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Adam Legge: Our climate change conversation must focus on more than mitigation

Commentary

When climate change surfaced on the public agenda during the 1990s, it felt to many that this was a problem that could easily be kicked down the road. Governments of many stripes made plans to address it, but implementation was slow.

Today no political party fails to take climate change seriously. While there are strong debates on how to do so, there are no serious debates on whether to do so.

But beyond the conversation of climate mitigation—how much, at what pace, and with what technology to reduce emissions—there is another aspect that hardly anyone seems to be talking about: climate adaptation.

Simply put, climate adaptation means building, or re-building, communities to better handle threats from climate change and extreme weather events. The fallout of these events varies depending on where you live. It might mean fires or floods, droughts, hotter or colder days, or sea-level rise. Adaptation, therefore, means things like forest management, berms, and improved building standards.

This matters because extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe. This year in Canada marked the worst wildfire season on record, and heat waves and floods ravaged communities from coast to coast to coast.

And these events have major economic costs.

Take some numbers crunched by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC): “Insured damage related to severe weather in Canada routinely exceeds $2 billion annually. At $3.4 billion, 2022 was the third-worst year on record.” This compares to an average of $400 million annually between 1983 and 2009. In Alberta we know this, having experienced three of the five most expensive natural disasters in Canadian history, all within the past decade.

And that’s just the direct cost. The broader economic impact is just as big. The National Climate Institute estimates that by 2025, Canada’s GDP will be $25 billion lower than it would have been without the impacts of climate events. In the federal government’s own words, climate events are yet another driver of the housing affordability crisis. Insurance costs, or worse, insurance withdrawal, are making housing more expensive. As governments look for solutions to our housing crisis, they should add climate adaptation to their toolbox.

Yet even with all this, climate adaptation is virtually invisible from the public agenda, the dialogue of our nation’s leaders at COP28, and our recent federal fiscal plans.

The reality is that while emissions reduction is essential over the mid-to-long term, no amount of Canadian emissions reduction today will lessen these climate impacts in the near term. Climate adaptation can. It recognizes that fires, floods, and other impacts are going to keep happening, and it is our responsibility to protect Canadians, and the Canadian economy, from the worst effects.

The federal government has made strides in this effort. In June, they unveiled their National Adaptation Strategy.

This strategy identifies national heat events, floods, and wildfires as key climate risks. Earthquakes should be added to that list especially in light of recent news that major insurers are withdrawing earthquake insurance for parts of Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.

The strategy also points out that, “the increasing rate, severity and unpredictability of climate-related natural disasters are straining Canada’s emergency response systems, and impacting the reliability of supply chains, putting our food security and livelihoods at risk.” We need better disaster resilience, so we are “better prepared to prevent, mitigate, respond to and recover from the hazards, risks and consequences of disasters.” We need a “climate-resilient and adaptive health sector” to protect Canadians health and well-being. Our infrastructure needs to be climate-resilient and “undergo continuous adaptation to adjust for future impacts” of climate change. Finally, and perhaps most difficult, our economy needs to “anticipate, manage, adapt and respond to climate change impacts.”

This strategy makes the challenge clear and urgent and contains an impressive suite of ideas and policies to solve it, but like so many ambitious climate mitigation plans of the past, from all parties, implementation has lagged.

We need to translate words into action. So, what needs to be done?

To begin, we need to set goals, and then put in place the policy and invest the money required to meet those goals. That investment will be significant—and will need to involve partnership between government and industry.

We need to move forward with creating the infrastructure, technology, and capability now so we can reduce further climate risks; address the affordability crisis; and ultimately do better for Canadians and for our environment. Canada has taken bold steps in climate mitigation. We need a similar effort today to address climate adaptation.

The good news is that adaptation is an area where we can also get a lot of bang for every dollar invested, with estimates pegging potential return on investment at 30 percent annually, something any business would get excited about

It is time to get climate adaptation on the public agenda as part of our strategy. We cannot afford to kick this down the road any longer.

Israel must ‘hit back as hard as it can’: David Frum on the Israel-Hamas conflict, 100 days in

Commentary

It has now been 100 days since the surprise terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas. Since October 7th, Israel has launched a military operation into Gaza that remains ongoing, and risks of wider regional escalation grow.

The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer spoke with leading author, journalist, and thinker David Frum on October 7th to get his immediate reaction to the unfolding events. Here, they return to their conversation to discuss the state of the ongoing conflict, how the world’s response has evolved since the initial attack, and what we can expect to happen over the next 100 days.

SEAN SPEER: When we exchanged the day of Hamas’s attack, you said that Israel’s allies should permit it to execute a military campaign to essentially neutralize Hamas as a threat. After 100 days, how would you assess the response from the United States, Europe, and others? Are they following your advice?

DAVID FRUM: The Biden administration has shown magnificent solidarity with Israel. In the past, the U.S. always imposed strict time limits upon Israeli responses to Palestinian terrorist atrocities. This time, the Biden administration has allowed Israel the scope and time it needed, providing important assistance along the way. Unfortunately, Congress—and especially the Republican majority in the House of Representatives—has not shown the same solidarity. House Republicans have blockaded a defence supplemental that would have provided aid to Ukraine and Israel, plus $14 billion for border security. Some are blockading under the influence of Donald Trump’s pro-Russia, anti-Ukraine animus. Others are just playing crass politics.

The attitude of the European Union and the United Kingdom has been nearly equally impressive. High German officials have visited Israel and pledged their support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Fabricated anti-Israel TikTok propaganda videos may influence some young people. Mercifully, they exert much less influence upon major democratic governments.

The bad news is the problem of security against violent attacks and intimidation by antisemitic mobs and individuals inside Western countries. In the U.S., U.K., and EU, this threat is real, worsening, and—to date—poorly policed.

SEAN SPEER: What do you think about Canada’s response over the past 100 days? To what extent is Canada offside its key allies in terms of supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and what do you think explains that divergence?

DAVID FRUM: Canada under the leadership of Justin Trudeau has steered a middle course between doing the right thing and kowtowing to terrorists. The government of Canada has condemned both terrorism against Israel and Israel’s self-defence against terrorism.

When Canadian Jewish populations are harassed or fire-bombed or shot at, the government seems incapable of straightforward statements of solidarity with those who have been harassed, fire-bombed, and shot at. The first priority of Canadian police forces is not to serve and protect populations but to minimize trouble and inconvenience for themselves.

The government’s stated motive is to oppose both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Ironically, the unwillingness to act against bad acts by anti-Israel actors is actually stoking anti-Muslim feeling. Recent polls show that the number of Canadians who regard Islam as a bad influence on Canadian society has jumped over the past 24 months, as many Canadians blame all Muslims for the outrageous actions of a very few.

This government’s real motive appears, as usual, to be panicky dread of bad poll numbers—and appeasement of its NDP coalition partners who could at any time bring this prime minister’s career to an end.

SEAN SPEER: At this stage, how do you think Israel should define success for its military campaign? And do you worry at all that there is a gap growing between how Israel defines it and how the U.S. and other allies define it?

DAVID FRUM: May I object to this concept of “defining success” as applied to existential fights like those of Israel against Hamas and Ukraine against Russia? The concept is not always useless. When the United States and partners strike the Iranian-backed pirates in the Red Sea, then in that case the concept makes sense. Did the piracy stop? Success. Did it continue? Failure.

But when a democratic society is attacked by an aggressor bent on mass destruction, it just has to fight back as best it can. Israel cannot restore life to its murdered citizens, cannot uninflect the trauma of victims of sexual violence. There’s no “success” available here. All it can do is hit back as hard as it can, as long as it can, to restore deterrence as best it can.

SEAN SPEER: What in your mind are the broad contours of a post-conflict plan for Gaza? What is the role of Israel, the Arab states, and the broader international community? How do we create the conditions for greater prosperity and security in Gaza?

DAVID FRUM: I have proposed ideas on Twitter, but here I want to sound a different note in response to the final sentence of this question. Asking what “we” can do in Gaza is exactly the question that has brought the region and the world to this tragic impasse. What are the Gazans going to do? How are they going to shift from a project of hate and destruction to a project of nation-building and reconciliation with neighbours? Maybe it’s time to cease treating Gazans as the world’s special-education class and to put the onus for self-improvement upon the Gazans themselves?

SEAN SPEER: What should we look for over the next 100 days to judge the progress towards a sustainable resolution to the conflict and a path forward for Israelis and Palestinians?

DAVID FRUM: Milestones ahead: Release or liberation of Israeli hostages. Death or exile of the hostage-takers. Cessation of aggression not only against Israel from Gaza and Hezbollah-held Lebanon but also against world shipping by Iranian proxies. Accelerating flows of humanitarian aid to civilian populations in Gaza.

Beyond those immediate items, it is past time to resume reinvigorating better governance inside the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank—and then restoring PA police authority inside Gaza. Any final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians has been set back a long time by Hamas’s horrifying aggression. But in the end, Israel and the PA have to be partners in building better lives for all the people who live in the ancient land so sacred to three great religions.