Prairie Post (East Edition)

Public talk highlights climate change implicatio­ns for municipali­ties

- By Matthew Liebenberg


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.schoolofpu­

 ?? Photo by ?? Dr. Margot Hurlbert speaks during the online public talk, March 27.
Photo by Dr. Margot Hurlbert speaks during the online public talk, March 27.

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