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Toronto failing to act on alarming climate changes: Environmentalists - Toronto Star

November 11, 2012
Tess Kalinowski
Toronto Star

The summer of 2012 was a hot one, preceded by a barely-existent winter. But in 30 years, Torontonians will look back on this as a relatively chilly year, compared with the temperatures being forecast in a dire report from the Toronto Environment Office.

The study predicts triple the number of above-30C days from about 22 on average annually to 66. It forecasts five times as many heat waves in the average summer and it warns that the days when the humidex hits 40C or higher will increase from nine a year to 39 on average.

The findings are frightening and urgent given the enormous implications for the city’s aging sewers, roads and public transit.

“We want to keep the public infrastructure in service when it’s stressed by weather events,” said TEO director Lawson Oates. “Many of the things we can do are low cost … much cheaper than doing them retroactively,” he said.

But environmentalists and some city councillors are worried that funding for environmental initiatives will be diverted to other programs in the upcoming budget cycle.

The climate report, Toronto’s Future Weather & Climate Driver Study, was supposed to be discussed at Toronto’s Parks and Environment Committee on Friday but was deferred. The next meeting isn’t scheduled until Jan. 13.

“Imagine a summer where for two months the temperature does not go down below 30C. If that were to happen tomorrow there would probably be a significant number of deaths. Our electricity infrastructure would fail. We would have massive blackouts and, who knows what else would happen to the other urban infrastructure? I’m not sure that the city and this administration is taking any of this stuff seriously,” said Franz Hartmann of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

He is concerned that a restructuring of the city’s Sustainable Energy Funds, an interest free loan program to help retrofits buildings for energy efficiency, could include a one-time diversion of $60 million to protect the city’s trees from the devastating emerald ash borer.

That’s two climate change related needs competing for the same funds, said city councillor Paula Fletcher, former chair of the Toronto Parks and Environment committee. Toronto bureaucrats and politicians are “so worried about money they’re not thinking about the future of the city and the future of the planet and what our role is,” she said.

“The mayor and his team generally don’t take climate change seriously,” said the left-wing councillor.

City councillor Norm Kelly, who currently chairs Toronto’s Parks and Environment Committee, says it’s a good thing discussions on the report have been deferred because he wants more time to investigate the research methods used by SENES Consultants. It was commissioned in 2010 to study Toronto-specific climate changes, information that wasn’t available from Environment Canada.

Kelly says some healthy skepticism is in order for a forecast 30 years out, given that weather predictions for the next day are often wrong.

“The implications are frankly that we’ve got to spend an enormous amount of money to revamp our system to withstand (extreme weather events) . . . investments on that massive scale, if we are to ask taxpayers to fund them, we’d better be sure,” he said.

Even climate change skeptics can’t deny events like Hurricane Sandy, said city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who sits on the committee. “The signs could not be more apparent,” she said.

But McMahon says she’s been frustrated with the committee that spent much of its Friday meeting discussing off-leash dog parks. It struggles to maintain quorum and that’s why the climate report didn’t get discussed, she said.

“The agenda’s so light we’ve never had it run into the afternoon,” said McMahon, who is also concerned about the city’s plan to restructure the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, a $23 million endowment that supports projects such as building retrofits and energy efficient streetlights and traffic signals that has saved the city about $55 million in energy costs.

“Torontonians who are worried about climate change and worried about what they saw with Sandy need to be concerned because of the direction of the city. I’d say there has been a very strong commitment to environmental stewardship for a number of decades. The current administration and city staff don’t have that on the front burner,” said Fletcher.

Lawson takes a longer view. “There’s changes of emphasis with every administration,” he said. “Council has asked for this type of information. We’re bringing it forward to advise them of these things.”

Toronto's long-range forecast

A report from the Toronto Environment Office, a summary of a study by SENES Consultants Ltd., predicts some dramatic changes in Toronto's weather between 2040 and 2050, a period it says is "relevant to a large range of infrastructure replacement activities."

Here are some of the findings:

• A 4.4C average annual rise in temperature, including a 5.7C increase in winter and 3.8C in summer.

• The city will see six times as many days when the temperature remains above 24C for 24 hours.

• Slightly more precipitation but with less snow and more rain in the winter. The research forecasts 26 fewer snow days per year.

• Fewer but more extreme rainstorms. The number of winter storms is expected to drop and the number of summer storms remain the same. The amount of rainfall expected in any single day or hour, however, will more than double.

• Heat waves — three or more consecutive days of temperatures above 32C — will increase from 0.57 on average to five a year.

Toronto's Future Weather & Climate Driver Study: Outcomes Report


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