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Climate moves up budget agenda

Jan 15, 2018

In the wake of a year of costly flooding and rock falls, worries about climate change are more prominently featured in this year’s city budget. References to extreme weather are found in the public works and health division lists of emerging issues and trends, although not yet in those of planning or economic development.

“Climate change is a challenge as it creates irregular service conditions, which are unpredictable and translates into an increased maintenance cost to accommodate these events,” notes the budget analysis of the water and sewer department. “Examples of events related to climate change are high lake levels, erosion, flooding and frozen water services.”

The health division says it is “experiencing a need to increase public health capacity in response to rising demands posed by climate change” and points to both air pollution and medical implications including the likelihood that Hamilton will “become an identified risk area for Lyme disease” in 2018.

“Other tick-borne diseases may occur in Ontario over time, including Powassan and Rocky Mountain Spotted fever,” warns the division assessment. “Additionally, emerging mosquito-borne diseases other than West Nile virus may be experienced.”

The city’s climate change coordination is led by the health division and it is promising to develop Hamilton’s “climate adaptation plan” this year. And to begin to “implement climate change mitigation projects” in 2019 that are identified in the long-promised plan “in partnership with Burlington in line with the “building adaptive and resilient cities initiative”.

More dramatic and immediate municipal action is happening elsewhere. Last week New York City announced its pension funds will no longer be invested in fossil fuels, and that it is suing the five largest oil companies for climate change damages.

“We’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits,” declared Mayor Bill de Blasio in a media conference with Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben. “As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”

In December the World Bank also declared it was ending its support for pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure and Axa, the world’s third largest insurer and a trillion dollar investor, announced it was both divesting and also ending insuring of tar sands pipeline companies like Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and Trans Canada.

Last month US Bank announced it will stop funding Enbridge pipelines, and PNB Paribus – the world’s eighth largest funder – declared they will not fund tar sands projects. The moves intensify the pressure on Canadian banks and the Canada Pension Plan to adopt ethical investment practices.

Last year was the second hottest on record and by far the highest average in the absence of the El Nino weather pattern associated with more global heat. As a result, 2014-2017 were easily the four hottest years despite a late December cold snap in eastern North America whose connection to climate change is uncertain.

One prominent climate scientist argues the low temperature extremes were caused by an erratic and slowing jet stream driven by much warmer arctic temperatures. Other researchers contend there’s no direct relationship but that the occurrence of such cold snaps is now fifteen times less likely than a century ago as a result of global warming.

The perception of its severity was likely enhanced by the greater frequency of mild winters and for older folks by the switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius. It has to hit minus 18 Celsius to match the zero Fahrenheit temperatures some residents may recall enduring prior to 1975 when Canada went metric.

NOTE: Environment Hamilton is conducting a Climate Change in Hamilton Survey. Visit their website to participate. 

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