Speaker recommends climate adaptation plan
By Sue Tiffin
Published July 19, 2018
Days into a sweltering heat wave that had resulted in up to 70 deaths in Quebec, local elected officials, senior municipal staff and concerned residents of Haliburton County gathered in the basement of the United Church in Minden to hear how communities could adapt to the inevitable challenges of climate change.
The speaker at the July 5 Environment Haliburton! event was Brian Kelly, sustainability manager for Durham Region and an environmental steward for nearly 50 years. His work has focused on climate mitigation, climate adaptation and community energy planning and resulted in a lifetime of contributions to environmental protection.
Kelly, who led the development of the Renewable Energy Technologies Strategy and Program at Ontario Hydro, and had a lead role in developing the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Ontario Roundtable on Environment and Economy spoke to the crowd in Minden of Durham Region’s “Toward Resilience” community climate adaptation plan.
After a word from Dysart et al Mayor Murray Fearrey, Kelly engaged the crowd in a discussion about climate change. Audience members said they feel angry about it, as well as guilty and ashamed.
“If we don’t react to it sensibly now, our children, our children’s children and their children beyond them will suffer far more,” said one audience member.
The basement of Minden’s United Church was packed with concerned residents and local politicians and municipal staff on July 5 for the Environment Haliburton! meeting./SUE TIFFIN Staff
Kelly’s award-winning Durham Community Climate Adaptation Plan, a collaborative report and action plan created over four years with more than 60 experts from the Durham Region, enables the community to prepare, cope with and respond to the results of climate change and has, according to EH!, positioned Durham as a leader in climate adaption in Canada.
Although the science is complex, Kelly said there’s significantly more consensus about the impact and effects of climate change now than there were 10 years ago, with 97 per cent of the world’s atmospheric scientists agreeing with projections, models and numbers that the world is now experiencing. Kelly said on a local level, even decades ago, it was possible to intervene in environmental issues and create change quite quickly.
“That’s not how climate change works,” he said. “There are very long leads and lags in the system. We are experiencing the climate of today because of what our parents and grandparents did in terms of putting more carbon into the atmosphere. We’ve increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million, which was what it was in the latter part of the the 1800s, just as the Industrial Revolution started – we’re now over 400 parts per million.”
“We have materially changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and that change is going to be there for a very long time,” he told the crowd. “This is part of the lag issue. If we could magically become carbon neutral global-wide tomorrow, if we could shut off all sources of carbon pollution tomorrow, we would still experience changing climate and worsening climate, for at least three or four more decades. Those are the leads and lags in the system that we have trouble getting our minds around. This is why we call climate change one wicked problem, for example.”
Kelly acknowledged that climate change is a global problem, with an atmosphere that is a global resource and not a problem that can be solved entirely at a local level. If developing countries repeat the same mistakes with patterns of development that the western world did, “we will literally be cooked.”
“The scientists tell us we have to have an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” he said. “That basically means an end to the fossil fuel industry as we know it.”
Kelly said climate change is not only an environmental issue now but also an economic, social and political issue as well.
But on a local level, he said, we can work together to adapt and mitigate in response to inevitable changes.
“There’s two sides to climate change,” he said. “There’s the mitigation side, there’s reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, and then there’s preparing us and our infrastructure for the inevitable changes that we are about to see.”
In Durham Region in late 2013, Kelly began working together with seven expert task forces made up of 62 experts from the Region of Durham: the eight municipalities, five conservation authorities and three electrical utilities to develop the climate adaptation plan. He said they started with the science, engaging SENES, a consulting company, to produce a 200-page document of what the climate in Durham would look like in the 2040s.
Brian Kelly, sustainability manager for Durham Region, addresses the crowd at an Environment Haliburton! meeting on July 5 in Minden./SUE TIFFIN Staff
“In three words ... warmer, wetter, wilder,” he said, making note that Durham is an hour and a half away from Haliburton County by roads, and so local numbers would likely be similar.
Compared to the 2010s, in 2040, Durham will be 4°C warmer overall, year-round, with humidex readings up to 54°C. The region will see 16 per cent more precipitation overall, with more intense bursts of rain and a 100 per cent increase in days with over 25 mm rainfall resulting in more potential for flooding. The region will see a 15 per cent increase in the potential for violent storms and 53 per cent increase in the potential for tornadoes.
“The bad news is, these changes are locked in,” he said. “This is part of the lead and lag issue. No matter what we do here, or even what the world does, these are locked-in climate changes. Because of all that carbon that we put up there over the last 100 years or so.”
Kelly also warned of “climate creep,” the gradual movement of climate zones northward. At about 120 kilometres per decade, gradually our climate in southern Ontario is becoming more like what we know of Kentucky or Tennessee.
“I would suggest to you that’s accelerating, and that areas like this, which we know for our pine trees, they’re going to be assaulted by a rapidly changing climate,” he said. “We’re probably going to have, in this part of Ontario, a climate like the middle of the U.S. We’re going to have forests that are much more Carolinian than classic Canadian maples and pines. Some scientists that study this say those natural systems cannot adapt rapidly enough. Trees will not migrate northward at that rate. They are going to be killed and not replaced as that climate creep comes into southern Ontario and accelerates.”
Kelly said it is essential that our infrastructure be changed in order to deal with the impacts these severe, pervasive and irreversible weather patterns will bring, at a great expense.
“Our municipalities have to change,” he said. “They know that the infrastructure was designed for climate of the 1960s and 1970s. We sized our culverts, we built our roads, we made our buildings, we built bridges for the water flows and the temperatures of that era. Well, we don’t have that era anymore and we certainly won’t by 2040. We have a rapidly changing climate but we have an infrastructure that’s stuck in the 1960s, frankly.”
Kelly said the climate adaptation plan which details program designs to help interpret the science and form a basis for action will act as a manual for Durham to remain a livable, resilient and prosperous community through at least the mid-century, and stressed that it can and should be copied and shared.
“And I say mid-century because if on the other side of the climate coin we don’t achieve those reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that say the Paris climate accord calls for, all bets are off the table,” said Kelly. “We will not be able to manage the impacts of a runaway climate after the middle of the century. So this is a plan to get us safely to 2050.”
The plan took into consideration risk assessment and risks identified, and created 18 programs across eight sectors: cross-sectoral, buildings, electrical, flooding, health, roads, natural environment and food security.
The cross-sectoral programs help protect outside workers, considering the potential need for nighttime roads maintenance to protect workers from severely challenging their health, and creating social infrastructure for emergency resilience. The buildings sector provides a Durham climate resilience standard for new buildings and building retrofit for climate resilience, ensuring homes are prepared for extreme weather. The electrical sector puts emphasis on protecting transformers, vegetation management to prevent electrical outages from falling tree branches and equipment replacement. The flooding sector addresses urban flooding, redefines flood hazards considering climate change and improves flood forecasting warnings and emergency response. The human health sector looks at property standards bylaws for maximum temperatures allowed in apartments – which does not currently exist in Canada. The roads sector creates more resilient asphalt and adapts culverts and bridges.
“We have hundreds of culverts in Durham, as you do in Haliburton, that are undersized and are not going to be able to transmit the volume of water that they’re going to be subjected to during those extreme rain events,” he said. “We can’t replace them all at once – that’s a multi-billion dollar price tag. But [what] we’re in the process of doing is prioritizing which are the worst ones. Which are the ones where there’s a daycare or a hospital or an old folks home in the flood plain from that culvert that’s undersized.”
The natural environment sector looks to achieve climate change resilience in the natural environment, to use the natural environment for its buffering ability and prepare for factors like increased ticks and emerald ash bore that might come with climate creep.
“That’s a quick walk-through of 18 programs,” he said to the crowd. “Please, use them, beg, borrow and steal from them.”
Kelly stressed there was overlapping in some of the areas in terms of which agencies were responsible for each program and a huge area in need of coordination with municipalities, governments, electrical utilities and conservation authorities and the private sector each stepping up to do their part.
Kelly attributes part of the success of the planning to the Durham Region Roundtable on Climate Change, an official committee of regional council that includes a regional chair, four regional councillors and four alternates, the CAO, and citizen members for small and large business, university, building and development industry, education, students, health, food and general community that meets monthly.
“There was a fair amount of skepticism when we started,” he said. “People didn’t have a grip on what it meant. These numbers I gave you, the consequences of them, really started to focus people’s attention and removed a lot of that skepticism.”
Kelly recommended that the county develop a community climate adaptation plan and spoke directly to the elected officials and senior municipal officials in the room about legal liability as it relates to climate change.
“Municipal decision makers, both senior staff and elected officials, have what’s known as a duty of care to their constituents,” he said. “They face civil liability for failing to anticipate changing weather and to manage risks accordingly by which I mean floods, high winds, all those sorts of things ... This is real and to protect yourself in a court of law you need to be able to demonstrate that you have undertaken due diligence. That you are on top of this matter. And you do that by demonstrating that you have the data, you’ve made the decisions appropriate to that data, and that you’re dedicated and continuing to follow this.”
Kelly also noted that municipalities aren’t the only ones potentially on the hook for some of the major costs, and that fossil fuel companies – much like tobacco companies a few decades ago – might face repercussions for the financial damages that are caused by the use of their products.