Fiona shows N.B. unprepared for changing reality, climate researcher says

Louise Comeau, director of climate change and energy solutions at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says we need to accept our new reality in order to prepare for it.  (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Louise Comeau, director of climate change and energy solutions at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says we need to accept our new reality in order to prepare for it. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

The aftermath of Fiona shows how unprepared the province is for "our changing reality," said Louise Comeau, director of climate change and energy solutions at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

The post-tropical storm devastated many parts the coastline in southeastern New Brunswick, damaging homes and cottages — pushing some right off their foundations — and eroding beaches and other waterfront areas.

"If we don't make changes, coastal living will become increasingly dangerous," Comeau said Information Morning Moncton.

Comeau said people need to understand that the current way of living may not be possible, and the reality is that coastal homes may need to retreat back from the water, and entire communities may need to be relocated.

There is only so much that can be done to protect homes situated along coastlines, said Joanna Eyquem, the managing director of climate-resilient infrastructure at the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation based at the University of Waterloo.

Speaking to Information Morning Fredericton, she said roof ties and a water pump to quickly remove water from a home can help, but the most effective way to avoid hurricane damage is to move back from the coastline.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Eyquem said burying electrical lines in the ground, instead of hanging them from posts, can mitigate power outages due to a storm, "but that's a very costly solution."

"Ultimately, [we need a] bigger strategy to adapt our whole communitie," she said.

Planning for the future

Comeau said all levels of government need to have risk assessments and adaptation plans along with funding to support them, but the most important role they play is enforcing rules.

"At a community level, we see a lot of resistance to accepting the reality that the past is not the future," said Comeau.

These rules could include restricting people from building homes a certain distance from coastlines, or prohibiting development on floodplains.

Comeau said planning commissions need to be guided by provincial governments and municipalities to reduce unsafe developments.

Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation
Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation

"That's an emergency, not something we can wait for," said Comeau, "It may need to come down to a strict reality."

She said it could come to a point where governments become legally liable for having approved a development that they know to be dangerous.

Comeau said homeowners could also be required to sign a waiver before building a waterfront property, where they acknowledge the risks and opt out of future compensation for disaster relief.

"The taxpayers simply cannot manage a process of constant compensation in the face of disaster."

Eyquem said she hopes to see some improved regulations in the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy coming November.

She said discussions are underway to follow the United Kingdom's lead in requiring utilities to provide adaptation reporting every five years, where they list what their vulnerabilities are and how they're addressing them.

Eyquem said she also wants to see some short-term, measurable targets in the strategy and a plan for communicating the risks of climate change to the general public.

"We have tools and already know what to do, but we're not currently doing them on a big scale," said Eyquem.

Comeau said we need to find a balance between reducing greenhouse gas emissions to decrease the impact on future events, and also preparing for these extreme weather events that are bound to happen no matter what.

"I hope this event and other events to come will give us the wake-up call that's required," said Comeau.