A year after flash flooding imposed damages of more than a billion dollars, Toronto is convinced that the success and quality of life in cities now depends on preparing for the extreme weather events associated with climate change. Last week a municipal committee unanimously endorsed a Resilient City report that says climate change must be included in “decision–making across all city operations”.
The US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration confirmed 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 50mm in an hour and flooded the Don Valley Parkway and other major arteries.
The Toronto climate change resilience plans are backed by a new review of the best practices of other cities including New York, Calgary and Vancouver. They reflect a conviction that urban areas are particularly vulnerable to intensifying extreme weather 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. “Recent events, such as the July 8, 2013 rainstorm, 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 generated $1 billion in insurance claims and imposed record direct costs of $70 million on Toronto’s government. In the US a major insurance company is now suing over 200 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 on climate change.
This week Toronto’s Board of Health endorsed a report on 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,” warned 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).”
Also this week, council’s executive committee was updated on the 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.”
Climate change adaptation has been on Toronto’s agenda since at least 2007 and has led to an assessment and risk tool. By April 2011 the city had implemented 75 actions including green building standards, mandatory green roofs on large developments, a basement flooding protection program, and home insulation grants for residents.
Last year, fourteen city divisions, agencies and corporations “each conducted a half–day climate change vulnerability workshop” to identify risks and potential adaptation actions. V