Building a more sustainable future, one home at a time: a call for housing resilience and adaptation in Canada
Senator Rosa Galvez
As a Canadian Senator, engineer, and grandmother, I firmly believe that the right to housing is one of the most fundamental human rights. Housing is a basic human need and a cornerstone of human dignity. It is unacceptable that so many still struggle to access safe, secure, and affordable housing. However, as our world continues to face the challenges of climate change and global migration, it is becoming increasingly clear that the right to housing must be understood in the context of these larger issues.
Climate change is not only a threat to our environment but also to our economy and our way of life. As extreme weather events become more frequent and severe, we are witnessing an increase in the number of people who are forced to flee their homes due to flooding, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters. This crisis is not just humanitarian; it also has significant economic costs as people are compelled to leave their jobs and communities in search of safety and security, requiring emergency housing and support.
The right to housing of displaced people highlights the social aspects of climate impacts and the deep inequities in how climate change will affect us all. Rectifying this injustice must be integrated into all aspects of our work. That is why when I presented Bill S-243, the Climate-Aligned Finance Act, to align Canadian finance with climate commitments, social considerations were at the core of defining climate commitments. One of the key definitions requires the “enhancement of the capacity to adapt and reduce vulnerability to actual and expected impacts of climate change, including by increasing the resilience of socioeconomic, built, and ecological systems.” It also means refraining from doing anything that would exacerbate vulnerabilities to climate change, such as undermining remedies to redress climate harm, fostering food insecurity, exacerbating social inequalities, or causing significant harm to social or environmental obligations.
Climate resilience and adaptation must be at the forefront of our thinking as we strive to create a more equitable society. Therefore, it is crucial that our efforts to address the right to housing also focus on climate resilience and adaptation. We must ensure that our housing stock is designed and built to withstand the impacts of climate change, allowing people to return to their homes and communities as quickly as possible after a disaster. This means investing in infrastructure that can withstand flooding and sea level rise, and ensuring that new housing developments are located in areas less vulnerable to extreme weather events.
Building codes play a critical role in ensuring that new buildings are designed and constructed to withstand the effects of climate change and natural disasters. In Canada, where extreme weather events have become more common, building codes are gradually being updated to address these risks. However, many existing buildings are still vulnerable to climate impacts, and retrofitting them to meet modern standards can be a costly and challenging process. By investing in building codes and retrofitting existing buildings, we can help ensure that Canadians have access to the safe and secure housing they need to thrive in a changing world.
The future of the right to housing must be rooted in sustainability and resilience, with a focus on low-carbon, green, accessible, and affordable housing options. By considering climate change mitigation in housing design, we not only acknowledge the impact of climate change on housing but also the housing sector’s contribution to climate change.
Furthermore, as global migration continues to increase, it is important to recognize the right to housing in relation to refugees and other displaced people. In 2020 alone, there were 30.7 million new displacements caused by disasters, and by 2050, the number of globally displaced people could reach 1.2 billion. Many of these individuals have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution, and other forms of violence, often left without a safe place to live. It is our responsibility to ensure that they can find shelter and security while being treated with dignity and respect.
As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our commitment to fairness, justice, and equality. The climate change and housing affordability crises have brought us to a critical moment in our history, one where we must choose to be part of the solution. Parliamentarians have a vital role to play in this effort, from setting ambitious climate targets to investing in social housing and updating building codes to reflect the realities of a changing climate. It is our responsibility to ensure that all Canadians have access to safe, secure, and affordable housing, with our policies prioritizing climate resilience and adaptation. We must work together, across party lines and in partnership with communities, to build a more equitable and sustainable future for all. The future of housing must be one where every Canadian has a place to call home.