Utilities - Life under the city

The cost of climate change will be buried but can’t be ignored

If you have experienced flooding in your home, you know how tragic it can be. Valuables, sometimes irreplaceable, are lost, while enormous repair bills for uninsured damages are found.

 

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Unfortunately, in our big cities today, flooding is no longer a once in a lifetime event we tell our children about. As these events become more commonplace, major cities are preparing not for generational floods, but are preparing for annual floods.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, water damage has now overtaken damages caused by fires as the leading cause of property damage, costing insurers approximately $1.7 billion per year.

So what needs to happen in order for municipalities to prepare to protect the properties and wellbeing of our citizens?

In Edmonton, we will have spent close to $500 million between 2006 and 2018 on our city-wide flood mitigation programs. As these improvements have been completed, they have been paid for by rate increases on your utility bill.

In a report our Utility committee will be discussing this Thursday September 18th, the preliminary costs of the necessary work to protect all mature neighbourhoods and many industrial areas in Edmonton from flooding are outlined. The number, although it will be spent over a number of decades, is staggering.

The $2.4 billion investment is likely to be paid for largely through further increases to your utility rates. This is in part because the provincial and federal governments have failed to respond sufficiently to the challenges of climate change mitigation and adaptation up to this point.

This level of investment in our drainage system is the responsible and ethical way forward for Edmonton City Council. We must spend the money to protect the properties and livelihoods of our residents, and ensure access to insurance.

The biggest questions in today’s Alberta and Canada is how are we balancing climate change mitigation with climate change adaptation? And, can the now very real costs of adaptation compel us to greater efforts on mitigation? What recent flooding has shown us is a very stark picture of the costs of not doing enough to mitigate climate change.

While it is true that municipal drainage systems would have been renewed eventually, the urgency and the cost to do so are increasing rapidly. And while municipalities are recognized for leading the way as far as mitigation is concerned, we don’t have the same opportunities to maximize green house gas reductions as the provincial and federal governments do. They simply have greater legislative and financial resources. It must be noted that of every dollar you pay in federal and provincial income tax, only ~8 cents comes back to your town or city.

It’s just as important to note the cost of climate change on our economy and local businesses. In an insightful 2009 article, titled “Understanding the impacts of climate change on your business”, Edmonton Lawyer Jennifer Cleall asks these questions about Physical Infrastructure:

"A company’s physical assets may be directly affected by climate change, and in particular changes in weather patterns as a result of climate change. Droughts, floods, extended summers, longer winters — these weather changes may all have effects on your company’s assets or infrastructure. Where is the risk to your company’s business from these changes? Do you have to adapt infrastructure to meet these new challenges? Is there a regulatory risk affecting physical assets? Is your company dependent on wind, water or other natural resources? Will these natural resources be affected by climate change?"

Most municipal politicians sound like a broken record when it comes to the tepid support from the provincial and the federal governments on expensive infrastructure projects, but here I go again anyway.

The price of not doing enough to mitigate climate change is now being rung up at the municipal cash register. The province has one emerging program, but also recommends that we use MSI funds for disaster preparedness; this simply does not allow us to properly protect our city against natural disasters and grow at the same time. Nationally, the federal government has developed a sparsely funded program that calls for $200 million to be divided over the course of 5 years for the entire country; the City of Edmonton has spent roughly the same amount on flood mitigation since 2012.

At the federal level, we need a national climate change adaptation strategy that provides municipal infrastructure and home adaptation grants. These can enable cities, towns, homeowners and businesses protection for themselves, their property and their economic vitality.

Waterloo climate scientist Blair Feltmate, author of Climate Change Adaptation: A Priorities Plan for Canadahas a advocated these national priorities related to adaptation.

1)Develop up-to-date flood plain maps

2)Weather harden municipal and sub-urban infrastructure (physical and natural)

3)Weather harden houses / “adapt building codes”

4)Launch a “Home Adaptation Audit Program”

These among other other strategies need to be wrapped up in a responsive and science based National Strategy, and the sooner the better.