Citizen Action Monitor

Following costly flash floods, Toronto’s new “Resilient City” report prepares city for extreme climate change

Must it take death and damages in the billions to get leaders’ attention and action on climate change?

No 1086 Posted by fw, July 1, 2014

“The bad news is that evidently things still have to get much worse before we will muster the courage and clarity to try to make them better. The “good news” is that things are indeed getting worse….”H.E. Daly

“A year after flash flooding imposed more than a billion dollars in damages, Toronto is convinced that the success and quality of life in cities now depends on how well prepared they are to deal with the extreme weather events associated with climate change. Last week a municipal committee unanimously endorsed the Resilient City – Preparing for a Changing Climate report that says climate change planning must be included in “decision-making across all city operations”. —CATCH News (Hamilton)

The post below is a slightly modified version of an article that appeared in CATCH News (Hamilton). To read the original piece, click on the following linked title.

Getting ready for worse by CATCH News (Hamilton), June 30, 2014

A year after flash flooding imposed more than a billion dollars in damages, Toronto is convinced that the success and quality of life in cities now depends on how well prepared they are to deal with the extreme weather events associated with climate change. Last week a municipal committee unanimously endorsed the Resilient City – Preparing for a Changing Climate report that says climate change planning must be included in “decision-making across all city operations”.

Last week also brought news from the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration that after tying the April global temperature record, last month was the hottest May ever.  And on June 25 Toronto got another reminder of the climate challenge when a sudden storm dumped 50 mm in an hour and flooded the Don Valley Parkway, the Bayview Extension and other major arteries.

The Toronto climate change resilience plans unveiled two days earlier are informed by a new review of the best practices of large cities including New York, Calgary and Vancouver. They reflect a conviction that urban areas are particularly vulnerable to the rapidly intensifying extreme weather events including heavy rain, high winds and ice storms.

“The success of Toronto and its quality of life will be influenced by how resilient the city of Toronto, its residents and businesses are to the direct and indirect effects of a changing climate and associated extreme weather events,” argues the report that was unanimously adopted by the Parks and Environment Committee on June 23. “Recent events, such as the July 8, 2013 rain storm, the many extreme heat alerts during the summer of 2013 and the December 2013 ice storm offer a number of lessons that identify the need to set a course of action that will help the City and its communities prepare for future eventualities and become more resilient to a changing climate.”

Last July’s storm resulted in nearly $1 billion in insurance claims and imposed record direct costs of $70 million on the city government. In the United States a major insurance company is now suing over 200 Chicago-area local governments for failing to prepare for climate change despite being aware that it is happening.

The Resilient City report recommends hiring 5-7 staff “whose primary focus will be to assist city divisions and agencies in the identification of climate change risks and developing plans to manage and address those risks.” At this point, Hamilton has just one part-time person focused exclusively on climate change.

Today (June 30), Toronto’s Board of Health will consider a report on improving specific methods of dealing with heat emergencies, another critical impact of a warming planet.

“Due to the changing climate, Toronto can expect a fivefold increase in three-day heat waves and an increased likelihood of a heat emergency with high mortality such as has occurred in large cities in other developed countries,” warns the report. “Climate models suggest that by 2049, the annual average temperature will have increased by 4.4 degrees celsius and there will be more than triple the amount of days (approximately 60) with temperatures that exceed 30 degrees celsius compared to historical conditions (2000 to 2009).” 

And on July 3, council’s executive committee will be updated on the city’s response to the December ice storm. Among other measures, that report supports spending $70 million over the next five years to bury more power lines, as well as capacity enhancements to maintain “at a minimum, five-deep staffing levels to ensure sufficient redundancy for the Emergency Operation Centre and at Emergency Reception Centres.”

Toronto’s concern about adapting to climate change dates back to at least 2007 when its council ordered a strategy that was adopted in early 2008. That led to an assessment and risk tool. By April 2011 the city had implemented more than 75 climate change adaptation actions including green building standards, mandatory green roofs on large developments, a basement flooding protection program, and grants for residents to improve their home insulation.

A key step came in the fall of 2012 with the completion of Toronto’s Future Climate, a detailed forecast of the climatic conditions the city can expect to experience by the 2040s.  Last year, fourteen city divisions, agencies and corporations “each conducted a half-day climate change vulnerability workshop” to identify risks and potential adaptation actions.

CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) is a volunteer community group that encourages civic participation in Hamilton. Members attend and report on meetings of city councillors and other City committees, carry out related research and activities, and publish articles.

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