Mayor and Canadian expert address local solutions to climate risks

This article is by Roopa Rakshit, board member of Environment North, and was originally published in the Chronicle Journal in April, 2014.

"Adaptation and mitigation choices in the near-term will affect the risk of climate change throughout the 21st century" (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report)

The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report has attracted a lot of media attention. There is more physical evidence that human-caused changes to the atmosphere are the main drivers of climate change observed over the last century. There are three main sections of the report: the scientific basis of climate change, mitigation of climate change and an assessment of the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

The Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability section offers summaries of future climate impacts over large geographical regions. Key risks for North America include wildfires, heat-related human mortality and flood damage. Risks for arctic regions are adverse effects on ecosystems and the well-being of Arctic communities. Determining the likelihood of consequences from climate change has become a specialised field of study. The degree of risk depends on the interaction of "vulnerability, exposure and hazard". Vulnerability is the susceptibility to damage and the ability to cope. Exposure is what lies in harm's way such as infrastructure or people. Hazard is the type of event that causes the damage such as a flood.

It is a busy time for businesses involved with risk management – a new version of "risky business". Climate risk management is increasingly being used to enhance capacities at the local level to manage risks associated with climate change. Municipalities are often at the forefront of coping with damages from extreme weather events. In addition, much of the responsibility for infrastructure maintenance and land-use planning is under their control.

Adaptation is defined by the IPCC as "the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects." At the municipal level adaptation involves a co-ordinated effort of many departments including building, transportation, infrastructure, land use planning, communications, financial, legal, social services and emergency services.

A number of Ontario communities, including Thunder Bay, have begun work on assessing their risks and vulnerabilities to climate change and are developing adaptation strategies. There are an increasing number of tools available. A new Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Policy provides a framework for planning that includes programs to support climate adaptation through land use patterns ( There is a country-wide project by the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee of Engineers Canada (

Environment North's Learning and Sharing Seminar Series facilitates public discussion on environmental issues. Dr. Stewart Cohen, who spoke at our last seminar on bridging scientific and local knowledge, was a contributor to the Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability section of the 2014 IPCC report.

At our third Environmental Knowledge Learning and Sharing Seminar we welcome guest speakers Mr. Allan Douglas and Mayor Keith Hobbs. Mr. Allan G. Douglas is the Director of the Ontario Climate Centre for Climate Impacts of Adaptation Resources (OCCIAR), Laurentian University in Sudbury. His topic of discussion is "Managing for Climate Risks at the Municipal level: Current Practices, Lessons and Resources". Mayor Hobbs is the current Chair of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) and will share details on the Municipal Adaptation and Resiliency Service, a collaborative effort involving the Clean Air Partnership, the GLSLCI and the OCCIAR.

The event will take place on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 7:00 p.m. at the Waverley Library Auditorium, 285 Red River Road. Admission is free and all are welcome. Environment North is very pleased to be partnering with EarthCare Thunder Bay, EcoSuperior, Bay Credit Union and Days Inn. At 6:00 pm Environment North will be holding our Annual General Meeting. Visit for more details.