66 recommendations from Special Advisor in investigation of Ontario’s 2019 record-setting floods

Disastrous and record-setting flooding occurred across the province of Ontario between April and July 2019, with 23 municipalities declaring states of emergencies.  In July 2019, the government appointed Doug McNeil, an experienced public servant from Manitoba, as Special Advisor on Flooding , with a mandate to consider the flood management and land use systems in Ontario.  His report was submitted to the government on October 31 and made public on November 28 – the press release is here. flooding firefighterThe 157-page  Report of an Independent review of the 2019 flood events in Ontario describes in detail the complex administrative and regulatory system which governs the province’s flood management , and  concludes that “the government and its partners were effective at reducing and mitigating flood risks…. the flooding was caused by a combination of weather conditions and found no human error or negligence in the operation  of “water control structures” (translation: dams).

Reaction to the report includes “Doug Ford government ducks fiscal responsibility for severe flooding” in the National Observer  (November 28) – which points out: “The first Ford budget had slashed by 50 per cent the flood management funds given to conservation authorities by his ministry to protect Ontario’s watersheds and canceled tree-planting efforts that limit flood damage.”  A Toronto Globe and Mail article focuses on the home-owners perspective in their overview “Ontario homes at risk of flooding should be made public: report”The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority reacted positively– their press release notes that many of their recommendations and comments about urban flooding were incorporated in the Special Advisor’s recommendations.  It is notable that the Chair of the TRCA was appointed on the same day as a member of Ontario’s new Advisory Panel on Climate Change.

The Special Advisor makes sixty-six recommendations for improved action and coordination by the provincial ministries and conservation authorities, and calls for sustained funding for  budgets related to flood management .  Recommendations include:

  • #3: “That the following be incorporated into the Provincial Policy Statement: • The reference to “impacts of a changing climate” throughout the Provincial Policy Statement helps to bring it to everyone’s attention and should be included in the Preamble as well.”
  • #15: That the Province consider adopting legislation that will require flood risk properties to be identified in some way that is publicly accessible, at the very least on the property title, to ensure that prospective buyers are aware.
  • #16 That municipalities consider utilizing local improvement charges to help finance and install (or upgrade) shoreline protection works, and if necessary, that the Province provide municipalities with enhanced authority to do so.
  • #52: That the Province continue the dialogue with the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the federal government on the steps needed to make flood insurance more available to more Ontarians.
  • #66: That the Province maintain, at a minimum, the current level of funding in departmental budgets and programs related to everything flood (i.e. existing approval processes and associated policies and technical requirements, floodplain mapping, maintenance of flood infrastructure, satellite imagery, etc.).

Election updates: Liberal platform calls for Just Transition Act, national flood insurance plan for high risk homeowners

With the federal election only weeks away on October 21, Justin Trudeau began to flesh out the Liberal Party climate change platform  with a campaign speech in Burnaby B.C. on September 24.  His speech, titled  A Climate Vision that Moves Canada Forward ,  promised that Canada would achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and announced that a re-elected Liberal government would halve the corporate tax rate for clean-technology businesses – from 9% to to 4.5 % for small business, from 15% to 7.5% for larger companies.  The Energy Mix summarized the clean tech proposals here  .

In French only, Trudeau also promised a Just Transition Act: “On va donc introduire une Loi sur la transition équitable, qui fera en sorte que les travailleurs aient accès à la formation et au soutien dont ils ont besoin pour réussir dans une économie plus verte. … Ensemble, on peut continuer de bâtir un pays où les entreprises de technologies propres sont prospères, où nos citoyens sont encouragés à faire des choix plus verts et où nos travailleurs s’épanouissent alors qu’on amorce notre transition écologique.”   An unofficial English translation of that promise might read: “We will be introducing a law on Just Transition, where there’s access for workers for the training and support that they’ll need  if they are to take part in an economy becoming steadily greener.  Together, we can continue to build a country where our own high tech businesses prosper, where citizens choose  green and greener ways of living , and where workers fulfill their goals while they make the choices that will shape Canada’s environment of the future. ”

flooding firefighterA CBC article provides a summary of a second round of Liberal climate change announcements which came on September 25. Trudeau, like the other leaders,  promised financial incentives to encourage energy efficiency retrofits, but  also promised to address the human costs of flood disasters through: creation of a low-cost national flood insurance program for homeowners in high-risk flood zones without adequate insurance protection; a national action plan to help homeowners at highest risk of repeat flooding with potential relocation; efforts to design an Employment Insurance Disaster Assistance Benefit to help people whose jobs and livelihoods are negatively affected by disaster; and to work with provinces and territories to update and complete flood maps to guide Canadians in home-buying decisions.

Looking for guidance on how to vote?

ClimateFederalPartySurvey_CAN-RacCanada-960x640Although Elections Canada made the ground shaky  for environmental groups to speak publicly in the current election, some are stepping up with information.  Fourteen of Canada’s major environmental advocacy groups consolidated their priorities to produce a questionnaire, sent to the federal parties in July 2019.  The responses from five parties are here ; the People’s Party of Canada did not respond . Questions included: “Will you immediately legislate a climate plan that will reduce Canada’s emissions in line with keeping warming below 1.5°C?; Will your climate plan clearly and precisely describe programs to reduce emissions from transportation, buildings and the oil and gas sector? Will you ensure that workers and their families thrive during the transition to a low-carbon economy, by extending the Task Force on Just Transition to include all fossil fuel industries?; Will you create a Federal Environmental Bill of Rights that formally recognizes the legal right to a healthy environment?”.

Climate Action Network Canada was one of the fourteen, and had released Getting Real about Canada’s Climate Planin June, intended as “a baseline against which we can assess federal parties’ climate plans.” EcoJustice was also part of the collaborative questionnaire, but has  posted its own analysis of the party platforms here . Macleans magazine has compiled their own guide to the platforms on all issues here ; on environment and climate change issues here  and on energy policy (including pipelines)  here .

A sampling of Opinions:

“Climate change the sword as Liberal and Conservatives battle for power” in the National Observer https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/09/25/news/climate-change-sword-liberal-and-conservatives-battle-power  (Sept. 25), which describes the competing political rhetoric in the wake of Trudeau’s first announcement;

Clean Energy Canada issued a press release on October 1,  stating: “The platform identifies similar areas of focus as the NDP and Green plans: more and cleaner public transit, increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road, generating more clean power, and building and retrofitting more energy efficient homes. While not as aggressive as those plans, the proposed policies, programs, and investments are generally laid out in greater detail….The Liberal plan is unique, however, in its identification of electrification as a strategic opportunity to make Canadian industries and manufacturing the cleanest in the world, supported by a proposed $5-billion Clean Power Fund sourced from the Canada Infrastructure Bank. “

Simon Donner, professor of climatology at the University of British Columbia  writes in Policy Options (Oct. 1): “Despite lofty claims and aspirational goals, there is no Canadian plan consistent with avoiding 1.5°C or 2°C warming. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, the rhetoric of your party on climate change does not match the numbers.” His article was featured in the Toronto Star .

This week in climate inaccuracy: Climate strike poses” by Chris Turner in The National Observer (Sept. 30) is the first in a promised series of critiques of all parties.

On climate change, the Liberal  plan (mostly) adds up”, an Editorial in the Globe and Mail (restricted access)  (Oct.1).

The Summer of 2019: Flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves

The world has awoken to the real-life manifestations of climate change in 2019, and we have been bombarded with media images of extreme weather disasters.  July 2019 was approximately 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial era, according to a summary of international heat waves by the World Metorological Organization (WMO) on August 1.  The WMO also published “Unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic” (July 29) and “Widespread fires harm global climate, environment” on August 29, including information about the Amazon wildfires.   “Global heating made Hurricane Dorian bigger, wetter – and more deadly”  by scientists Michael Mann and Andrew Dessler appeared in The Guardian on September 4  and “Is climate change making hurricanes stall?” at the PBS website  both offer clear summaries of  the climate change connection to the most recent extreme weather disaster the world has seen.

In Canada, flooding was the predominant weather disaster: In a July 2019 press release, the Insurance Bureau of Canada  described the flooding events of April and May and estimated that spring flooding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick caused close to $208 million in insured damage . In the same press release, the IBC advocates that all political parties in the upcoming federal election commit to a National Action Plan on Flooding.  ( The IBC  published Options for Managing the Flood Costs of Canada’s Highest-risk Residential Properties in June,  the result of national consultations with the  Working Group on the Financial Management of Flood Risk, co-chaired by Public Safety Canada and the IBC.  The report is summarized in the IBC press release  and in the National Observer  “Who should bear the financial risk of flooding? Report lays out three options” in the National Observer June 19 .  )

BCclimate-risk-assessmentIn what it calls the first report of its kind in Canada to examine climate risks at the provincial level, the British Columbia government published a Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia in July 2019. The report evaluates the likelihood of  15 climate risk events and considers their health, social, economic and environmental consequences, concluding that the greatest risks to B.C. are severe wildfire season, seasonal water shortage, heat wave, ocean acidification, glacier loss, and long-term water shortage.  A compilation of  forty-six articles concerning Wildfires is available from the National Observer, and includes “‘Climate change in action:’ Scientist says fires in Alberta linked to climate change” (June 10).

In late June, Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health was released, written  by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes. The report describes how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, especially children, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes. The report combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, emphasizing the risks of more intense precipitation, flooding and heat waves.

Extreme Heat in Canada and Beyond: 

heatreportcoverThe Prairie Climate Centre at the University  of Winnipeg released Heat Waves and Health  in August – a brief and practical guide to the health impacts of heat waves, drought and wildfires in Canada. The report predicts future heat waves in Canada, based on data newly updated the Climate Atlas of Canada   .  Previous projections were published as Chapter 4 in the federal government’s 2019 report Canada’s Changing Climate Report :  “Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” .

Heat is a much more widespread danger in the United States, with Phoenix Arizona experiencing 128 days at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 2018 –  one of the hottest and fastest-warming cities in the country, according to an article in the New York Times,  “As Phoenix heats up, the night comes alive” . The Times article describes how citizens and workers must re-schedule their lives and their job duties to avoid the killing heat of the day.  Phoenix is also the main focus of a lengthly  article,  “Can we survive extreme heat” in the Rolling Stone (Aug. 27) .

killer-heat-report-cover-thumbnailKiller Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days   was released in July by the  Union of Concerned Scientists, directed to a non-technical audience, and includes interactive maps and downloadable date here . The report offers national and regional projections and in Chapter 5, addresses the particular implications for outdoor workers, as well as city and rural dwellers, and those in low-income neighbourhoods. A more technical version of the research appeared as “Increased frequency of and population exposure to extreme heat index days in the United States during the 21st century” in the Open Access journal Environmental Research Communications .

The accuracy and sensitivity of occupational exposure limits to heat is examined in “Actual and simulated weather data to evaluate wet bulb globe temperature and heat index as alerts for occupational heat related illness”. This important article, published in the  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in January 2019, analysed the cases of  234 outdoor work-related heat-related illnesses reported to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2016 and concluded that wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) should be used for workplace heat hazard assessment. When WBGT is unavailable, a Heat Index alert threshold of approximately 80 °F (26.7 °C) could identify potentially hazardous workplace environmental heat.

Finally, “Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5)  summarizes a more technical article which appeared in the journal Sciences Advances on June 5 .  “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities”  reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement  could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.

New Brunswick launches consultation on industrial emissions – updated

The Government of New Brunswick opposes the federal government carbon tax and maintains a “We can’t afford a carbon tax” page on the government website – which estimates the costs (but none of the benefits) of the federal carbon backstop in effect in the province.  On June 13, New Brunswick introduced its own Made-in-New Brunswick  Regulatory Approach for Large Emitters ,  an output-based pricing system which will cover roughly 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the province and will require large industrial emitters, including electricity generators, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 10 per cent by 2030.

The CBC summarized the plan and reaction in “Province proposes carbon tax on tiny fraction of emissions from big industrial polluters”  (June 13) . CBC states that the proposed system would tax only 0.84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the province’s biggest emitters, such as Irving Oil,  far below the 20 per cent in the existing federal system. However, it covers the same industrial sectors, applies to the same gases and applies the same price scale of $20 per tonne this year, rising to $50 per tonne in 2022.

A Discussion paper , Holding Large Emitters Accountable: New Brunswick’s Output-Based Pricing System  forms the basis of a public comment period about the proposed system, which runs from June 13 to July 12.  One public response has been published by the Ecofiscal Commission in Exception to the Rule: Why New Brunswick’s Industrial Carbon Pricing System is Problematic (June 19) , which contends that under the proposed regulations, “firms can very easily achieve their emissions intensity benchmark, because it will be essentially set to current levels.”

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick reaction was quoted by the CBC, and also states that the proposed regulations are too weak.  Emphasizing the importance of the issue, on June 25 the Council released Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health,  by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes. The Council characterizes the report as “the first comprehensive look at how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, but particularly the very young, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes.”  The report combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, emphasizing the risks of more intense precipitation, flooding and heat waves. It includes recommendations for action and attempts to end on a hopeful note. The report is available in English and French versions from this link .

Updates on New Brunswick’s carbon tax:  On July 8, CBC reported “New Brunswick Premier Blaine  Higgs  abandons  planned carbon tax court fight” , which explains that the province will save taxpayers’ money by supporting Saskatchewan’s Supreme Court of Canada challenge to the carbon tax as an intervenor, since Saskatchewan’s arguments are the same as New Brunswick’s.   Also in  July, an historical and political analysis appeared in Policy Options, “ New Brunswick’s timid foray into carbon pricing”, as part of the week-long series , The Evolution of Carbon Pricing in the Provinces .

 

Proposals to “Electrify Quebec” will bring cleaner transportation; Montreal proposes standards for heating buildings

francois legaultOn May 26, at the party conference of the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), Premier Francois Legault announced intentions to “electrify Quebec”, reduce oil consumption by  40 per cent by 2030, and reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 per cent by 2030.   According to a report from iPolitics , Legault stated “The greatest contribution Quebec can make to save the planet is by helping our neighbours replace their coal-fired, gas fired generators with clean hydroelectricity,”  and he is working to increase hydro-electric exports to New York State.  Regarding electrification of transportation, he proposed to extend Montreal’s electrified light rail network already under construction to the off-island suburbs; to complete a proposed extension of the Montreal’s subway;  new tramways for Montreal and Quebec City; a commuter train link in Gatineau; and  greater use of electric buses.  He noted that two Quebec companies, Bombardier and Alstom, have the capacity to supply the rolling stock for new rail cars and electric buses. He also announced that Quebec’s electric vehicle subsidies will continue, benefitting rural Quebecers without access to transit options. Although plans are far from specific, Legault promised to finance his green plans from the proceeds from Quebec’s Green Fund, with the revenues from its cap and trade auctions.

In response to the recent proposal for an “energy corridor” from Alberta’s new Premier Jason Kenney to bring western crude oil across Canada, Legault stated “There is no social acceptability for an oil pipeline in Quebec.”

Montreal announces 2030 targets to phase out oil heating in buildings: The city of Montreal  is one of hundreds of Canadian municipalities which has declared a climate emergency   – and has been under flood emergency warnings throughout May.  On May 6, in a press release, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante  announced that the city is developing a plan to  reach carbon neutrality for all municipal buildings by 2030, for all new buildings by 2030, as well as for all existing buildings, by 2050, and have earmarked $4 million by 2021 for the effort.  A CBC  report states  that environmentalists are disappointed at the slow pace and weak level of ambition , and one of the key city councillors resigned, calling for stronger “war measures” against climate change, including a tax on meat, no airport expansion, and planting a half-million trees.  The tree-planting proposal seems particularly urgent, given the heat wave deaths  in Montreal in 2018 – 42 officially attributed to heat by Quebec’s chief coroner,  but with that number still under investigation, and the possibility of  a public inquiry. “Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star  quotes Montreal Public Health official estimates of 66  heat-related deaths that summer. It also explains what the city’s public health officials have done to analyse the causes and patterns – identifying vulnerable populations and areas – and  calling for a greening of the city on a massive scale, including trees,  roofs and architecture .

Update: On May 22, the Government of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities announced an investment of $2,777,960 in four green infrastructure projects in the Greater Montreal Area, including Laval.  Most of the investment will go to infrastructure and re-naturalization through tree planting, to mitigate the heat island effect and flooding in the city.