Skip to main content

Vancouver city councillors have been getting an earful from citizens over a proposed property-tax increase of more than 9 per cent.

It’s unquestionably an intimidating number – especially for the many house-rich, cash-poor people who live there. The hike is said to be necessary to fill a pressing need for more firefighters and police officers. But one of the most expensive and contentious line items the tax increase is set to cover relates to climate mitigation.

Yes, the costs of rising planetary temperatures are getting real for many of us. They can now be felt when we pay for everything from house insurance to food to, yes, property taxes. Cities that don’t prepare for the consequences of a warming world will pay dearly down the road. That’s a warning that has come recently from everyone from Mark Carney, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England – who will soon take over as special envoy to the United Nations on climate action and climate finance – to Goldman Sachs, the global investment giant.

And so the funds Vancouver City Council are seeking will go toward such unsexy projects as upgrading storm and sewer systems that will have to handle increased volumes of water in the coming years. And that’s just the start of the city’s climate-adaptation to-do list.

Of course, the fact that these infrastructure upgrades won’t really benefit today’s taxpayers at all makes it even harder for many of them to swallow this hike. It’s all about helping future generations cope with the fallout of climate change. My sympathy is minimal to nil for boomers upset about having to pay for things from which they won’t benefit. They’re the ones who have mostly created the mess that future generations will have to deal with.

Climate-mitigation efforts are a fact of life for cities around the world. “Because [cities] are home to more than half the world’s population and generate roughly 80 per cent of global GDP, cities will find themselves at the epicentre of this challenge,” said a Goldman Sachs report published in September.

It forecast that urban adaptation to climate change could drive one of the largest infrastructure build-outs in history. (So, that’s a positive!) That includes investments in coastal protection, climate-resilient construction and sturdier infrastructure for water and waste-management systems, among other things. The investment colossus says cities should start making these outlays now, as the costs will only accelerate in magnitude if they wait.

In his role as the governor of the Bank of England, Mr. Carney pressed the city of London to become more aggressive in addressing climate change.

He has predicted that companies and industries that are not aggressively moving toward a world with zero carbon emissions will be severely punished by investors and go bankrupt. Without a worldwide effort to address the issue, there could be a financial collapse. And he includes cities among those jurisdictions that need to take a lead role.

Some cities are aggressively heeding the call. New York is forcing thousands of large buildings to slash their carbon emissions by 2030 or face fines. Legislation now puts a cap on emissions for buildings over 25,000 square feet, requiring a 40-per-cent overall cut in the next decade. So the financial impact of climate-change initiatives in cities will be felt in many ways.

Cities are responsible for more than 70 per cent of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions. They could determine whether we succeed or fail in our efforts to save the planet from warming beyond levels that will be irrevocably harmful to human existence. Five cities, including Paris and San Francisco, have already set 100-per-cent renewable-energy targets by 2030.

Cities in Canada, unfortunately, are still largely at the mercy of higher levels of government for funding. So it’s one thing to come up with ambitious plans to reduce emissions; it’s another to finance those plans.

That’s a reality Calgary has recently come up against. Its $4.9-billion Green Line transit project has been talked about for years, but it has faced delay after delay. And now, in its recent budget, the Alberta government has cut 86 per cent of the funding the project was supposed to receive over the next four years – effectively dooming any progress in the short term.

What this means is that if cities are serious about fighting climate change, they will have to take matters into their own hands. And that will come at a huge cost.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe