Building climate resilient communities in recovery from COVID-19 and moving to a green and resilient society

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About the project

Climate change must be fully addressed through integrated climate-societal actions in recovery from the pandemic. The warming climate with increasing severe weather and climate events is having major impacts on communities, human health and the economy—which will continue to increase until actions are taken to reduce the impacts through adaptation and resilience. Most public and policy discussions globally and nationally address the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 2oC and, if possible, to 1.5oC, by reducing global emissions. This is important, as are commitments to increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience.

This report builds on the expertise of a strong, multidisciplinary team of scientists and community leaders who came together to review the literature, government documents and policies and undertake discussions with individuals across sectors, including Indigenous voices.

Analyses of international and Canadian (federal, provincial, municipal) climate resilience actions across community heat environments, urban infrastructure, Indigenous communities, human health, economics of adaptation, and barriers to adaptation were done to provide guidance for addressing impacts, adaptation and resilience response issues for a national adaptation strategy.

The objective is to provide advice for creating climate resilient communities.

Key findings

Climate change is impacting communities and the health and wealth of our entire society. The 2021 World Economic Forum global risks decadal assessment, in terms of impacts and likelihood, ranked infectious disease as first for impacts and fourth for most likely; failure of climate action (climate change adaptation and mitigation) as second for both impacts and likelihood; and extreme weather as eighth for impacts and first for most likely. Climate action and severe weather are clearly linked and in recovery from the pandemic, societies need to address these risks together. 

  • Local-scale warming due to urbanization adds to the heat burden with social, health and economic impacts. There is need for actions on response, planning, infrastructure standards and methods to enhance resilience.
  • There are physical and mental health impacts of climate change risks. Mental health impacts can occur when large-scale events are witnessed directly or remotely. Health adaptation strategies are in their infancy and will be more important as the health effects continue to be understood and evolve. 
  • Reducing the impacts from severe wind, tornadoes, fires, flooding, hail and other risks requires methods for community vulnerability analysis and quantification of risk reduction, addressing various building characteristics and disaster risk effects. Enhanced knowledge of the impacts of a warming climate on severe weather and the economics of climate change adaptation and decision frameworks for selecting which adaptation measures should be implemented are important. Cost-benefit assessment and alternative decision frameworks can better address concerns around non-monetary impacts and values.
  • In Canada, there is some planning for adaptation but less action. To guide municipal adaptation, the Cities Adapt project, addressing extreme events, examined municipalities’ projects for lessons learned and best practices, showing how actions to improve climate resilience need to be a high priority.
  • Indigenous communities in Canada are at the forefront of climate change adaptation. Combining western and Indigenous ways of knowing is necessary for adaptation.
  • Despite the significant benefits of resilience investments, overall investments are low. There is a need for leadership to prioritize and mainstream adaptation, enhance funding investments, provide market incentives, coordinate between participants and stakeholders, and enhance access to scientific information.
  • After many years of mixed actions, the federal government’s 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Changeand 2020 Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy Plan aim to make Canada more resilient to a changing climate. In December 2020, Canada committed to develop its first-ever National Adaptation Strategy. 

Policy implications

To address the climate crisis, an ambitious, strategic and collaborative National Adaptation Strategy—working with all levels of governance, Indigenous peoples, the scientific community and other key partners—with a vision for building climate resilient communities, should mobilize action on key priorities, with governmental leadership, financial support and a framework for measuring progress.

  • The 2021 Auditor General’s assessment on response to COVID-19 stressed the need for credible and timely risk assessments, national surveillance frameworks and early threat warnings—noting that public health is a shared responsibility between all levels of governance. The Supreme Court stated in 2021 that global warming causes harm beyond provincial boundaries.Actions for climate resilient communities need integrated assessments and surveillance and warning systems, for extreme events, now and into the future. 
  • There is need in pandemic recovery to integrate actions for climate resilience, a green economy and the pandemic, for overall societal benefits for Canadian communities, now and in the future.
  • Equity, diversity and inclusion are essential principles for climate, health and all authorities as they work with partners to address climate change in a manner that brings benefits to all segments of the population and supports Canada’s international role.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Gordon McBean, PhD, CM, OOnt, FRSC, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography and Environment, Western University and Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction;

Paul Kovacs, MA, Executive Director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, Adjunct Research Professor, Economics, Western University;

Jamie Voogt, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Geography and Environment, Western University;

Greg Kopp, PhD, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Western University;

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR and the Government of Canada

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