On November 15th the mayors of Canada’s 22 largest municipalities convened in Ottawa to ask the federal government to increase funding for infrastructure. Cities face crumbling infrastructure and a massive backlog of repairs and investment at a time when population in growth in many urban centres is booming.
Given that almost 80 per cent of Canadians are now urban dwellers and cities contribute immensely to our economy and culture, the mayors’ argument is a convincing one. A new report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) estimates an investment of $170 billion is needed just to fix road and water treatment systems, not including much needed upgrades to antiquated electricity grids and public transportation, and the World Bank noted in a recent report that “climate change poses serious threats to urban infrastructure, quality of life, and entire urban systems.”
The Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCAP), established by the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo and Intact Financial Corporation, reports that “whether it’s modes of transportation, storm water run-off or energy generation Canadian cities’ infrastructure is predicted to be strongly impacted by climate change.” The effects of climate change will pose a new challenge to Canadian municipalities already struggling with infrastructure deficits and population growth.
There are now many organizations working on both greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation and climate change adaption strategies. There are actions that cities can take; for example, the CCAP recommends cities undertake change vulnerability and risk assessments, evaluate capacity and resilience to future climate extremes and incorporate climate change adaptation into city planning policy. Sustainable Waterloo Region, based in Kitchener, is working with both municipal governments and local businesses to reduce GHG emissions through initiatives like the Regional Carbon Initiative and the Climate Collaborative.
ICLEI Canada is perhaps the leader in municipal climate change action, and is part of a global effort to help cities reduce environmental impacts. ICLEI (originally the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) works with local governments through its Partners for Climate Protection program (municipalities develop GHG inventories and plan for emission reductions), an adaptation program, and a guide to help municipal staff prepare effective climate change communication strategies.
This week, ICLEI and the City of Hamilton will host the Livable Cities Forum on the theme of creating adaptive and resilient communities. Representatives of Canadian municipalities, policymakers, scientists, university researchers, NGOs, and professionals will gather to discuss the challenges of climate change for cities and possible solutions featuring keynote speakers and sessions.
Brian Montgomery is the Air Quality and Climate Change Coordinator for the City of Hamilton and says the timing is right for the forum. Insurance companies, pension funds, and community groups are asking municipalities what they are doing about climate change, and in order to attract investment municipalities need to demonstrate good planning. Hamilton has already encountered problems with flooding and heat alert days, events which have helped to bring attention to the issues to the urban population. The summer drought affected local agriculture and helped to bring the rural population on board. The Hamilton Conservation Authority has warned council about wind damage and erosion. Framing a complex issue like climate change in a local context helps to raise awareness and motivate people to take action.
Montgomery says that climate change will bring challenges to Hamilton’s hard physical infrastructure, such as roads and water pipes, and soft social infrastructure, such as addressing local health and citizens in poverty. I asked him about the infrastructure deficit and how climate change adaptation is being brought into the discussion. He notes that there has not yet been any commitment from the federal government for infrastructure funding and adaptation, while the province has downloaded many infrastructure costs onto municipalities. In some cases, such public transit, funding has largely dried up. Millions of dollars need to be spent on upgrades and maintenance; infrastructure is built to last 100 years or so but without proper maintenance its lifetime is reduced. Extreme weather events will only hasten the breakdown of aging infrastructure. The goal of the Liveable Cities Forum is to create some solutions to this complex problem.
Montgomery notes that the real challenge to getting adaptation included in infrastructure funding is presenting a cost-benefit analysis. Municipal managers must plan for likely climate change impacts, otherwise infrastructure spending amounts to band-aid solutions which will be much more costly in the long term. Unfortunately during a time of economic austerity it can be difficult to maintain the long-term vision, and Montgomery notes that finding cost-savings and value is part of the solution.
As host city, Hamilton has a compelling story to tell and is looking forward to dialogue with cities across Canada. According to Montgomery, a major flooding event encouraged one councilor to raise the climate change issue at city hall, something that used to be taboo. Now conversations are being held between all departments and senior levels of management. In 2011 Hamilton became the first city in Canada to sign a Climate Change Action Charter, and the city is on track to meet its GHG reduction targets. Montgomery notes that a lot has been done to reduce GHG emissions, but adaptation must also be part of the solution and municipalities must anticipate rather than react to the challenges posed by climate change. The ICLEI forum will be extremely useful for moving the dialogue forward and working toward policy solutions.
The Liveable Cities Forum runs from November 29th to 30th. Event information and registration can be found on ICLEI’s website.
Special thanks to Brian Montgomery, Air Quality and Climate Change Coordinator for the City of Hamilton, for taking the time to be interviewed. He can be reached at Brian.Montgomery [at]hamilton.ca.
In the Current Events blog, Andrew Reeves and Dan Beare discuss a wide array of environmental issues across the country and around the world, from politics and public policy to energy, natural resources, and environmental science.
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