Climate change and disaster risk reduction

by: Ernie MacGillivray, Director, Emergency Services, Public Safety New Brunswick

This is a short essay and recommendation on how to change how we talk about climate change. We know that “climate change” as a concern of governments and the public has somewhat less resonance right now, because it invites various objections from all sectors of society. There is in fact no consensus on what we should do about climate change, at a policy level. The consensus seems to be to kick the can down the road. This personal assessment is not intended to diminish in any way the significance of what we have all being trying to do to influence public attitudes and public policy. I just do not have confidence that our governments will be seized with the need to act on climate change in any substantive way. So, we need a new narrative.

I propose a new narrative for focussing our government and other stakeholders on the risks and required actions to mitigate those risks. Lessons learned at national and international tables on the “climate” issue suggests that a more constructive, less controversial narrative is to talk about adaptation and mitigation for climate change impacts in the context of “disaster risk reduction”. Who can object to risk reduction? We all want to be safer and more secure. Reducing risk is common sense.

We now have two national organizations focused on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and they connect to current international thinking and activities.

Canada’s Disaster Risk Reduction Platform was established in 2010, and is recognized already as a good practice by the United Nations DRR Secretariat. The Platform comprises public sector, private sector, academic and scientific expertise working collaboratively on activities that will contribute to risk reduction and community resiliency.

The Canadian Risk and Hazard Network is a consortium of Canadian government emergency management agencies and the post secondary education network that conducts research and delivers under graduate and post graduate programs in emergency management. CRHNet is linking up research needs with academics, researchers and graduate students.


It may well be advantageous to recast the messages about climate change and the need to adapt or mitigate. In January, we were asked to advise the Office of the Premier on how best to address questions about the December storms, about whether these extreme events are indicators of climate change and how to speak to government’s role. I offered the following:

  • risk does appear to be increasing, as we have been experiencing more extreme weather events in recent years and all indications are that this is a trend.
  • what we all need to do is to discourage things that increase risk, and encourage things that decrease risk.
  • if this trend continues we will have to adapt and change our behaviour.

We need not get into debates about climate change to address increasing risks. A focus on risk reduction and reference to Canada’s new strategy for risk reduction, through the National Platform can help to answer tough questions without creating controversy. Embedded in the concept of risk reduction is a verb – “reduce”, which is in fact a call to action.