Extreme heat. Intense rainfall. Severe flooding. Fierce winds. Destructive ice storms. Wild weather in Ontario – and the costly damage it leaves behind – is on the rise because of climate change. Unlike efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to lessen the severity of climate change (i.e., mitigation), adaptation measures would help to reduce local impacts.
Ontario faces challenges for public health and safety, infrastructure, and the natural environment to adapt to today, and many more challenges for years to come. Everyone has a role to play: individuals, businesses, organizations, Indigenous communities, conservation authorities, municipalities. Yet, the provincial government must take the lead on climate change adaptation.
Climate change is already disrupting Ontario’s communities
Ontario’s buildings, roads, farms, stormwater systems, and electricity distribution systems were built based on historical climate information, with the assumption that climate was stable. Many of our systems will not handle the temperatures and extreme weather happening now and to come.
In only the first five months of 2018, extreme weather resulted in nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in insured damage in Ontario. This does not include the stress and disruption to people’s lives. For instance, people living in buildings with inadequate cooling systems suffer health impacts like heatstroke and difficulty breathing as temperatures rise. This could increase overall health care costs.
What does adaptation look like?
We need to prepare for and cope with the impacts that climate change has on our homes, communities and way of life. There are many different ways to adapt including, for example:
- planting more trees around our homes and in public spaces to provide shade to cope with hotter summers
- updating or replacing existing physical infrastructure like our stormwater management and electricity distribution systems
Basing land use on future climatic conditions
- avoiding building in flood-prone areas
- establishing new protected areas
Making or updating laws, regulations and policies
- updating best management practices to help farmers plan for more variable climate conditions
- updating building code requirements and land use plans
Communicating with the public
- providing information about the climate-driven spread of illnesses such as Lyme disease
- alerting the public to impending climate-driven events, such as extreme temperatures or rainfall, high winds and ice storms
Protecting natural heritage areas is key to adaptation
Protecting our natural heritage (wetlands, woodlands and other features) is critically important to making Ontario more resilient to climate change.
- Protected areas provide habitat for species at risk and other wildlife, and help maintain ecosystem services like clean air and water.
- Wetlands can reduce both drought and flood impacts by absorbing stormwater. They also gradually increase groundwater as levels fall, which helps to replenish surrounding soils and streams.
- Woodlands and trees, our “green infrastructure,” filter air pollution, retain and filter stormwater, and mitigate the increasingly extreme heat island effect.
Read the ECO’s 2018 Environmental Protection Report for a more in-depth examination of what the provincial government needs to do to better protect its natural heritage features.
The Ontario government must lead climate adaptation
Ontario ministries took action on adaptation in recent years, but these actions lacked co-ordination. The provincial government needs a governance framework that integrates adaptation across ministries, laws and policies. Ontario also needs a more strategic adaptation plan that sets out exactly what needs to be done, by whom and by when.
The Ontario government should develop a climate change plan for a more climate-resilient Ontario. This plan must contain strong actions to reduce GHG emissions, cope with climate change impacts, and prepare for what’s coming, including:
- a province-wide assessment of physical and financial vulnerabilities to climate change to help identify priorities for action,
- consistent, accessible and freely available data and information on future climate projections, and
- incentives for Ontarians to increase their own resilience.
We also need an open conversation about who will pay the costs to adapt.
It’s time for climate action
Ontario needs to address climate change now, and prepare for impacts in our communities. The costs of adapting will be big if we wait – early efforts would be less costly. We can pay now to prepare for what’s coming, or pay even more later for the damages of climate disruption.
Learn more about the need for – and how we can move forward on – climate change adaptation in Ontario in our recent report, Climate Action in Ontario: What’s Next?