Toronto is designed for a climate that no longer exists, and it must ‘face reality’, experts say

Toronto is designed for a climate that no longer exists, experts say, and they warn that the city must come up with a better plan to cope with the more spacious, warmer, soggier and stormier weather plaguing it right now.

A report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this week suggests extreme weather events, from wildfires to floods to extreme heat, are the direct result of a climate that has already changed and will result in more unpredictable weather.

The IPCC document also suggests that the world can avoid warming of more than 1.5 degrees if massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are made. But according to Sarah Buchanan, campaign director for the Toronto Environmental Alliance, the city needs to start adapting to the warming climate it already has, rather than just focusing on lowering emissions for the future.

“It’s something Toronto’s going to face reality,” she said. “[Extreme weather] is happening faster than expected, and this report drives home that science supports our experiences. “

“It’s going to cost a lot, but it’s going to cost a lot less than not dealing with those effects,” Buchanan added. “The city needs to figure out the cost of climate change and put in place revenue tools to recover those costs.”

While the city of Toronto has several mitigation strategies to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, it quickly needs a robust adaptation strategy if it is to prepare for more expected extreme weather, Buchanan says.

Some examples of the city’s current climate action initiatives include investment in public transport, launch of a pilot for charging stations for electric vehicles that allow freight e-bikes on roads and on bike paths, improved handling of traffic jams, continued investment in expanding public transit and green street programs.

This fall, city staff will present to the City Council its TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, which aims for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Sarah Buchanan is the campaign director for the Toronto Environmental Alliance. (CBC)

‘Whack-a-mol’

Asset Management Ontario is a non-profit organization that provides municipalities throughout the province with tips and best practices on infrastructure management. Its CEO Chris Chen says there is a need for a “company-wide climate objective” going forward in adaptation and mitigation strategies, which means that departments in municipalities-e.g. Roads, water, transit and planning services-to a greater extent must cooperate.

“If your roads are flooded more often, that means you have to replace the roads more often,” Chen said. “If you have much more extreme weather events, that means your buildings need to be more resilient.”

Chen says Toronto’s climate efforts have largely focused on reducing or reducing CO2 emissions, and he welcomes the city to achieve a 37 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels.

But he agrees with Buchanan that the city must now act on the extreme weather that is already disrupting the lives of Torontonians.

“It has worsened. It has passed a turning point and the effects are now accelerated,” Chen said. “We need to start asking to catch up.”

Just thinking of short-term solutions means that adaptation becomes a game “whack-a-mol”, Chen explains.

A long-term adjustment plan, he says, contains five main points:

  • Collection of the right climate and environmental data.
  • Incorporate climate resilience standards into the city’s service levels.
  • Embedding a “climate lens” in its political framework.
  • Focus on long-term costs, including the potential effects of climate change.
  • Finding solutions that involve infrastructure, economic development, social equality and the environment.

One of the city’s adaptation strategies includes its flood protection plan for the port countries on the Don River. Urban engineer Fernando Carou says the plan can eliminate flooding in the area, while rural areas can be unlocked for redevelopment. (Lauren Pelley / CBC)

“If the city collects data on floods and integrates them with the delivery of the subway, you can identify a real risk, and because you have this data, it allows the city to develop some opportunities,” Chen said as an example of the long – term points in action.

Toronto ‘designed for a climate that has now changed’

Although the city has a resilience strategy that covers some of these points, Buchanan believes the city council “should take a different look” at it.

Cities are experiencing an urban heating effect – where they are warmer due to sidewalks, tall buildings and lack of green space. It results in an unequal impact of climate change across neighborhoods.

“That means if you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have that many trees or have more tall buildings, you will feel warmer and you will get warmer,” Buchanan said.

A straightforward solution that the city can implement is to plant more trees in neighborhoods that e.g. Do not have them. Buchanan is also in favor of fewer paved areas and more gardens in the community to create green space and absorb heat and stormwater.

“Toronto was designed for a climate that has now changed and is changing a lot more,” Buchanan said.

Fernando Carou is the leader of renewable energy and new development with the city’s environment and energy division. (CBC)

Fernando Carou, head of renewable energy and new development with the city’s environment and energy division, says the conclusion he draws from the IPCC report is the need to accelerate emission reductions.

He is part of the team working on Net Zero Strategy. Part of that is a goal of only approving new developments that have net zero emissions by 2030.

Planning more challenging due to unpredictable weather

“The city is a huge owner of the infrastructure, and mitigation can reduce costs,” Carou said.

He adds the engineering community “really has its work cut to it.” He says that even though planners would assume predictable weather conditions decades ago, those predictions have now become a challenge. He says that accelerated mitigation and reduction of emissions can reduce this problem.

“I think it’s a call for action,” Carou said of the IPCC report.

“Extreme weather can get ugly, but we’re looking at what we can do now in the medium and short term to really avoid the costly adaptation to extreme weather.”

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