In The Forecast: More Extreme – and Expensive – Weather Events

Montreal Quebec was hit by a short but fierce rainstorm on Tuesday, doing millions of dollars worth of damage to homes and businesses.  The Montreal Gazette reported:

Montreal firefighters answered more than 900 calls during Tuesday afternoon’s cloudburst that dumped as much as 70 mms. of rain on this city in the space of 30 minutes, Mayor Gérald Tremblay said on Wednesday.

“The calls concerned electrical problems, 98 cases of flooding, checking alarm systems,” Tremblay told reporters during briefing at city hall. “There 1000 calls to the 3-1-1 (information line) concerning the sewage system and, at the moment, 31 claims (for damages) have been filed against the city.”

While Mayor Tremblay cited a similarly damaging flash flood 25 years ago, Montreal city councillor Marc-André Gadoury disagreed, saying that the city has not been taking into account the climate change that’s been going on for the past 10 years.

When the mayor says it’s a once a 100-year event I’m surprised. We went through this in 2009, in 2008 … I don’t have to go back to the flood of ‘87 for examples.

When will the realization of the enormous financial burden climate change will be to our urban and rural infrastructures hit home? It certainly is going to hit every single taxpayer in the pocket book, and that’s not counting the horrible cost in human lives, particularly for those in the global village already living on the edge.

The International Energy Agency is on record saying that globally, we have five years to change our fossil-fuel dependent economy to one that is based on renewables before our burning of fossil fuels tips us into climate catastrophe.  Ontario’s Environment Commissioner said recently, “We have an infrastructure built for a climate we no longer have.”  In a March 12 report, Climate Policy in Ontario: Getting Locked-Out By Being Locked-In, the Commissioner wrote:

The IEA calculated the amount of GHG emissions that could be emitted over the next several decades while still having a likely chance of meeting the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature rise to less than 2°C. This is the carbon budget that needs to be managed in order to avoid the most dire predictions, such as extreme sea level rise and mass extinctions. Shockingly, the IEA found that existing and planned capital stock (power generation, buildings, transportation and industry) will emit 80 per cent of that budget and that, without a clear economic signal to direct development towards a low-carbon path the entire carbon budget will be eaten up in just five years.  As we wait to embark on a low-carbon pathway for reasons of economic expediency, fossil-fuel infrastructure continues to be built and planned. Within Ontario, the Long-term Energy Plancalls for several new natural gas power plants over the next 20 years. It is precisely this type of fossil-fuel infrastructure that will need to be mothballed early (or undergo costly retrofits to capture the GHGs emitted) if we hope to keep the planet within its budget. Given the capital expense that goes into such infrastructure, it is unlikely that governments would be willing to make such politically unpalatable moves.

The IEA information illustrates the critical link between climate adaptation and mitigation.  As Ontario moves forward, we need to plan so that our children can live within the atmospheric budget using infrastructure networks that can cope with an uncertain future climate.  If we fail to accept this challenge we risk condemning our children to live in a less prosperous world.  Policy options exist to avoid this fate, including: aggressive energy efficiency; investment in renewable energy; a focus on climate resilience in the building code; and a move towards comprehensive carbon pricing to direct investment towards the low-carbon path. There is no time to wait.

Thunder Bay last weekend, Montreal on Tuesday – where next? Your neighbourhood or mine?



More links:

Environment Commissioner: Ontario Not Ready For Heavy Costs Of Climate Change

Climate Change Will Cost Canada Billions: Report

Montreal Mops Up After Rainstorm Lashes Region

IEA: World Energy Report

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