Saving Our Assets: Downfall of Climate Change Adaptation

Toronto, ON, Canada

 Saving Our Assets: Downfall of Climate Change Adaptation

by: Mabel Wong

In 2013, the city of Toronto experienced extreme fluctuations in weather, resulting in extreme heat, heavy ice storms, and severe rainstorms (City of Toronto, 2014). Whether or not global warming is occurring, the realities of dealing with climate change are. In an urban setting, economic threats exist when controlling damage to infrastructure and assisting citizens’ well-being in times of extreme weather. The need for climate change adaptation and mitigation is vital for the resilience of Toronto during future changes in weather patterns due to climate change. Tools for environmental assessment would be beneficial to managing infrastructure and ensuring that they are resilient against climate change. However, environmental assessment is weak and stricter guidelines are needed to help cities become resilient against climate change.

Toronto’s Ice Storm in 2013

2013 Flooding on a Highway After Heavy Rainstorm

It is evident that Toronto takes climate change adaptation and mitigation seriously, but actions require time and they are far from few. Toronto committed to reduce greenhouse gases as part of the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) as early from 1990 (Gore, 2010). Major milestones produced from this network are few, but the city is still committed to adapting towards climate change.  In 2008, the city developed a report called Ahead of the Storm: Preparing Toronto for Climate Change (City of Toronto
ghgEnvironment Office, 2008). This document is impressive in indicating the pressure for adapting to climate change and it also suggests actions that will come. Follow up is still needed as no other report has been produced since. However, more resources can be found on the Toronto Region Conservation website regarding climate change actions (

Further action from Toronto should include the use of environmental assessments, as they are used for project planning and decision making. Normally, they look at a project’s impact on the environment, but the reverse is uncommon. The danger here is that cities facing climate change like Toronto, need to consider the reverse. How are their infrastructures responding to climate change? In an ideal situation, environmental impact assessments (EIA) would guide policy makers and project planners to plan appropriately against environmental effects by creating alternative plans, implementing mitigation efforts, monitoring and follow up strategies.

cleanup costs

Damages and repair costs in Toronto for 2013 (Toronto Region Conservation, 2015)

The attitudes towards EIAs are not great though. EIAs are often seen as fulfilling requirements by politicians and project planners see EIA as an approval for proceeding with a project (Conacher, 1994). Even the reports themselves are weak because climate change effects are only considered in passing or mentioned briefly in the preparation of the report (CEAA, 2012; Ministry of Environment, 2014). Studies reveal that it is difficult to enforce any policy when interests of governments, ecologists, and economists, are not the same (Shepherd & Ortolano, 1996; Conacher, 1994).

lai et al

Interconnection between environment, economy, society and human socioeconomic impacts depends on land-use planning. To ensure impact assessment or mitigation efforts, all must be considered.

Climate change adaptation is not looking good so far for Toronto. EIA use, policy implementation, and project planning could be better integrated to adapt to climate change. If interests are not lining up, I’m sure the cost of cleaning up after extreme weather and the general safety of citizens should be some factors of similar interest. No matter how weak EIAs are currently, a change in attitudes towards EIA in the face of climate change is needed if any productive actions are made in adapting to climate change.


Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2012). Incorporating climate change considerations in environmental assessment: General guidance for practitioners. Retrieved from:

City of Toronto Environment Office. (2008). Ahead of the Storm: Preparing Toronto for Climate Change. Retrieved from:

City of Toronto. (2014). Resilient City – Preparing for a Changing Climate. Retrieved from:

Conacher, A. (1994). The integration of land-use planning and management with environmental impact assessment: Some Australian and Canadian perspectives. Impact Assessment, 12(4), 347-372.

Gore, C. (2010). The limits and opportunities of networks: municipalities and Canadian climate change policy. Review of Policy Research, 27(1), 27-44.

Lai L, Huang X, Zhang X. (2003). Study on strategic environmental impact assessment in land-use planning. China Land Science, 17(6), 56-60.

Ministry of Environment, Canada. (2014). Preparing and reviewing environmental assessments in Ontario. Retrieved from:

Shepherd, A. & Ortolano, L. (1996). Strategic environmental assessment for sustainable urban development. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 16, 321-335

Toronto Region Conservation. (2015). Local Impacts. Retrieved from:


Striving for a Green Economy: novel concept or novelty?

(Photo by Kalikasan Party)

According to the European Environmental Agency, “the green economy” is a concept that consists of balancing economic growth and environmental protection [1]. The idea is to incorporate the environment into economic development. Will the idea of the green economy be a solution to environmental sustainability? It is a novel concept but could it become a simple novelty instead?

The past year has had a lot of focus on sustainable activity. The United Nations 2014 Climate Summit took place to lead up to the 2015 Summit in which the UN will discuss a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol [2]. Al Gore streamed an event called 24 Hours of Reality that listed a myriad of solutions to lower carbon emissions [3]. Even Pope Francis has begun emphasizing the need to turn our attention towards climate change [4].

Currently, President Obama has proposed designating 4.8 million hectares of Alaskan territory as wilderness areas [5]. Opposition to this proposal has to do with a large area of Alaska being put off limits for oil exploration. In addition, in the United Kingdom, MPs are in debate about a moratorium on fracking in order to meet emission reduction goals [6].

The question is, with our growth towards “the green economy”, how are environmental assessments responding to projects? As easy as it is to fall on oil and coal as our main sources of energy, there are numerous alternative and sustainable sources of energy. Does this trend towards green energy give more easily permission to green projects?

There are cases where a good idea goes wrong. An example is Germany’s transition to renewable energy and the implementation of wind farms in the mid-2000s. Striving for a cleaner source of energy had switched Germany from an energy exporter to importer due to the power strain on the power grid [7]. Due to a quick transition and poorly assessed plans on the output of energy, the power demand, and the unpredictability of wind caused the problem [7]. It continues with the need to expand and deliver energy impeded by activists who preventing approval of construction [7]. A similar problem occurred with a solar plant:

“[…] I will never forget those seemingly endless days of summer spent inside while it rained incessantly. Bavaria is like Seattle in the United States or Sichuan province in China. You don’t want to put a solar plant in Bavaria, but that is exactly where the Germans put it. The plant, with a peak output of 10 megawatts, went into operation in June 2005.

It happened for the best reason there is in politics: money. Welcome to the world of new renewable energies, where the subsidies rule—and consumers pay.”

– Vaclav Smil, writer for IEEE commenting on a proposed plan for a solar plant [8].

What we see here is not the fault of the type of resource, but the system and approval of a plan not well assessed. The poor planning leads to ineffective energy production which leads to an increase price in energy and loss in potential. We get caught up with the trend of green projects that we neglect some of the problems. In 2011, a project in Saskatchewan involving a wind turbine encountered skepticism such as:

 “I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle because as soon as you announce a project is green, everybody stands and salutes the flag.”

– Councilor Pat Lorje  [9]

It is a fair point. People have the right to question a new project. In this case, they wanted to see the documents of the project assessment. Is it not their prerogative? If we want to advance towards a green economy, these projects need to be approved after proper assessment and planning. EA reports should not become more lenient to projects that are labeled “green”. I do not want to sound punitive but I would prefer to see few successful projects than many failed projects. Green is not the new black, it should be a way of living; let us judge it so.

[1] European Environment Agency, 2011. Europe’s environment — An Assessment of Assessments. From:

[2] Brown P. 2014. New York summit is last chance to get consensus on climate before 2015 talks. The Guardian.

[3] The Climate Reality Project, 2014. 24 Hours of Reality: 24 Reasons for Hope.

[4] The Associated Press, 2015.  Pope Francis’ stand on climate change deepens distrust among US conservatives. NOLA.

[5] BBC News, 2015. Obama push to expand Alaskan refuge. BBC News: Science & Environment.

[6] Briggs H., 2015. MPs: Ban fracking to meet carbon targets. BBC News: Science & Environment.

[7] Watts A, 2012. Germany in skeptical turmoil on both Climate and Solar/Windfarms.

[8] Smil V., 2012. A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy. IEEE Spectrum.

[9] Eyre B., 2011. Green skeptics simply tilting at windmills. The Starphoenix.

Incorporating Climate Change in EIA

by: Adam Pinchefsky

Climate Change has been recognized as a serious global issue for decades, but to date our actions have been inadequate to deal with the problem. Governments around the world dodge the issue, agreeing that actions must be taken to prevent serious climate change but are not doing much to stop it because climate change is not high on the list of voter priorities. One main challenge in dealing with climate change is that its causes are greatly embedded in almost every facet of our daily lives.


Source: Don McLenaghen, 2012 [5]

Sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the culprit for climate change, are endless. Burning fossil fuels is woven into almost every factor of society such that halting their use is, at least for now, not a viable option. Such an action could precipitate a collapse in the farming industry, heavily reliant on fossil fuels, which could lead to widespread food shortages and possibly to famine. Industry and manufacturing could collapse, most mechanized transportation would cease, and most energy demands would not be met as existing renewable energy sources account for a fraction of our energy supply. The effects of climate change can already be seen with rising sea levels caused by increased melting of ice caps and glaciers and thermal expansion of water (caused by increasing temperatures). If governments and corporations continue to focus primarily on economic issues rather than on environmental protection, steps will need to be taken to force them into action. This is where I believe the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process can be an effective tool.

Claire Carter, 2013

Source: Claire Carter, 2013 [6]

An effective way of mitigating the effects of climate change is to incorporate climate change impacts and adaptation into pre-existing project structures [1]. EIAs could be very effective in this regard as they are already well established in most developed countries and are a legal requirement for many projects. EIAs already include direct and indirect effects of climate in its guidelines [4]. While regular EIAs would be effective at addressing the site specific impacts that projects will have on climate change, strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) can impact project development over entire regions [2, 3]. EIAs occur before projects are approved and can be used to determine the impacts the projects will have on climate change (amount of GHG emissions) and propose ways to mitigate those impacts prior to project approval. Canada and Australia have already incorporated climate change into the EIA process, however it is more focused on the impacts that climate change will have on the project than the other way around[1].

With GHG emissions rapidly increasing across the globe, action must be taken now to curb this increase. EIAs are an effective existing tool that can be used to lower emissions at the project planning stage, and can help such projects become more environmentally sustainable. Countries should include measures for incorporating climate change mitigation into existing EIA guidelines.


[1] Agrawala, Shardul et al., 2012. Incorporating climate change impacts and adaptation in environmental impact assessments: Opportunities and challenges.  Climate and Development, 4:26-39.

[2] Carter, Claire. Environmental Secretary accused of ‘immoral’ stance on climate change. The Telegraph (October 1, 2013). <Last accessed March 17, 2014:

[3] Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment, 2014. EIA & Climate Change. <Last accessed March 17, 2014:;.

[4] Justice and Environment, 2012. Climate change aspects in environmental impact assessment procedures. <Last accessed March 17, 2014:;.

[5] McLenaghen, Don, 2012. The double standard of climate scandal. <Last accessed March 17, 2014:;.

[6] Smith. The role for EIA in Climate Change. National Environmental Assessment Service. Environment Agency. <Last accessed March 17, 2014:>.

Post-Disaster Impact Assessment: A Toolbox for Saving Lives in a Changing World

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods affect millions of people every year. Climate change will likely add to the natural disasters which already occur around the world. The global climate is warming, causing increases in tropical storms; desert areas are becoming drier, contributing to increases in droughts and food shortages; and land-glaciers are melting, leading to an increase in avalanches and landslides [1][4]. In addition to these climate-driven disasters, the Earth is continuously undergoing geologic changes which result in volcanic eruptions, landslides and earthquakes. With growing populations near hazard-prone areas, post-disaster impact assessment is going to be an important toolbox for rebuilding in safer areas and saving lives. 

Original Data from the EM-DAT International Disaster Database, Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, University of Louvain (

Figure 1: A steady increase in climate-related natural disasters is apparent from the blue bar plot in this graph (Source [3])

 On March 11, 2011, Eastern Japan was hit by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent 40.5 meter-high tsunami which killed over 19,000 people and destroyed 835 000 homes [5][6]. Japan is a developed county known for having countermeasures and evacuation plans for tsunami disasters [5]. They utilize both hard (i.e. breakwaters and sea walls) and soft (i.e. awareness and education) mitigation measures to ensure the minimize loss of life [5].


Figure 2: Shows Japan and many other countries’ vulnerability due to the “Ring of Fire”, an extremely active zone of crustal plate boundaries (Source:

Impact assessment for damages was used to determine the performance of buildings materials and to record which locations were most vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise. Post-disaster on-the-ground fieldwork can be coupled with GIS tools to assess damages and to plan for the future. GIS technologies were used after the 2011 tsunami to show how well the hard mitigation measures performed. Types of GIS data that can be used are: elevation maps to map vulnerable areas and to locate shelters away from flood-prone land, land use to map vulnerability of structures and towns, and road networks to map access routes to affected areas [2]. For example, vulnerability assessment was done by mapping housing damage in vulnerable inundation areas and assessing “fragility curves” for different types of construction materials [5]. Disaster Science and Engineering experts Suppasri et al. (2013) were able to visually inform Japanese authorities of the best construction materials to be used in future development projects.

Examples of different damage levels for the same tsunami inundation depth. Figure from [4], page 1005

Figure 3: Examples of different damage levels for the same tsunami inundation depth (Source [5], p.1005)

Mapping disaster damage coupled with on-the-ground studies such as photographs and written accounts are essential for informing policy for future improvements to counter-disaster management strategies.  As shown above, this can also be said for types of construction materials used for building homes to increase resilience against tsunamis. Furthermore, GIS applications could be used to map historical inundation areas to plan new prevention plans, choose evacuation areas, and to visually inform residents of their location’s vulnerability to natural disasters such as tsunamis [5]. Scenario analysis mapping is an essential tool to be used to inform policy in choosing relocation areas away from vulnerable coastlines, as well as away from other potential natural disaster areas (e.g. landslides and floods).

On a warming planet where natural hazards have the potential to augment, and where societies will continue to be subject to various geologic hazards, post-disaster impact assessors will be needed to contribute to reconstruction efforts and to inform future disaster-planning in vulnerable areas.

Works Cited

[1] Bury, J.T. et al. (2011). Glacier recession and human vulnerability in the Yanamarey watershed of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Climatic Change , 105, 179-206.

[2] Latif, S., Islam, R., Khan, M. I., & Ahmed, S. I. (2011). OpenStreetMap for the Disaster Management in Bangladesh. IEEE Conference on Open Systems, (pp. 429-433). Langkawi, Malaysia.

[3] Leaning, J., & Guha-Sapir, D. (2013). Natural Disasters, Armed Conflict, and Public Health. New England Journal of Medicine, 369(19), 1836-1842.

[4] Malone, E. L., & Engel, N. L. (2011). Evaluating regional vulnerability to climate change: purposes and methods. WIREs Climate Change , 2, 462-474.

[5] Suppasri, A., Shuto, N., Imamura, F., Koshimura, S., Mas, E., & Yalciner, A. C. (2013). Lessons Learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Tsunami: Performance of Tsunami Countermeasures, Coastal Buildings, and Tsunami Evacuation in Japan. Pure and Applied Geophysics , 170, 993-1018.

[6] Utani, A., Mizumoto, T., & Okumura, T. (2011). How geeks responded to a catastrophic disaster of a high-tech country: rapid development of counter-disaster systems for the great east Japan earthquake of March 2011. Proceedings of the Special Workshop on Internet and Disasters, (pp. 1-8). Tokyo, Japan.

Should the Insurance Industry Take a More Active Role in EIA?

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business the only industry that has firmly embraced the reality of climate change is the reinsurance and insurance industry.  Extreme weather events are happening more frequently due to climate change, and surprisingly the insurance industry is convinced that the change is being caused by human activity [3].  Reinsurers and insurers rely on being able to judge that the risks to the projects that they insure can be accurately modelled over the entire lifespan of the project: their financial well-being depends on it.  With the increased occurrence of extreme weather events over the past 40 years, losses incurred have climbed steadily with the weather-related claims paid out doubling every decade since the 1980s [3].  These ever increasing payouts have motivated the world’s biggest reinsurers and insurers to accept climate change as a reality and become experts at modelling the expected changes over the coming decades.  They have incorporated the results of those models into their calculations about the risks associated with the projects that they insure.Rescue-workers-walk-past-homes-destroyed-by-Superstorm-Sandy-Oct.-31-2012-in-Seaside-Heights-New-Jersey.-Mario-TamaGetty-Images-650x433

(Mario Tama, Getty Images 2012)

The Environmental Impact Assessment process is supposed to identify and predict the impacts of a proposed development over its entire lifespan – from planning through construction and operation to decommissioning [2].  Further, the EIA process is to propose mitigation measures for those impacts along with a plan to monitor them over the project lifespan and beyond.  These mitigation measures along with decommissioning and rehabilitation after the completion of the project involve the highest level of uncertainty in the EIA process [2].  For the insurance industry these activities present the biggest financial risk, especially decommissioning and rehabilitation.  The risk increases with time as the extent of the impacts of the project increase leading to the possibility that more people may be affected over a greater area leading to greater compensation costs for the insurer.  Of special concern are decommissioning costs as there is a higher probability that the project proponent may not fulfill their obligations for site rehabilitation leading to those costs being passed on to the insurer [4].  Environmental insurance policies up until now have generally been for specific impacts of a project such as the damage caused by the release of dangerous materials into the air or water, or onto the land.  The world’s largest insurers, such as Munich Re and Lloyd’s, have come to the conclusion that they must incorporate climatic change into their calculations of the risks involved when insuring various large long-term projects [3].  The Insurance industry is concerned with the accuracy of the projected long term effects, cost of mitigation, cost of decommissioning, cost of damages that may be incurred, but uncertainty in the environmental assessment process makes this difficult.  While it is understood that there are uncertainties in the prediction of the future, the communication of those uncertainties to decision makers needs to be improved [1].  Research by the insurance industry has quantified some of those uncertainties [3] and it needs to be shared with the EA community.

Since the insurance industry is able to quantify some of the uncertainties of the EA process, should they take a more active role in EIA?  If so, at what level should they participate?  Should they function within the regulatory process, or as independent evaluators?  Within the regulatory EA system, proponents could benefit from insurance industry expertise when preparing project submissions and regulatory agencies could benefit from better analysis of the risks of the projects they are evaluating.  Perhaps insurance industry evaluation of a project should be a required component of the regulatory process.  I believe including insurers in the EA process would improve the quality of EA.  The EA process would benefit from the ability of the insurance industry to provide insight into the uncertainties in the EA process, especially with respect to impact prediction and mitigation.  Furthermore, the impacts of climate change would be included in all projects regardless of the acceptance of the magnitude of those changes by both proponents and regulators.  It is time for the insurance industry to work with all parties in the EA process to improve that process and help provide a better future.


(CBC, 2013)


[1] Gunn, J. & Noble, B. (2014). Uncertainty disclosure and consideration in environmental assessment: An agenda for research and practice. Unpublished, presented on Jan. 7, 2014 at Concordia University.

[2] Noble, Bram. (2008). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice, Second Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press

[3] Reguly, E. (2013, 12). The smartest guys on the planet. Report on Business, 30(5), 66-76.

[4] Susavidge, M. A. (2002, 03 01). Environmental insurance insuring the deal. Retrieved from