Ontario Municipalities Face Escalating Costs of Damage from Climate Change

Are Senior Levels of Government Doing Enough to Address It?

“Municipalities are often the first to feel the impacts of climate change, such as floods, heat waves, ice storms and public health crises.” – Dianne Saxe, Environmetal Commissioner of Ontario

A News Commentary from Citizens at City Hall, a public watchdog group in Hamilton, Ontario

Posted October 2nd, 2018 on Niagara At Large

(A Brief Foreword Note from Niagara At Large – the Office of Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, like those of the Ombudsman and Auditor General, are non-partisan, independent watchdog bodies.)

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe releases a disturbing report about impacts of climate change for municipalities across the province.

The worsening plight of Hamilton and other municipalities in the face of increasingly damaging weather was cited in last week’s report of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

The detailed annual review of provincial climate action slammed the Conservative government for cancelling the cap and trade program and the hundreds of projects that had been funded from the nearly $2 billion a year collected in carbon pollution fees.

“Municipalities are often the first to feel the impacts of climate change, such as floods, heat waves, ice storms and public health crises,” noted Commissioner Dianne Saxe. “Municipal governments bear the responsibility of preparing and protecting communities against these impacts, and bear significant costs after a disaster happens.”

Saxe noted that the five warmest years in global records have occurred since 2010 and that Ontario is heating up at twice the planetary average. This year is currently on track to be the fourth warmest. More ominously while emissions continue to grow “it will take at least several decades before we experience the full effects of the greenhouse gases that humans have already emitted.”

Near record rains and flooding had Lakeshore Park in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines under water a year ago. File photo by Doug Draper

That’s in line with increasingly frantic scientific warnings that humans have just about run out of time to cut carbon pollution before unstoppable feedbacks kick in and drive temperatures out of control as described in the “hothouse” earth major study issued in July. That was followed in August by a comprehensive Australian review of how badly the international community has underestimated the speed of climatic changes.

“After three decades of global inaction, climate change is now an existential risk to humanity. It implies large negative consequences, which will be irreversible, resulting in major reductions in global and national population, mass species extinction, economic disruption and social chaos, unless carbon emissions are rapidly reduced,” warned Australians David Spratt and Ian Dunlop.

“The risk is immediate, in that it is being locked in today by our insistence on expanding and sustaining the use of fossil fuels when the carbon budget to stay below sensible temperature increase limits is already exhausted.”

Saxe’s report echoes such warnings and applies them directly to Ontario with a wealth of detailed data. “Climate change is not a distant threat; it is the defining challenge of our time,” Saxe states. “The historical climate normals that Ontario’s economy, agriculture, infrastructure, and standards are based upon are gone.”

The Ontario Environmental Commissioner’s report on climate change was released this September 2018

Her report titled “Ontario (again) needs a climate policy” calls the cancellation of cap and trade “a wrenching halt” after considerable progress under the Wynne government.

“No information is available as to how many of the approved projects will now fail or be abandoned, nor what will be the fate of the matching funds that had been raised,” notes Saxe. “Many of the resulting losses will fall on public sector organizations (i.e., taxpayer-funded) such as municipalities, hospitals, school boards, colleges and universities, and social housing providers.”

The impact of such projects is highlighted in Saxe’s report with the example of Hamilton slashing energy use at more than a dozen older social housing apartment buildings. “The estimated energy cost savings will add up to $15.5 million over the 20-year useful life of the retrofits,” explains the report, “while low-income residents benefit from a more comfortable environment.”

Saxe emphasizes that “cities and towns account for more than 70 percent of global emissions” because of their high energy consumption and those can be reduced by municipal governments “by controlling key assets like buildings and vehicle fleets and influencing the urban form built in their communities.” Buildings and transportation are the two highest sources of Ontario’s carbon pollution.

Her report is filled with examples of shortchanged projects and a few that were completed before the province axed the funding this summer and the cap and trade pollution fees that pulled in $1.9 billion in their first year. It calculates that Hamilton was allocated over $50 million from just the first year of cap and trade revenues.

It’s already clear that some of that won’t get here including monies for school retrofits, funding for electric buses and support for the city’s climate planning office. Saxe estimates that only ten percent of monies earmarked for the municipal fund actually were disbursed.

About Ontario’s Environment Commissioner – Dr. Dianne Saxe is the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), a tough but fair watchdog over Ontario’s environmental, energy and climate performance, and guardian of the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).

Prior to her appointment in December 2015, Commissioner Saxe was one of Canada’s most respected environmental lawyers. She has 40 years’ unparalleled experience writing, interpreting, and litigating Ontario’s energy and environmental laws. Commissioner Saxe’s career began with the Ontario Public Service and two major Bay Street law firms. She then established one of Canada’s top environmental law firms.

About CATCH – CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) is a volunteer community group that encourages civic participation in Hamilton. Our members attend and report on meetings of city councillors and other City committees, and carry out related research and activities.

We issue regular news updates to our email list using recordings and transcripts of meetings, staff reports and/or other public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. 

You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/?p=subscribe.

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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