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.
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
Environment 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 (http://trca.on.ca/the-living-city/climate-change/).
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.
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).
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.
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