Cities cover less than 2 per cent of the earth’s surface, yet are home to half of the world’s population. As centers of culture, business and innovation, urban spaces generate almost three quarters of the world’s GDP.
They also produce around 75 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions and are recognized as one of the main causes of climate change. Yet even with economic might, they are still incredibly vulnerable to sea-level rises, increasing temperatures, extreme weather and other impacts of global warming.
The good news is that many urban areas are taking unique steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Canadian cities are part of the global surge, and to highlight a few success stories in the making, we’ll take a closer look at how Halifax, Toronto and Edmonton are addressing climate challenges in different ways.
Climate threats: Reports suggest that Halifax will be “swamped” by sea-level rises by the year 2100. Extreme weather events are also a major concern.
How the city is adapting: Halifax is taking fairly aggressive steps in preparing for some of the worst impacts of climate change. The city is already benefiting from provincial efforts to diversity its energy mix, and expects to have 40 per cent of its power generated by renewable sources by 2020. On the adaptation front, the city is upgrading seawalls to accommodate for sea-level rise, and has also developed a planning system to help communities predict how to adapt to higher water levels. Ongoing vulnerability mapping projects are also helping identify buildings that could be at risk from storms and sea-level rise, while a Green Network Plan is being developed to help conserve the city’s interconnected natural spaces. And to help with the production and distribution of local food, Halifax has committed to supporting more community gardens.
Climate threats: Floods, such as the 2013 floods that caused $850 million in damages, heat waves and extreme weather.
How the city is adapting: Canada’s largest city has made no secret of its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. To achieve this, the city has developed TransformTO, an ambitious plan that envisions denser, more walkable communities that are powered by renewable energy, and a more effective public transportation network to move people around. Not that any of this will do much good if the city is flooded! Thankfully, some of the adaptation measures Toronto has taken include the development of unique flood protection landforms like the Corktown Common, which safeguards 500 acres of land on Toronto’s downtown east side. Another way the city plans to reduce floods is the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program, which develops things like green roofs, rainwater harvesting, and permeable pavements across the city.
Climate threats: Edmonton is grappling with how to deal with warmer winters and the possibility of more floods, freezing rain, heat waves and drought.
How the city is adapting: Edmonton recently announced its intention to become carbon neutral by 2050. Work to achieve emissions reductions thunders ahead with grants to help make existing buildings more energy-efficient, and policies that require new buildings to budget for on-site energy generation from renewable resources. Edmonton also takes its urban forest seriously, and has a strong management plan in place to ensure its 300,000 trees remain healthy amidst changing climate conditions. But the city’s bigger-picture Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Strategy isn’t expected to be delivered to until late 2018. With the ambition Edmonton is showing, and the fact that the city is hosting the inaugural Cities and Climate Change Science Conference from March 5-7, 2018, we expect some impressive moves from a city that’s also known as The Big E.
To help raise awareness about climate resilience, we’ve launched Just 1 Tree, a new Mission that gives kids an opportunity to learn about how biodiversity is impacted by climate change and what they can do about it. This is in addition to other climate-focused Missions Flip the Switch, What’s at Steak, Operation Conservation, and Carbon Footprint Investigation.