The ultimate code red: Preparing Canada for extreme heat
New report warns extreme heat is set to cause devastating climate-related suffering in Canada
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:
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:
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.
Managing Director, Climate Resilient Infrastructure, Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation
University of Waterloo
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Dr. Blair Feltmate
Head, Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation
University of Waterloo
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Dr Melissa Lem, MD, CCFP, FCFP
President-Elect, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
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Institut national de santé publique du Québec
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The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Office of Indigenous Relations.