We often instinctively look to our federal government to provide leadership on climate change. After all, the government of Canada participates in international climate change negotiations through the United Nations. Clearly, our elected officials at the federal level have a significant role to play when it comes mitigating the impacts of climate change.
However, elected officials at all levels of government are often involved in making decisions which have climate change-related impacts. This is particularly true for those elected at the municipal level. Decisions made at City Hall can affect our community's ability to adapt to a changing climate. In particular, severe weather events can be extremely expensive for municipal property owners and taxpayers.
But what if our elected officials refuse to believe that the climate is changing due to human industrial activity, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary?
Communities that elect to public office those who deny the reality of climate change are likely to find themselves at greater financial risk, due to the costs of an increasing number of annual severe weather events. Elected officials who refuse to engage in evidence-based decision-making are far less likely to endorse appropriate strategies to address climate change -and far more likely to implement policy which exacerbates existing problematic situations.
TD Economics recently published a report, "Natural Catastrophes: A Canadian Economic Perspective" Among its many findings, experts at TD confirmed that Canada can expect to be on the receiving end of more weather-related natural catastrophes. The economic fall-out will be huge -TD estimates that severe weather-related catastrophes will cost Canadians $5 billion annually by 2020, spiking to between $21 and $43 billion by 2050.
With more Canadians living in cities every year, more of us are impacted by a growing number of floods, storm surges, wild fires and heat-related events. Canada's two most expensive natural catastrophes both occurred last year -southern Alberta's June flood, and the storm-related flood which hit Toronto in July. Together, these two floods caused an estimated $2.6 billion in public and private damages. With insurance coverage for private owners only going so far, Canadian taxpayers are on the hook to pick up a big portion of the tab.
While no strategy will completely shelter taxpayers from the costs of a changing climate, decisions made by our municipal councils can have big impacts on our exposure to risk. For example, TD's report indicates that in some regions, storms which used to happen every 40 years are now happening every six years. Municipal decisions which prohibit building in floodplains will reduce our exposure to financial risk from storm damages.
The development of appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies at the municipal level requires leadership. Unfortunately, for many reasons, including ideology, some who seek public office in our communities are unconvinced that climate change is happening, despite the evidence. Individuals who hold these views can impede the development of good public policy, by letting their personal beliefs get in the way of minimizing our collective exposure to financial risk.
Municipal elections are happening throughout Ontario later this year. As citizens concerned about rising costs from a changing climate, we should be asking those who stand for election whether they accept the overwhelming evidence that human activities are warming our planet. If candidates acknowledge the evidence of climate change, will they then promise to minimize taxpayer's exposure to financial risk as a result of a growing number of severe weather events?
If candidates don't believe that climate change is real, they are far more likely to make costly decisions for our communities. Taxpayers ought to conclude that those candidates aren't fit to hold public office.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, April 26, 2014 (online: “May: Consider candidates views on climate change", April 26, 2014), without hyperlinks.