This summer, Torontonians have been looking for creative ways to keep cool during the heat, haze, and humidity. Already this summer, 12 heat warnings and 7 extended heat warnings have been declared in Toronto. As a City that’s learning to cope with this unusual heat, we know that this is just a taste of what we can expect in future years because of climate change.
In 2012, the City released a report, Toronto’s Future Weather & Climate, that predicts by 2040, Toronto will have extremely hot summers and we can expect 40 days over 40 degrees. We can also expect to see 5 heat waves per a summer. These alarming predictions forecast increasingly warmer summers for Toronto.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen summer temperatures on the rise in the city. This has a number of impacts on our health and well-being. We can see the direct impacts of the heat on both our air quality and green infrastructure in the City.
Extended heat exposure puts infants, seniors and people with pre-existing health conditions at higher risk of hospitalization and even mortality. More than half of Toronto residents live in high rises, many of them that do not air conditioning, which also puts these residents at greater risk during heat waves.
Last week, Environment Canada issued a air quality warning for the city because the hot weather led to increased concentrations of ground-level ozone. Hot temperatures directly impact air quality, which affects people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Each degree celsius of an increase in temperature can result in a 5% increase in smog formation. A recent report by Toronto Public Health, Health Benefits of a Low Carbon Future, talks about how climate change directly impacts air quality, and what we can do to protect community health and well-being. The report points out that extreme heat contributes to 120 deaths a year in Toronto. With the impacts of climate change, they predict that number will double by 2050 and triple by 2080 if nothing is done to address the issue.
There are a range of actions that the City can take for improving air quality and reducing GHG emissions. These include improving active transportation options, reducing the number of cars on our streets, and improving energy use and indoor air quality through retrofits of buildings.
Trees and Green Infrastructure
The City has also been experiencing drought conditions due to the extreme heat and lack of rainfall. This puts trees and other green infrastructure under distress. Young trees are particularly susceptible to the impacts of the drought. We rely on trees to clean our air, provide shade, and
help keep the city cool during the heat. Trees also play an important role in mitigation and adaptation against climate change. This year, between May 1 and August 9th, only 107 millimetres of rain fell, which is 44 per cent of normal rainfall. The lack of green space in the City is a major contributing factor to the urban heat island effect that we experience. The urban island effect can mean that residents living in the core of the city experience average temperatures that are 3 to 5 degrees higher than surrounding regions. With hotter summers and more severe weather as a result of climate change, it is crucial to protect trees in the City that help us deal with these impacts.
Preparing for extreme heat
We know that climate change will bring hotter weather, and we are already starting to see the direct impacts on our communities as a result of this. The City is already responding to some of the urgent needs due to the extreme heat. The City recently announced that public cooling centres will now open once a heat alert is declared, rather than waiting for extended heat warnings (3 consecutive days above 30 degrees). The City has also compiled tips on how to deal with extreme heat and other extreme weather events.
Our actions today will continue to affect our air quality, green infrastructure, and our ability to be resilient in the face of climate change. TEA will continue to push the city in making investments to prepare our city for the impacts that climate change.