Prairie Post (East Edition)
Public talk highlights climate change implications for municipalities
A project to support Saskatchewan municipalities to define and advance their sustainability objectives kicked off with an online public lecture ahead of a roundtable discussion for Swift Current and area stakeholders.
The online public talk on March 27 featured Dr. Margot Hurlbert, the Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy and Sustainability Policy at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS), University of Regina.
The theme of her presentation was Resilience: Innovation in a changing municipal landscape. It focused on the challenges presented by climate change and the implications for municipalities. She emphasized that the risk presented by climate change can also be an opportunity for adaptation to build resilience.
Greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities have caused global warming. As a result, surface temperatures are already 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than 150 years ago.
“We have to keep this in mind when we think about the Paris commitments, which were made several years ago to keep global warming well below two degrees approaching 1.5 degrees, because we’re actually already at 1.1 and we will cross that 1.5-degree warming threshold in the 2030s,” she said. “So climate change and addressing climate change is becoming very urgent for maintaining and achieving sustainability.”
She referred to the most recent synthesis report of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), which was released on March 20.
“The synthesis that just came out this past Monday identified that we need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent immediately and by 2035 achieve that 60 per cent level if we’re going to have any ambition of achieving a target below two [degrees],” she said. “So we’ve already surpassed our 1.5 targets and to keep it below two we need to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2035 and this is a conservative estimation.”
She explained that IPCC data and results are published as a result of negotiations between nations. Their representatives will meet to ratify every statement and clause in a report.
“Everything that is said is not only agreed on by the scientist, but it is also agreed upon by all the nation states,” she mentioned. “So it’s actually a very conservative statement of where we are and what we need to do in order to address climate change, partly because of that negotiation process and also because the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s findings are based on published peer reviewed scientific literature, and it takes anywhere from two to five years to get our scientific literature published in a peer review process.”
Every increment of warming will have more severe consequences in relation to the frequency of drought, flooding and other severe weather events, as well as the extent of changes to the snow cover.
“So we’re on a trajectory potentially to a four degree warming world and on the risk factor equation this means that our risk of drought is going to be about four times worse than the drought that we’ve been experiencing in the recent past,” she said. “We’re also going to be seeing heavier precipitation, excess moisture which will be resulting in floods, and a different snow regime where we’re getting more moisture into the winter, which will change our farming and our agricultural practices.”
Data indicate an upward trend in the value of insured catastrophic losses costing $25 million or more in insured damages in Canada due to severe weather and flood losses. Hurlbert said there is a need to address the adaptation gap in response to climate change, both with regard to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in developing appropriate response measures to deal with more frequently occurring extreme weather events.
Climate impacts are felt locally and municipalities can be potentially liable for failure to adapt and plan.
“We do know in our science that every dollar spent proactively in resilient infrastructure and upgrades provides returns of investment of up to $6 on future averted losses,” she said.
She noted that infrastructure planning for resilience is nothing new. For example, the construction of the Gardiner Dam in the 1960s created a stable water supply and it assists downstream flood attenuation.
“Preventing risk is increasingly important and thinking about the changing risk landscape in light of climate change is important for resilience of our communities, but also for managing our risks that are becoming ever more broader in terms of transitional risks,” she said. “So thinking about the joined up nature of these risks and how they ubiquitously link through many of our municipal planning strategies, budgets and initiatives become ever more important.”
There are pressures from different sources that increase the expectations for appropriate climate change planning. These pressures might come from different levels of government, regulatory bodies and standard setting institutions, residents and ratepayers, businesses and developers, as well as through litigation.
“The Canada Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance actually presented recommendations that every sector, including the municipal sector, should plan in the context of climate change, both for the impacts, for the obligations and for the mitigation that’s going to be happening,” she said.
Hurlbert highlighted some questions that municipalities will have to consider in developing a response to climate change. Do they have a climate change strategy, is the strategy reviewed annually, who is responsible for implementing the strategy, do they consider the increasing price of carbon in their decisions and planning, do they plan to phase out carbon emitting practices, and are decisions on replacement of equipment or infrastructure the result of short-term thinking or based on a climate change strategy.
She noted that it might be easier for municipalities to start their planning based on activities that already happen in relation to infrastructure.
“Thinking about climate changes is sometimes overwhelming, but what I found from working on the issue of governance for resilience is starting in small steps, and droughts and floods and disaster risk reduction is something municipalities do now,” she said.
Hurlbert’s presentation was part of a series of public talks and stakeholder roundtables in communities around the province hosted by JSGS.
The policy school has received $1.75 million from the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre to strengthen the capacity of municipal governments to achieve sustainability goals through the Governing Sustainable Municipalities (GSM) project.
The intention is to look at various aspects of sustainability for municipalities, including economic, social and environmental sustainability.
The GSM project will identify barriers to the implementation of sustainability on a local level and identify measures to assist sustainability efforts in local government. It will consider the current state of municipal preparedness for sustainability and the extent to which progress might be limited by capacity and skills training gaps.
More information about the GSM project is available under the research tab on the JSGS website (www.schoolofpublicpolicy.sk.ca).