direct and indirect exposure, and disrupt the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people for months and even years.
British Columbia calls the risk assessment the first of its kind in Canada. It intends to use it as a foundation for public engagement on the development of a climate preparedness strategy, which will be released in 2020.