VICTORIA – Premier David Eby says he’s introducing more supports to better prepare British Columbia communities for natural disasters related to climate change before they happen.
“The last few years have taught us a hard lesson about the impacts of climate change,” Eby said Tuesday, citing Interior wildfires, Fraser Valley floods, highway slides, bridge collapses and a heat wave that resulted in more than 600 deaths.
The New Democrat government will almost double the current funding of its Community Emergency Preparedness Fund, adding $180 million to support projects that help communities and First Nations prepare for and mitigate the effects of natural disasters, he said.
“For too long governments did not place sufficient importance on protecting B.C. from the impacts of climate change,” said Eby, adding the province previously presented itself with the “false choice” of growing the economy or protecting the environment.
“We have to grow the economy and act on climate change,” he said.
Eby said he experienced the devastating threat of climate change about three years ago while staying at a family cabin in B.C.’s wildfire zone.
“There was a forest fire across the water and at night we could literally watch the trees burn and explode, literally explode, because of the heat from the fire,” he said.
The threat of losing a treasured family home left a deep imprint on him where the importance of limiting and fighting the destructive power of climate change must be addressed, Eby said.
Bowinn Ma, the minister of emergency management and climate readiness, said the ministry’s preparedness fund has previously supported projects that include a dike in Merritt, public cooling infrastructure in Victoria and tsunami evacuation planning in Tofino.
The new fund will also provide a one-stop online platform for communities and First Nations to review flood, wildfire, weather and other hazardous events data that had previously been spread over various government websites, said Ma.
“We need to be ready, and that means understanding the hazards, the risks, what is ahead of us, and working with communities to get the work that needs to happen done, now,” said Ma.
The program also includes supports for communities to prepare for the effects of extreme cold and heat, she said.
Since 2017, local governments and First Nations have received funds for more than 1,300 projects to prepare for natural disasters and climate-related emergencies, the Emergency Preparedness Ministry says.
Jen Ford, Union of B.C. Municipalities president, said accurate data is critical for communities planning climate change mitigation and response strategies.
“People need to be able to understand what it means for them when they hear atmospheric river, when they hear wildfires are coming,” she said. “When they see temperatures rising.”
Feature image: A motorist watches from a pullout on the Trans-Canada Highway as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton, B.C., Thursday, July 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
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