Clean Air Hamilton (CAH) has again warned city councillors that serious action is required to address climate change and its consequences, and last week Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner telegraphed a similar message to Queen’s Park. However, a citizen reminded last week’s Board of Health meeting that a key decision approved in response to last year’s CAH climate warnings has yet to be acted upon.
The Board of Health resolution adopted last fall, and cited by Dave Carson of the Hamilton 350 Committee, directed “the city manager’s office, with support from the Public Works, Emergency and Community Services, Public Health Services, Planning and Economic Development departments, [to] form a working group to undertake a climate change vulnerability study and risk assessment of services and operations impacted by extreme weather events (e.g. flooding, increased temperatures, increased storms) and report back on the assessment, and actions to reduce these risks.”
Carson told councillors that nothing has been done about this directive and reminded them that the city dedicates currently less than half a full–time staff position to climate change. He got no disagreement from councillors or staff. Councillors were told that the city manager was expected at the meeting but apparently was called away at the last minute as was a representative from his office.
“Getting ready for the increased impacts of climate is essential to the well–being of our community,” said Carson. “Right now we’re prepared for the climate we used to live in not the one in which we will be living in.”
The Clean Air Hamilton report warned the Board of Health that “the impacts of climate change will be severe” and will likely result in locally “increased health risks and financial costs.” It pointed particularly to the “vulnerability of infrastructure (water, roads, energy) to various types of extreme weather events, including droughts, intense precipitation, extreme temperature episodes, high winds, and severe storms for which we are currently unprepared.”
And it reminded councillors that Hamilton is warmer and wetter than 40 years ago and has already suffered extreme weather.
“In the last eight years, the city has endured 17 rain storms severe enough to flood homes, at least six of which appear to have exceeded the once–in–50–year standard, including a 100–year–plus deluge in July 2009 that damaged over 7000 homes and caused up to $300 million in insured losses alone.”
Carson pointed to a just–released report from Natural Resources Canada that maps examples of insured losses from extreme weather events across Canada since the turn of the century – including well over $2 billion last year just from flooding in Calgary and Toronto.
A climate change “conversation” on July 22 will launch the development of Hamilton’s community climate change action plan but it appears to rely mainly on volunteer efforts.
One specific step recommended by both CAH and Carson is a local improvement charges program that allows homeowners to increase energy efficiency with low–interest long–term city loans that are attached to the house not the owner and paid back through property taxes. Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Association for Renewable Energy will explain the concept at a public meeting on July 16 at Laidlaw United Church on Ottawa Street.
At the provincial level, environmental commissioner Gord Miller’s annual report on climate change issued last week argued the province has failed to make progress on pollution from vehicles – “the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the province.” The Wynne government says it will meet its 2020 emission reduction targets with aggressive transit expansion and noted that the elimination of coal from Ontario’s energy mix has been equivalent to taking seven million cars off the road. V