Extreme heat should qualify as a natural disaster, says new report

Governments should treat the oppressive heat as a natural disaster as climate change increases the risk of rising summer temperatures across much of Canada, according to a new report.

Irreversible Extreme Heat, written by experts from the Intact Center on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo, says “Canadian alarm bells should be ringing” about the risk of intense heat.

“Extreme heat is a kind of impending disaster,” said lead author Joanna Eyquem, executive director of climate-resilient infrastructure at the Intact Center.

“We pay a lot of attention to floods and obviously fires, which cause a lot of property damage. But I think extreme heat is in a different category, and the cost of extreme heat is death and health. people. That’s something we don’t really have up there with our natural disasters.”

The Federal Government’s Natural Disasters website provides links to information on earthquakes, floods, wildfires, hail, icebergs, landslides, avalanches, tornadoes, tsunamis, storm surges, volcanic eruptions and winter storms. Heat is not listed, although it has proven to be deadlier and more common in Canada than most of these other threats.

The heat wave that hit British Columbia last summer killed nearly 600 people, including 526 in a week at the end of June. In Quebec in 2018, 89 people died due to extreme heat, most in poor neighborhoods in Montreal where air conditioning was scarce and natural vegetation like trees to provide shade was limited.

Ontario has been criticized for not properly tracking heat-related deaths, which are often recorded as heart attacks or from other chronic illnesses, many of which can become quickly fatal when the heat hits.

As body temperature rises, it causes a cascading effect on internal organs, putting pressure on the heart and exacerbating existing conditions. Hot air also leads to poor air quality, affecting people with respiratory problems like asthma.

The Intact Center report says most of Canada will feel the effects of extreme heat by mid-century, with southern British Columbia, the Prairies along the US border and southern Ontario and Quebec being the most at risk.

More than 17 million people live in the urban centers most exposed to extreme heat events, according to the report.

Between 1976 and 2005, Windsor, Ontario experienced an average of about 25 days above 30 C in one summer. By 2050, this delay should reach between 60 and 79 days. In Regina, the number of days above 30 C could increase from less than 20 to more than 50, and in Montreal, from about 10 days to between 35 and 54.

The maximum temperature in Kelowna, British Columbia was 35°C between 1976 and 2005. Climate change could push this temperature beyond 40°C by 2051.

The duration of heat waves is also expected to increase, with the average heat wave in Kelowna lasting about six days before 2005, but expected to nearly double to more than 11 days by 2051. In Ottawa, heat waves that lasted in average five days, could extend beyond eight days by mid-century.

The longer the extreme heat lasts, the more dangerous it becomes, the report warns.

The report outlines dozens of things individuals, businesses and governments can do to lessen the threat posed by oppressive heat, including better emergency planning and heat warning notification systems.

People can plant trees for better shade, install blinds, add heat-absorbing building materials, use green roofs or heat-reflecting roofs, and have plans for heat waves that include sleeping arrangements. alternatives and make sure friends and neighbors have a place to cool off. .

Governments must incorporate heat concerns into building and planning codes, have public shading options such as trees or artificial canopies, and ensure there are cooling systems based on water like ponds and sprinklers.

Backup power sources to prevent outages during extreme weather conditions are also essential, the report adds.

“If an extreme heat event coincides with an extended power outage – without power to air conditioners and fans – lack of preparation could result in many deaths,” the report warns.

Eyquem said many of the things that can reduce the effect of heat waves will do double duty. For example, trees and parks improve quality of life and can also reduce flood damage.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 19, 2022.