Political leadership on Climate Change

After the disaster of Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg of New York commissioned a study of the effects of climate change on the City. The Study, now just released, is entitled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York”. The Study recommends spending $19.5 billion dollars to reduce the effects of a potential re-occurrence of a climate-change enhanced hurricane.   The reaction to Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership has been favourable, although commentators recognize that New York needs financial support from other levels of Government.

Admittedly Toronto will not have to face the consequences of extreme weather events such as New York has experienced.  So this blog compares attitudes of Toronto municipal politicians towards adaptation to climate change with the vision of Mayor Bloomberg.

Several years ago the City of Toronto commissioned its own study prepared by Senes Consultants Limited at a cost of $250, 000.  Completed in December 2011, the Weather and Climate Driver Study has been on the agenda of various civic committees.

Some councillors on Toronto’s Parks and Environment Committee spoke in favour of accepting the Study’s recommendations to minimize the impact of climate change on Toronto’s municipal infrastructure.

Councillor Norm Kelly, the Committee Chair, questioned the science on which the Study was based.   He said: “I think there is information coming along the academic pipeline that suggests that there is a complexity to the issue that has yet to be fully understood.”   (Ed. Note: References to the need for more understanding about climate change, also known as the “Science is not Settled” gambit, is a great excuse for doing nothing!)

Certain newspapers sniffed a good story in Kelly’s questioning of the Study.  The Sun columnist described the Study as “pure fiction”, and disputed that anyone could possibly predict Toronto’s future climate.

Kelly said that the best approach to the Study is “healthy skepticism” as the recommendations will cost billions of dollars in an infrastructure upgrade.  Still Kelly thought the city should take the Study “seriously,” and decide whether it’s an accurate assessment.

Now deciding whether the climate change science in the Study is an accurate assessment will be a challenge the Parks and Environment Committee.  A Senate Committee spent four years studying energy, including climate change science. After this effort, the Committee limited their final report to recommendations that would boost Canada’s status as an “Energy Super Power”, and said nothing about climate change.

Perhaps the best approach of the Parks and Environment Committee is to recommend a study of the Study by a separate firm of environmental consultants.

So the Climate Change battle will have to be re-fought both at the Municipal in addition to the Federal level.  Only the Ontario Government seems convinced of the need for action against climate change.

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