Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Climate in 2024

Canadian premiers will battle the feds over renewable energy projects and emissions caps, while cities and communities will prep for fires and floods with innovative new emergency-readiness plans
Katie Underwood

1. The feds will plan for Canada’s worst-case weather scenarios

Last May, the federal government released the National Risk Profile, Canada’s first country-wide climate-risk assessment. The goal? To help Canadians grasp how extreme weather events could knock out homes, businesses and infrastructure—and provide recovery options when they do. The first report zeroed in on the three costliest disasters facing Canada: wildfires, floods and earthquakes, like B.C.’s long-anticipated “Big One.” It also revealed plans to train 1,000 firefighters and create a national early-warning system for seismic events, which is expected to roll out in 2024.

2. Clean-air shelters will help us breathe easier

Last summer, Canadians’ lungs and HVAC systems were put to the test during Canada’s worst-ever wildfire season. Several cities have now called for the widespread establishment of clean-air shelters: public facilities with high-grade air filtration systems that can contend with the dangerously high levels of particulate in the air during fire season. In the Northwest Territories, chief public health officer Kami Kandola is planning to open shelters across the region. The city of Winnipeg recently assessed some 50 buildings as potential sites and, in 2024, will run drills to see how fast a city building can be transformed into a clean-air shelter on especially polluted days. Clean-air shelters are also included in Vancouver’s 2024 climate adaptation strategy, which could become a model protocol for emergency planning.

3. An Indigenous-led evacuation centre will open on Cree land

Between dwindling food supplies, land-sterilizing fires and melting winter-access roads, First Nations people across Canada are often the first to see the consequences of climate change. A new $50-million evacuation centre on Missanabie Cree First Nation in northern Ontario could provide a template for culturally responsive emergency measures at home and worldwide. ISN Maskwa, a partner of the nation, is poised to open the country’s first Indigenous-led evacuation centre, 350 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie, this spring. The new site will have capacity for almost 1,000 people and provide recreational facilities, commercial kitchens, a dining area and medicine trails to its temporary visitors.

4. The feds will unveil finalized emission caps

By mid-2024, the federal government is set to publish clear emissions caps for the oil and gas sector, with an eye to ensuring the electrical grid is completely carbon neutral by 2035. Whether or not we’ll meet that deadline is still up for debate: in October of 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that Ottawa overstepped with 2019 legislation that would allow the feds to review whether major provincial projects are environmentally sound. Going full steam ahead with the new caps is likely to flare tensions, primarily with Alberta, which mounted the court challenge. Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe, meanwhile, has said he and his constituents will rely on coal well into the 2030s, even under penalty of arrest.

5. On renewables, it’ll be Alberta vs. Alberta (and everyone else)

Last August, Premier Danielle Smith ruffled more than a few feathers when her government announced a seven-month moratorium on all new renewable-energy projects—allegedly over baseload-power concerns and worries about wind and solar overtaking precious farmland. Companies across the province’s renewables sector were blindsided by the revenue-busting, worker-stranding move. Those internal tensions are likely to bleed into Alberta’s already tenuous federal relations: Smith has already stated there’s “no scenario” in which Alberta will meet the feds’ 2035 clean-energy cut-off.

6. Canadian businesses will come clean about their climate records

Corporate greenwashers are on notice. As of January, all Canadian financial institutions will have to collect hard numbers on the greenhouse gas emissions they finance and, in 2025, report them to the Canadian Securities Administrators. At the moment, the country’s eight largest banks finance more than double the annual GHGs emitted by all of Canada. Under the new rules, any business that financial firms do business with will have to disclose their emissions data too. Corporate purchases, travel and even waste disposal are all about to become line items on companies’ environmental cost sheets.

7. A high-tech Nova Scotia buoy will make ocean water drinkable

Many remote communities—including 20-plus First Nations still under boil water advisories—still lack access to fresh water. A new pilot project off the coast of Nova Scotia will harness the formidable power of the ocean to boost Canada’s drinkable supply. Oneka Technologies, a Quebec-based water-treatment company, has tapped the municipality of Barrington as its latest test site for the Glacier, a floating buoy that uses microscopically thin mesh and natural wave patterns to convert 500,000 litres of saltwater into fresh water in a single day. The newly potable water will then travel ashore by pipeline or barge to be treated and pumped around the region. Oneka has already successfully mounted buoys in Chile and Florida and, if all goes to plan, its newest Glacier will be bobbing roughly five kilometres off the coast of Cape Sable Island this coming summer.

8. The Trans Mountain pipeline will be fully operational (at long last)

Fulfilling its reputation as Canada’s most cursed pipeline, the $31-billion Trans Mountain pipeline ran into opposition yet again late in 2023. This time, the source wasn’t environmental activists, regulatory stickiness or Indigenous stakeholders but some extra-stubborn rockface in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, delaying the expected completion date from early 2024 to later in the year—not to mention tacking another $86 million onto the pipeline’s final price tag. Once it’s up and running, the Trans Mountain project will quickly recoup those costs: the West Coast expansion will nearly triple the pipeline’s daily crude capacity, shooting Canada’s oil production up to an all-time high within its first two operating years.

9. Destructive weather will wreak havoc on insurance premiums

As fires and floods wipe out neighbourhoods, Canadian property insurance premiums will soon skyrocket. In 2023, severe weather cost the country roughly $3.1 billion in insured damages, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada predicts a five to 15 per cent jump in premiums in the coming year. The nation’s insurance groups are now also devoting extra scrutiny to communities’ risk factors—for example, whether they have enough fire hydrants. Businesses may start seeing their coverage renewals shut down, particularly in the hospitality sector.

10. Climate change will disrupt the tourism industry

Just as hotels and restaurants were recovering from COVID, a spate of climate disasters clipped them on the upswing: in 2023, fires razed a key tourist highway near the surf paradise of Tofino in B.C., unseasonably warm winters cut Ontario’s ski days to a minimum and unpredictable weather in Nova Scotia tainted grape crops. With wildfire summers and rising tick levels predicted for future travel seasons, some travellers may soon see trips to Canada as a liability, putting a sizable dent in our all-weather, $40-billion tourism industry. In response, Canadians may see a push toward decarbonized tourism—think solar-powered cabins, organic menus and EV parking in hotel lots.

This article is part of the Year Ahead 2024, which is Maclean’s annual look at everything that’s coming your way next year. You can buy the print version right here.