Canadian Cities Begin to Assess Climate Risks

Writing for The Montreal Gazette this weekend, William Marsden had an excellent front page article on the challenge that Canadian cities face to adapt to climate change.  All I can say is that its about time! In the early days, discussions about climate change – at least in wealthy northern cities – focused on reducing emissions.  There was a sense of optimism, or at least invulnerability.

That started breaking down a few years ago as cities like New York and London began assessing the impact that an unstable climate would have on them. Just before Christmas, that culminated in the release of planning guides in both the US and Canada to help cities identify vulnerability and plan was to adapt to new conditions. But while the American guide was released by ICLEI with some fanfare and press attention, the updated guide produced by Natural Resources Canada didn't make a ripple in the media landscape.

The impact that climate change is going to have on our cities is one of the big conversations that Canadians are waiting to have. Marsden's piece focuses on Montreal, but it provides a good overview of the risks faced by Canadian cities.  He goes into what can be done to address them and how we are entering into an era where low-carbon, climate adapted cities will have a clear edge when it comes to attracting both residents and investment.  The piece also bring together some interesting quotes from World Bank officials and city councilors.  


We have got a big issue here.  One that cities haven't done nearly enough yet to address, and they are being let down by a federal government which itself hasn't produced a coherent national climate change strategy. Here's hoping that the Canadian media will help us keep our eye on how it develops.  [Some excerpts after the below]

“Natural Resources Canada reports that cities in British Columbia's interior have to adapt to the increased risk of wildfires because of a drier climate; Vancouver has to improve its storm sewer systems because of increased rains and violent storms; Edmonton has lost 30,000 trees to drought and pest infestations; Regina is running out of water; the increased intensity of rainfall is causing more flooding in London, Ont.; Toronto has the country's worst heat island effects; Montreal and Quebec City experience more intense snow storms, wind storms, heat waves and torrential rain than ever before; and east coast cities like Halifax and Annapolis Royal face problems relating to sea level rise, storm surges and increased extreme weather events such as hurricanes.”

“Quebec law now requires the cities establish a perimeter beyond which the city cannot expand. DeSousa said the idea is to develop around transportation hubs so that as many people as possible can be within walking distance of a metro or commuter train station.
In the United States, it's called Transit Orientated Development (TOD). The rationale is simple: Denser cities use less energy. The problem in Quebec, however, is that the politics around restricting development is fertile ground for corruption as developers and landowners vie to have their land included within the development area.”
"If we are going to make a dent and if we are going to be able to supply a coherent series of reasons to the population, we need the federal government on side," Montreal city councillor Alan DeSousa said.

"You can imagine how much simpler our lives would be if you have a coherent, cohesive message being sent by all levels of government to the population. Not only would people better understand the impact of climate change on their daily lives but there would also be a series of integrated measures across the board that are coherent. That definitely handicaps our efforts, particularly at jurisdictions at senior levels of government where we don't have any particular role, for example in industrial emissions."

[see more adaptation related posts here.]

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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