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Roof top garden designed by Toronto-based PLANT Architects at Toronto City Hall on Queen St., Toronto June 03, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Roof top garden designed by Toronto-based PLANT Architects at Toronto City Hall on Queen St., Toronto June 03, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Climate change

Hot enough for you? Preparing for Canada's 100-year heat wave Add to ...

The long-range forecast for Canadian cities is hot. And we're talking for the next 100 years or so.

As summer weather finally arrives, municipal governments across the country are preparing for the long-term impact of climate change, adapting everything from the trees they plant to how their emergency services personnel are trained in preparation for the gradual increase in temperature and wildly fluctuating weather patterns expected in decades to come.

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"Either you're a believer in climate change or you're not, but I don't think you can deny that the weather we're seeing across the country is different," said Serge Dupuis, manager of engineering for the city of Dieppe, N.B. "Believe it or not, it's here and if you're ready for the worst, it's going to help."

The politics of climate predictions aside, cities around the world seem to have accepted that municipal roads, bridges and infrastructure projects will need to change with the weather.

On Friday, Mr. Dupuis appeared as part of a panel of municipal experts discussing climate change at the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Halifax.

And next week in Vancouver, city representatives from across Canada, the United States and Britain will gather at a conference dubbed "Resilient Communities: Preparing for the Climate Challenge."

The B.C. city is one of many municipalities that have already begun to prepare. First responders with the city's emergency medical services have recently been trained in recognizing heat stroke, historically an unusual condition in the cool, Pacific climate. The city has also mapped the location of its public water fountains to figure out which areas are underserved in the event of a heat wave.

In other parts of the country, weather is presenting a range of planning issues.

The National Capital Commission in Ottawa was forced to cover its annual ice sculpture exhibit last winter as a concession to warmer nighttime temperatures.

Mr. Dupuis's city, which sits on New Brunswick's Petitcodiac River, fed by the Bay of Fundy, has hired an environmental consultant to model future weather patterns and how they will affect the region. He expects Dieppe will have to raise the height of its existing dyke system as tide levels increase. This march, the city experienced the highest level of flooding in municipal memory.

In the United States, climate scientists have warned Chicago that the city's weather will resemble that of Baton Rouge, La., by the end of the century. There, city streets are being repaved with materials permeable to water in preparation for drastically higher levels of precipitation, and trees indigenous to the southern states, like swamp oaks and sweet gum trees, are replacing the traditional white oak in city planters.

Toronto, too, has changed the type of species planted within the city. Beth McEwen, the city's manager of urban forest renewal, said her department has increased its use of the Kentucky Coffeetree, a species that is not native to Ontario.

"Climate change can mean all kinds of things: hotter days, longer droughts, so it's about trying out different species and seeing what thrives," she said.

Toronto adopted a climate change action plan in 2008 called "Ahead of the Storm," which recommended 76 separate changes, from an increased tree canopy to a revamped storm water system.

Mark Bekkering, the city's manager of environmental implementation, said they are in the process of mapping the city to see where additional green space is needed, and studying which bridges and roads could be affected by extreme weather patterns.

Toronto Public Health is also preparing to help those who will be most affected by warmer temperatures: the homeless, elderly and low-income populations. Their biggest concern, said Mr. Bekkering, is the prediction that nighttime temperatures will remain high, requiring increased support services around the clock.

The city plans to keep its emergency cooling centres running 24 hours, and are encouraging private condo buildings and apartment towers to install air-conditioned common areas for residents.

In Vancouver, a public awareness campaign is planned about water conservation, as the city faces profound shortages initiated by climate change.

In the summer, the city has historically relied on glacial runoff as its primary water supply. But warmer temperatures are expected to melt the winter snow pack faster, causing floods and emptying city reserves.

"It's a double whammy," said Andrea Reimer, the Vancouver councillor who leads the city's Greenest City action team. "The projections are that we could have significantly less water in the summertime."

A heat wave in 2009 saw the Vancouver region use one billion litres of water in a single day, reducing the city's water reservoir to 4 per cent of its capacity.

Ms. Reimer said sprinkler restrictions were introduced this spring, and the city is considering a metered water system. Workers have already begun tearing up streets to update the city's storm water system, she added. But she believes that Vancouver, and all Canadian cities, are already far behind when it comes to adapting in the face of climate change.

"In almost all things political you'll find way more consensus on what the problem is than what the solution is," she said. "But I'm not aware of a region of Canada that won't be impacted somehow."





Cities put on alert

Toronto

In July, 2007, city council unanimously endorsed "Change is in the Air: Toronto's Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Energy Action Plan," which recommended more than 100 actions to reduce the greenhouse-gas and smog-causing emissions that contribute to climate change. The city has also completed an Extreme Weather Events Research Study that identified "intense rain storms" as a critical trend Toronto can expect as a result of climate change.

Ottawa

A white paper on climate change prepared by David Miller, the city's manager of environmental sustainability, predicted that winters in the capital will be milder and summers hotter, affecting regional tourism and introducing a range of health concerns and planning issues. The change in weather could also affect the forest composition, placing stress on certain animal species and ushering in an invasion by non-native species, "throwing off the natural balance of the regional ecosystem."

Vancouver

The city's environmental action plan predicts more extreme weather and flooding events in both industrial and residential districts, particularly in the Richmond/Delta areas, as well as a change in precipitation and snow packs, rising sea levels, and pressure on regional wildlife and vegetation. The report notes that a worst-case climate-change scenario - a global temperature increase of five degrees or more - would be "extremely difficult to adapt to."

Chicago

Climate scientists warned the Windy City that if carbon emissions continue at their current level, local temperatures could soon resemble those of the Deep South. By the end of the century, Chicago could experience as many as 72 days a year over 90 degrees. The city's current average is 15. By 2070, the city is predicted to get 35 per cent more precipitation winter and spring.

 

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