Climate-Resilience Through Natural Infrastructure Solutions

The costs of protecting Canadians from the impacts of climate change are well-documented, widespread and increasing. Canada spent more in disaster response to flooding and wildfires and returning infrastructure to pre-disaster condition between 2010 and 2015 than over the previous 39 years combined. The Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates the cost of climate adaptation at the municipal level alone to be $5.3 billion annually, and addressing the impacts of flooding to be one of the greatest costs.74 A new report puts the cost of addressing shoreline erosion at $800 million, which will increase as a result of sea-level rise. At the same time, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) estimates that municipalities will incur between $10 and $15 billion in near-term, non-recoverable losses due to COVID-19, and many are on the brink of financial crisis.

By embracing and implementing natural infrastructure solutions, municipalities can build back better to greatly increase their resilience to climate change and reduce the risks and costs of flooding, urban heat effect, shoreline erosion, and other disasters that are more prevalent with climate change. In this document, natural infrastructure refers to the natural vegetative systems and green technologies that collectively provide a multitude of economic, environmental and social benefits, while helping to mitigate climate change impacts. Examples of these vegetative systems include: fields, gardens, green roofs and walls, and green assets used to manage storm water runoff, such as rain gardens and restored wetlands; as well as urban forests, parks (urban and rural), and terrestrial and aquatic landscapes outside of urban areas that are not parks, such as portions of managed forest lands, large wetlands including salt water marshes, sea-grass beds, and native grasslands.

Each dollar invested in natural infrastructures yields $3 to $15 of environmental, social and health benefits. Return on investments can reach 35:1 in the warmest and most polluted cities. A recent study estimated that natural infrastructure solutions in Ontario contributed $8.33 billion in GDP and created 122,000 jobs in 2018 alone.78 It also found that if 15% of Ontario’s annual infrastructure spending was dedicated to natural infrastructure projects rather than continuing with business as usual, this sector would create an additional 43,200 jobs, generate $5.4 billion in additional gross output (revenues), and contribute an additional $3 billion to provincial GDP in 2030. When direct, indirect, and induced economic impacts are considered, the sector would generate 72,100 additional jobs and an additional $5.4 billion in GDP. These investments would result in significant cost savings, representing in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings for municipalities, insurance companies, and homeowners.

Investing in natural infrastructure solutions will help create new jobs, reduce costs and support cash-strapped provincial and local governments to better work with Indigenous, private and non-profit partners, such as farmers, conservation organizations and small forest owners to benefit Canadians.

In 2019, the government committed to investing $3 billion dollars by 2030 for nature-based climate solutions, including tree planting actions that could restore or put in place new natural infrastructure. The Minister of Natural Resources was mandated in December 2019 to “help cities expand and diversify their urban forests” and “support the future and livelihood of workers and their communities in the transition to a low-carbon global economy.” Investing in natural infrastructure is a win-win way to achieve this outcome. Also, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities was mandated in December 2019 to adjust the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to support natural infrastructure, working with municipalities to build climate resilience and reduce GHG emissions, and creating an additional infrastructure fund by 2020-2021 to support priority projects and economic diversification for communities transitioning from fossil fuels.

To advance these priorities and expand natural infrastructure in Canada, the Green Budget Coalition recommends:

1) Replenishing and growing the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF), while also adjusting the criteria to better allow natural infrastructure projects. Such changes include: a) allowing increased resilience projects as well as disaster mitigation actions to be considered; b) including conservation easements and supporting ecosystem goods and services programs as an eligible expense to support natural infrastructure projects on privately-owned land; c) suspending the $20 million minimum expenditure threshold and reduce cost-sharing requirements to 20% for natural infrastructure projects initiated before September 2022.

Recommended replenishment:

$1 billion over five years [INFC]

2) Expanding the scope of the Investing in Canada plan’s Green Infrastructure Fund to more readily allow and support natural infrastructure projects, including shoreline erosion projects, and carving out 5% of the remaining funds specifically for natural infrastructure projects. Adjustments would need to include adding as allowable expenses the operation and maintenance of natural systems, measurement and evaluation of co-benefits, and land acquisition. Reduce cost-sharing requirements to 20% for natural infrastructure projects initiated before September 2021 as part of green recovery.

Potential resulting investment (from previously announced funds):
$595 million over five years [INFC]

3) Funding to FCM to support municipalities developing “natural asset assessments,” natural asset management systems and other capacity building and readiness partnerships needed to advance natural infrastructure. This money could be managed under the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program. To the extent possible, the Green Budget Coalition recommends the federal tree planting occur in municipalities that have undertaken natural asset assessments or are investing in a municipal biodiversity and climate fund and could represent an “in kind” contribution to those municipalities as part of their broader plans.

Recommended  Investment:

$16 million over four years [NRCan, INFC]

James Brennan –
Lara Ellis –
Florence Daviet –
Jay Ritchlin –