9 Inclusive Resilience

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The physical impacts of climate change pose complex risks to Canadians. Climate impacts—wildfires, floods, droughts, heat waves, permafrost melt, sea-level rise—will be felt unevenly across individuals, communities, provinces, and regions. Some Canadians are more vulnerable to a changing climate than others. Clean growth requires increasing the resilience of those that are vulnerable.

Headline Indicator #9: Poverty Rates in Canada 

Vulnerability to climate change has three key dimensions (see Figure 9.1). Some regions and communities in Canada face higher exposure to climate risks than others, based on location-specific climate risks (e.g., flood, wildfire, heat waves) and other key variables, such as where people work and live and how they move around. Other individuals and households are more sensitive to climate impacts when they occur. This group includes children, disabled persons, pregnant women, the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, or those with low incomes. Lastly, vulnerability is shaped by how much adaptive capacity people and communities have before, during, and after climate-related events occur (USGCRP, 2016). Vulnerability is shaped by the confluence of all three dimensions (IPCC, 2007; Lavell et al., 2012; Manangan et al., 2016).

Vulnerability does not imply weakness; rather, it is shaped by the scale of change individuals and communities face—in combination with other challenges and historical circumstances.

Importantly, all people and communities in Canada can experience vulnerability. It does not imply weakness; rather, vulnerability is shaped by the scale of change individuals and communities face—in combination with other challenges and historical circumstances (Haalboom & Natcher, 2012). Measuring vulnerability is about better understanding the risks that different individuals, groups, communities, and regions face and how to leverage existing strengths and community values to improve resilience. 

We use poverty rates to measure the resilience (and vulnerability) of Canadians (see Figure 9.2). Although an imperfect proxy, poverty is a driving factor behind all three dimensions of vulnerability. Those that can afford to prepare, move, rebuild, or recover are not as vulnerable as those that are poor (Hallegatte et al., 2020). Poverty is also highly correlated with other key factors that shape vulnerability, such as inadequate access to housing, clean drinking water, education, health care, and other factors such as discrimination and colonization (Heisz et al., 2016; ESDC, 2016; Thomas et al., 2015). 

At the same time, poverty is indirectly connected to exposure to climate risks. Some low-income communities, for example, are more exposed to climate hazards, such as communities located in flood plains or in urban areas where the “heat island effect” is most intense (Health Canada, 2020). Nearly 22 per cent of residential properties on Indigenous reserve lands in Canada, for example, are at risk of a 100-year flood (Thistlethwaite et al., 2020). Moreover, key social programs can become disrupted during climate emergencies, leaving vulnerable populations isolated and more exposed. Low-income populations are also more vulnerable to higher food prices from disrupted supply chains. 

Despite progress over time, the data indicate that some Canadians remain highly sensitive and poorly equipped to deal with climate impacts, given high poverty rates. People under the age of 18 who live in households parented by single females, for example, are nearly three times more likely to experience poverty than the average Canadian. Poverty rates are also higher for males and females not in an economic family (27 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively). Several climate risk assessments in Canada highlight the climate vulnerability of these specific groups (Council of Canadian Academies, 2019; Government of British Columbia, 2019).