University of Waterloo: Leading sustained impact toward climate action in Canada

The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo is renewing its efforts to work with homeowners, communities, governments, and businesses to identify and reduce risks associated with climate change and extreme weather events, such as flooding, wildfire and extreme heat.

Flooding, wildfire and extreme heat are natural processes in Canada. Climate change is causing shifts in the timing, frequency and intensity of these processes to varying degrees across the country. Where we locate our communities and how we build them, play a significant role in our exposure to damage from these natural processes. Extreme weather of one type, such as extreme heat, can also increase the hot, dry conditions necessary for wildfires. Wildfire-impacted landscapes, with lost plant cover and scorched soils are more vulnerable to flooding.

By working with community stakeholders to create tools to help them retain and restore natural infrastructure, improve their ability to accommodate natural processes and to build extreme-weather adapted homes, businesses and infrastructure, the Intact Centre is helping communities to reduce the impacts of this climate-influenced “domino effect.”

In doing its work, Waterloo’s Intact Centre has translated research, mobilized guidelines and standards, and promoted climate adaptation solutions through strategic partnerships to raise awareness and deepen the knowledge of climate change and extreme weather risk in Canada. Launched in November 2015, the Intact Centre, housed in Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, has received core funding support from Intact Financial Corporation.

“The Intact Centre focuses on five key areas including Flood Adaptation, Wildfire Adaptation, Extreme Heat adaptation, Natural Infrastructure and Capital Markets. Our research helps us share practical and cost-effective best practices for reducing extreme weather risk,” said Blair Feltmate, professor and head of Intact Centre. “We also facilitate the uptake of these best practices by key stakeholders such as residents, builders, developers, conservation authorities, municipalities, provinces and federal ministries in Canada.”

In line with the Faculty of Environment and Waterloo’s strategic plan, Intact Centre promotes the use of natural infrastructure assets, like wetlands, forests, coastal marshes amongst others, as an approach to build climate resilience and deliver broader societal benefits.

With the published new national guidance on coastal protection combining natural and grey infrastructure, the Intact Centre leads new research regarding use of natural infrastructure to manage flood and erosion risk at the river basin scale. This paves the way for efficient policy drives and decision-making toward management and allocation of resources equitably, especially in vulnerable communities that are most at risk.

Relative to wildfire risk, the Intact Centre collaborated with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, FireSmart Canada and the University of Alberta to develop a technical checklist featuring wildfire resilience best practices for home construction, renovation and landscaping for homes located in forested regions of Canada.

Additionally, the Intact Centre is engaging the capital markets and policy makers in the integration of physical climate risk into sustainable investment decision-making. The Intact Centre created two Climate Risk Matrices (CRM) — one for Canada’s electricity transmission & distribution system and another for the commercial real estate sector. This enables them to identify the top means by which physical climate risks may negatively impact a specific industry sector, while also identifying actions that they could take to mitigate those risks.

The CRM is being replicated for a broader range of industry sectors in Canada and Intact Centre is promoting it through collaboration with such organizations as the Bank of Canada, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), Global Risk Institute, Canadian Securities Administrators, the Sustainable Finance Action Council, and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

In coming years, the Intact Centre plans to strengthen its position and relationships with the focus of facilitating on-the-ground mobilization of adaptation solutions across Canada.

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