Building Climate Resilient Communities in Pandemic Recovery

By Gordon McBean, Paul Kovacs, and Brennan Vogel 

Climate change is impacting all countries, but Canada has experienced warming at about twice as fast as the global average, and three times as fast in the Canadian Arctic (Bush and Lemmen, 2019). As global emission targets are missed, the accelerated warming will lead to a continued increase of hazardous climate events, with urban areas being especially affected because of density, development and populations (Rosenzweig et al., 2018).

The 2021 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report ranked, in terms of impacts and likelihood, the risks of climate change:

  • Infectious Diseases, first for impacts and fourth most likely
  • Climate Action Failure (climate-change adaptation and mitigation), second for both impacts and likelihood; and
  • Extreme Weather, eighth for impacts and first most likely.

It is clear any interaction of these risks leads to devastating results, as we have borne witness for the past few decades, and most recently with the  COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, societies need to address these risks together and not as separate modalities. This paper outlines how the  proposed pan-Canadian National Adaptation Strategy (McBean et al., 2021) is well positioned to address these risks.

Climate actions in pandemic recovery

As the world pivots to recover from the pandemic, the relationship between risks needs to be considered. In 2021, the UN Secretary General stated, “As we rebuild, we cannot revert to the old normal. Pandemic recovery is our chance to change course.” The Canadian Task Force for a Resilient Recovery, launched in 2020, prioritized investments in climate-resilient and energy efficient buildings, estimating for every $1 investment in resilience, as much as $6 in future benefits. In April 2021, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke of Canada’s green recovery for the COVID-19 pandemic, stating, “Let us continue to take decisive and ambitious action to ensure we leave our children and grandchildren with a cleaner, healthier, and more resilient planet” (Government of Canada, 2021).

Building climate resilient communities

Given the interconnected nature of risk, the focus for climate adaptation and building resilience needs to be on urban communities, where Canadian and global populations are increasingly concentrated (Rosenzweig et al., 2018). Integrating actions to advance resilient communities, homes, and infrastructure into economic and social recovery efforts from the pandemic can support building prosperous and climate-resilient communities equipped for future challenges and opportunities.

The proposed National Adaptation Strategy (Government of Canada, 2020) could provide means and ways to increase investments in resilience through multi-level governance and multi-stakeholder approaches for implementing plans through policies, programs, and investments moving forward.

Understanding and reducing disaster risk depends on the impacted community’s exposure and vulnerability to hazardous events, which depend on geographic, socio-economic, and cultural environments. Climate action failure, extreme weather (for example,  heat, storms, floods) and infectious diseases will all play key roles informing the context within which pandemic recovery and climate actions will take place (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Building Resilient Communities: Addressing the hazards (left) through knowledge

Recently, a team of 22 Canadian experts synthesized the state of scientific knowledge about strategic opportunities for actions to build climate resilient communities (McBean et al., 2021). Six key areas for analysis were chosen and through reviews of the academic literature and policies, and discussion with individuals across sectors, including Indigenous communities, the state of play was identified regarding the strengths and weaknesses of Canadian communities for addressing adaptation actions and resilience building.

Translating strategy into action

For urban heat environments, there are increasing risks of urban warming and severe weather, such as tornadoes. To ameliorate these risks requires taking advantage of windows of opportunity for adaptive planning to reduce health impacts, which in turn depends on improved science and mapping of present risks and projected occurrences of future changes to determine which actions are needed.

For urban infrastructure, greater efforts to quantify infrastructure characteristics and disaster risks are needed to inform vulnerability studies and risk reduction efforts. Local flooding due to heavy precipitation has caused disproportionate impacts which depend on community risk sensitivity and exposure, exemplifying where there are contextual vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.

In Indigenous communities, self-determination, self-sufficiency, and adaptive capacity building are recognized as socio-political and cultural factors contributing to Indigenous resiliency. Combining western science and Indigenous ways of knowing provides a timely opportunity for overcoming the broader context of social inequities and governance gaps exacerbating climate risks in Indigenous communities. Creating new collaborative spaces for policy integration of climate resilience through Indigenous reconciliation efforts and initiatives provides a key opportunity for integrated actions in the recovery effort.

Human health in all Canadian communities is adversely affected by climate change with significant social, health and economic impacts at the local scale. Adaptation strategies need to address interconnected environment and health issues to build community-scale resilience across all health systems and societies.

The economics of adaptation in Canada examined the major issues related to the lack of funding and guidance from senior governments to provide policy direction for adaptation planning and addressing climate resilience at the community level. Some Canadian communities have prepared high-level adaptation plans; however, there are fewer examples of detailed implementation within established multi-level governance funding frameworks. The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction Cities Adapt program (Kovacs et al., 2020) documents many of these challenges and opportunities. It appears that many actions to build community resilience are reactive, taking place in recovery efforts following a disaster.

Overcoming barriers

There are many barriers to the implementation of the above-mentioned strategies, including financial, governance, and others.  The National Adaptation Strategy with federal, provincial, and territorial support for adaptation actions could facilitate implementation at the community level, helping to address these barriers. Addressing integrated policy issues associated with resiliency while advancing community-level implementations to iteratively build climate and pandemic-resilient communities across Canada should leverage and build on the expert-community’s proven policy tools. One issue is the need for integrated early warning systems and better prevention strategies for hazards, which require coordinated governance.

Concluding remarks

The development and implementation of a Pan-Canadian National Adaptation Strategy would provide a significant opportunity for addressing integrated resiliency policy issues while advancing community-level implementation of actions that can iteratively build climate-proof and pandemic-resilient communities across Canada. The final Strategy needs to address the lack of funding and guidance from senior governments. Federal funding along with operational policy and accountability requirements in a well-informed and integrated green recovery strategy would provide collaborative opportunities for municipalities and Indigenous communities to reduce GHG emissions and advance resilience to climate impacts.


This research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Synthesis Grant, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction and participants from academia and other organizations, including Indigenous Peoples.


Bush, E. and Lemmen, D.S. (Editors) (2019) Canada’s Changing Climate Report; Government of Canada, Ottawa. Available at Canada’s Changing Climate Report (

Government of Canada (2020) A healthy environment and a healthy economy. Environment and Climate Change Canada. Retrieved from

Government of Canada (2021) Statement by the prime minister on earth day. Government of Canada, Parliament, Prime Minister Trudeau. Ottawa, Canada.  Prime Minister Trudeau announces increased climate ambition | Prime Minister of Canada (; Statement by the Prime Minister on Earth Day | Prime Minister of Canada ( Retrieved from

Kovacs, P., Guilbault, S., Lambert, E. and Kovacs, R. (2020). Cities Adapt to Extreme Wildfires: Celebrating Local Leadership. Toronto: Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. Retrieved from

McBean, G., Kovacs, P., Voogt, J., Kopp, G., Stewart, I., Sandink, D., Sills, D., Yumagulova, L., Vogel, B., MacLean-Hawes, A., Naveau, D., Yellow Old Woman-Munro, D.,  Gunz, A., Clemens, K., Berry, P., McKelvie, B., Luginaah, L., Wilk, P., Li, B., Coleman, E., and Elliott, M. (2021). Building Climate Resilient Communities: Living Within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity. SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant Project 57 pp.

Rosenzweig, C., Solecki, W., Romero-Lankao, P., Mehrotra, S., Dhakal, S., and Ali Ibrahim, S. (Eds.) (2018) Climate change and cities: Second assessment report of the urban climate change research network. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316563878 Second Assessment Report on Climate Change and Cities (ARC3.2) 2018 | Urban Climate Change Research Network (

Task Force for a Resilient Recovery (2020) TFRR-Final-Report_EN.pdf (

UN Secretary General (2021) Remarks to the one planet summit. United Nations Secretary-General. Geneva, Switzerland. Retrieved from

World Economic Forum (2021) World Economic Forum annual global risk reports. Retrieved from


Gordon McBean, PhD, CM, FRSC is Professor-Emeritus, Department of Geography and Environment at Western University and with the ICLR. He is a leader in climate change and disaster risk reduction science and policy, and has served as the President, International Council for Science and Science Program; Chair, Integrated Research on Disaster Risk and World Climate Research Programs; Assistant Deputy Minister, Meteorological Service of Environment Canada; and has been the lead author of several IPCC reports.

Paul Kovacs is founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. He is Adjunct Research Professor of Economics at the University of Western Ontario. Paul is Chair of the Global Alliance of Disaster Research Institutes and of Ontario’s Advisory Panel on Climate Change. Paul was awarded the 2020 CRHNet “T. Joseph Scanlon Lifetime Achievement Award” recognizing his lifetime contributions and achievements as an exemplary professional contributing to the enhancement of Canadian disaster safety.

Dr. Brennan Vogel is an assistant professor at King’s University College and Huron University College in Geography, Environmental Science and Social Justice and Peace Studies. His applied research and professional practice concerns municipal and First Nations approaches to adaptive capacity building and climate change adaptation in Canada. He is currently serving as Climate Change Liaison to the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and is a volunteer on the Board of Directors at the London Environment Network.