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Ottawa is being irresponsible for not hastening the adoption of construction standards that would make new homes more resilient to the harsher climate, the insurance industry says, after a year when severe weather events caused billions of dollars in damage claims.

The past year was the third worst for insured losses in Canadian history, with claims from severe weather events reaching $3.1-billion, according to Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ), a consultancy that analyzes data from meteorological and human-made disasters.

The latest version of Canada’s National Building Code doesn’t take the more severe climate into account. And it might take until 2030 for the next edition to be implemented by provinces and territories.

“Waiting a decade to build new homes that are resilient to floods, wildfires and windstorms is simply not responsible government,” Craig Stewart, vice-president of climate change and federal issues at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said in an interview.

Codes set out minimum standards to construct safe buildings. Canada’s 1,530-page National Building Code is not binding but forms a model for provinces to either adopt in its entirety or adapt in their own codes.

However, a recent Globe and Mail investigation on the state of building codes across the country found that they lack measures to deal with the increasing frequency and severity of weather events such as floods, storms or extreme heat.

CatIQ says that weather-related insured damages in Canada have gone from an average of $400-million annually in the early 2000s to an average of roughly $2-billion in recent years.

The most recent national code, the 2020 edition, was released in 2022. The next version will be the 2025 edition and it will come close to 2030 by the time it is adopted by provinces and territories.

The federal government has already committed to making new homes more energy efficient, with a net-zero greenhouse emissions target by 2030. But Mr. Stewart said it is wrong to prioritize energy efficiency rather than ensuring new buildings are built for the more challenging climate conditions.

“They’re putting energy efficiency ahead of people’s safety, and we believe that needs to be reversed,” he said.

In the mandate letter he was given in December, 2021, Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne was instructed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to publish model national codes that would feature “net-zero emissions” and “climate-resilient buildings” by the end of next year.

The Globe sought Mr. Champagne’s opinion on the state of the national codes, including whether he thinks net-zero emissions or climate resiliency should be given priority.

The minister’s office said he was not available for an interview and gave a four-paragraph statement.

The statement did not explicitly say whether measures to make new homes more resilient would be given priority or would be published by 2030.

“We know that better is always possible, and will continue to work hard to make sure that our buildings are more energy efficient, as well as climate resilient,” the minister said in the statement his office released.

The pace of code changes has been a concern for the insurance industry, which has seen a spike in damage claims from weather events.

“This five-year cycle of updating building codes is just not functional. It’s not nimble. It’s very bureaucratic. It was designed for a past time,” Mr. Stewart told The Globe.

Citing recent weather disasters, such as the 2021 heat dome in British Columbia that was linked to more than 600 deaths, Laurel Collins, the NDP critic for environment and climate change, said Ottawa needs to take more concrete steps to update construction standards.

“We are behind. Across Canada there is a patchwork system of building codes that in some places are decades behind. And we need leadership from the federal government. We need tangible investments in the kinds of climate solutions and climate resilience that will make a difference for these communities,” Ms. Collins said in an interview.

Mr. Champagne didn’t reply directly to The Globe’s questions but his office referred them to the National Research Council of Canada, the federal agency that supports the board of stakeholders who update the national codes.

In a statement supplied by the NRC to supplement Mr. Champagne’s written comments, the agency said that the code drafting system should respond more quickly to new priorities after it was recently overhauled, with provinces and territories now able to be involved early in the process.

“The development of model codes takes time to ensure that input from stakeholders is incorporated and that appropriate due diligence is taken,” the NRC said.

The NRC said the 2025 edition of the National Building Code will incorporate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make houses more energy efficient. The statement didn’t allude to making buildings more resilient to extreme climate.

Ottawa did mention its intention to update building codes when it released last November its first National Adaptation Strategy to make the country more climate resilient. However, the government hasn’t decided yet whether those code changes would apply both to private residences and public infrastructure.

Mr. Champagne didn’t reply to a question from The Globe about whether he thought residential construction should be included in the Adaptation Strategy. His office referred the query to the NRC, which said it should be answered by Infrastructure Canada.

The Globe also asked Mr. Champagne how he felt about the fact that code-change requests to make homes more climate-resilient had been made as early as 2013 but were rejected by the independent panels of stakeholders who review amendment proposals. Mr. Champagne’s office referred the question to the NRC, which said it should be addressed by the board that oversees the code-drafting process.

With a report from Kathryn Blaze Baum.

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