The city of Toronto unveiled a broad set of recommendations on Tuesday to counter and manage the effects of climate change as part of its “resilience” strategy, a set of principles meant to guide decision-making in city hall.
The strategy includes other lofty goals: eliminating poverty, building green infrastructure and increasing government transparency.
Climate change will affect weather over Toronto and the city will need to invest in ways to adapt to significant meteorological changes, said the city’s chief resilience officer, Elliott Cappell, who was in charge of writing the 157-page document.
“Toronto is getting hotter, wetter and wilder, and of course that’s a result of climate change,” he said.
In the coming years, the city’s climate is expected to become more violent and less predictable. Extreme weather events, like heat waves and violent rainstorms, are projected to become more common. On Sunday, Lake Ontario water levels hit their highest point ever recorded and parts of the Toronto Islands were flooded. It’s the second time in three years that the city has seen such severe flooding.
The announcement of the resilience strategy did not come with any dollar amounts attached and it is unclear what specific effects it will have in countering the effects of climate change or in addressing the strategy’s other goals.
In the coming decades, the population of Toronto is projected to grow, hitting 3.4 million people by the 2040s. Growing social inequality means that some populations will be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than others. To deal with these changes, Mr. Cappell said it will become more important to invest in ways to adapt to climate change.
“In Canada, pretty much everywhere, a large portion of our leadership and our effort is spent on climate change mitigation – that is, decreasing our impact on the environment,” he said. “On the adaptation side, we don’t have the same investment. We haven’t necessarily had to, but that is changing.”
Tuesday’s announcement cemented Toronto as a “resilient city" – one of 97 around the world. It joined the ranks of cities such as Milan, Honolulu, Rio de Janeiro and Paris – all part of the 100 Resilient Cities network, an organization set up and backed by the Rockefeller Foundation.
In Canada, other cities in the network include Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, all of which have also committed to becoming more resilient – a broad term loosely defined as a city’s ability to respond to shocks like climate change but including anything from terrorist attacks to blizzards.
“It’s a term that comes from ecology. A resilient ecosystem is one that can survive through time. Often that comes from the biodiversity of the system,” Mr. Cappell said.
Alex Versluis, senior vice-president of property development and management at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, who was present at the announcement Tuesday, said his organization is applying the principles in the resilience strategy on the ground. Generators are being installed in YMCAs across the city, allowing them to act as shelters in the event of a power outage.
Mr. Versluis said he saw the effects of climate change while in New York in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy where YMCA locations opened their doors to people who didn’t have power.
“It’s just a piece of the puzzle in that response fabric,” he said.
Ray Park, communications adviser at the City of Toronto, said Tuesday in an e-mail that the city’s Resilience Office and various city divisions will take the lead in implementing the resilience strategy.
He said the city will develop guidelines for “applying a climate lens” in the city’s capital planning process. Toronto will also develop more localized plans to prepare for extreme weather.
Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters at a separate presentation on Tuesday that the city has hundreds of millions of dollars set aside to invest in climate change mitigation measures over the next 10 years.
“This strategy adds some additional ideas to things we had already taken on board as to the need for us to prepare ourselves better for different kinds of flooding that happen across the city caused by unusual weather patterns and by the growth in the city," the mayor said.
But there’s more to resilient cities than just vision statements, according to Kevin Manaugh, an academic who studies urban transportation and the environment at McGill University in Montreal.
“It’s easy to call yourself a resilient city. It’s easy to use a buzzword and say we’re going to be resilient or aim towards resiliency, but it has to be backed up by actual investments in sustainable infrastructure and changes in things like energy use and things like emissions,” he said.