Severe weather events, such as flooding, heatwaves, tornadoes and droughts, are becoming more and more common across Ontario’s cities and towns as a result of climate change.
As these impacts continue to be felt across the province, ensuring the resilience and adaptability of municipalities – which are often on the frontlines of these challenges – will be critical to the health, safety and well-being of Ontarians.
To help identify real-world, practical solutions to these local climate change challenges, Ontario’s universities have and will continue to work together with municipalities and the province – from implementing innovations in clean technology to managing waste water.
This was the topic of discussion during one of the sessions at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) 2022 Conference, where AMO and the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) launched its inaugural AMO-COU Lecture – a new partnership between Ontario’s universities and municipalities.
In his welcome to municipal and provincial delegates, COU’s President and CEO, Steve Orsini reinforced universities’ commitment to be strong municipal partners. “Every one of our universities is open, accessible and ready to work with communities as they make decisions about how to manage the social, economic and infrastructure challenges facing them,” he said.
These important partnerships were the focus of the keynote address delivered by the University of Waterloo’s Dr. Daniel Henstra. The keynote, Adapting to Climate Change: Local Government Tools to Build Climate Resilience, highlighted the many tools and partnerships municipal and provincial governments can leverage to mitigate and manage climate change.
Dr. Henstra discussed the realities of climate change in Ontario, pointing to research from the Ontario Climate Data Portal – an initiative from York University – that projects higher temperatures and more precipitation in communities across the province, particularly in Ontario’s northern communities by 2050.
With warmer and wetter environments expected, Dr. Henstra noted that not only will climate change impact Ontario’s natural environment, but it will also have significant health, social, cultural and economic impacts on Ontarians and the province more broadly.
For example, he explained that with rising temperatures, Ontario can expect an increase in extreme heat days, which could cause more heat-related illnesses, such as exhaustion and heat stroke, potentially placing an even greater burden on local health systems.
To help prepare for these, and other climate impacts, Dr. Henstra said factoring climate change into current decisions, policies, programs and projects will be critical to avoid, or reduce, future climate-related costs. He then shared three key ways municipalities can consider leveraging the talent and expertise at universities across the province to help plan and implement their climate strategies. This includes:
- Creating a climate risk assessment by leveraging the data available at universities to help identify potential climate shocks and stresses. For example, researchers at one Ontario university combined flood hazard data and social vulnerability indicators to identify flood risk in and around the City of Windsor.
- Translating complex climate data into local projections, solutions and community needs to help inform municipal planning. For example, researchers at one university partnered with the City of Waterloo to produce local climate projections to support the development of a climate adaptation plan.
- Partnering directly with faculty, local officials and community stakeholders through university-community research centres. For example, one university brings together academics, policymakers and advocacy organizations to examine climate resilience through a racial justice lens.
Dr. Henstra concluded his keynote by reinforcing that partnership and collaboration between all levels of government, as well as universities, is vital to tackling the urgency of climate change and building climate resilience.
Whether it is by helping make infrastructure more resilient, reducing landfill waste, protecting drinking water or effective mitigation and adaption strategies – Ontario’s universities are forging strong, solutions-driven partnerships with communities and the province to help ensure Ontarians can continue to live, work and play in the cities and towns they call home.
As committed partners with municipalities across the province, Ontario’s universities look forward to continuing to partner with AMO to deliver the annual AMO-COU Lecture and forging new connections among universities and municipal and provincial leaders that help create a better future for communities and the people of Ontario.
For more examples of some of the research, programs and work underway at Ontario’s universities, read: Partnering to Help Municipalities Build Climate-Resilient Communities. The booklet features stories and resources for towns and cities to adapt and manage the social, economic and infrastructure challenges brought on by climate change.