Back in August 2019, Council declared a climate emergency that was a crucial step in adopting social action to climate change and reaffirmed our city’s commitment to being a climate resilient city. City Administration has begun fantastic work on next steps in the form of Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy that you can read here.
Climatic conditions in Edmonton are changing with mean annual temperature increased at a rate of 0.17 degrees Celsius per decade since 1917 – that is over twice the global average. The rate of warming has accelerated over the last 50 years to 0.35 degrees per decade. The observed rate of warming in the winter months has been more pronounced than during the summer.
Looking to the future, Edmonton’s climate is projected to change further. Anticipated changes in Edmonton’s climate include:
- Warmer temperatures: Mean temperatures are projected to increase in all seasons with the largest temperature increase projected for the winter months (Dec-Feb)
- Increased precipitation: Mean precipitation is projected to increase significantly in the spring season and modestly during the winter and fall season; projected changes in summer precipitation are negligible
- Hotter drier summers: Substantial increases in temperature, coupled with essentially no change in summer precipitation and significant evapotranspiration, will result in hotter, drier summers
- Warmer wetter winters: Both mean winter temperature and mean winter precipitation are
- projected to increase significantly, leading to warmer wetter winters
- More extreme precipitation: Warming temperatures increase the water holding capacity of the atmosphere, which supply storms, resulting in more intense rainfall events and ultimately to flooding.
- Extreme weather events: Increasing frequency, and in some cases severity, of extreme weather events such as windstorms, lightning, freezing rain and heavy snow.
These changes will have a range of consequences for Edmonton’s buildings, infrastructure, municipal services, public health & safety, natural environment, economy and quality of life.
Adapting to the impacts of climate change involves taking deliberate actions that: (a) reduce potential risks and negative consequences; or (b) exploit potential opportunities. In terms of mitigating harm, generic adaptation actions can include:
- Offsetting losses by sharing or spreading risks among the wider population (e.g., through insurance or disaster assistance programs).
- Modifying the threat by implementing measures to control or contain climate-related hazards (e.g., enhancing existing or building new flood defences).
In a report on the economic costs of climate change (Edmonton City Plan Vulnerability Cost Assessment) suggestions include:
- Avoiding or reducing exposure to climate risks (e.g., changing the location of man-made and natural assets and infrastructure, people, services, etc. via planning or implementing early warning systems).
- Reducing the sensitivity of exposed assets and infrastructure, people, services, etc. to harm from climate risks (e.g., enhanced design standards and building code, improved emergency planning or planting drought resistant trees).
- Conducting research to improve understanding of the relationship between climate change and potential risks or to investigate new adaptation policies and programs.
- Encouraging behavioural change through education and information provision (e.g., dissemination of hazard maps, voluntary or mandatory risk disclosure or public information campaigns).
Edmonton’s climate is projected to change through warmer temperatures, more extreme precipitation and extreme weather events. By emulating an urban form that is different from the traditional growth pattern Edmonton has followed in the past, the range of consequences to buildings and infrastructure, public health & safety, natural environment, economy and quality of life can be minimized.
A popular and often talked about solution is a more densely developed and compact urban form resulting in greater reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The different types of housing does not, on its own, determine greenhouse gas emissions but rather where these different types of housing are located.
A highly urbanised, pedestrian-oriented city is most efficient in terms of managing greenhouse gas emissions. Intensification of our urban form creates the potential for major district energy systems which are more efficient at curbing the city’s carbon footprint.
By creating conditions where infill development around primary nodes and a strong centre node surpasses lower density suburban development, the city is able to control greenhouse gas emissions as a whole. Housing intensification increases the potential for district energy systems to be implemented.
Reduction to greenhouse gas emissions is linked to strategically located density and a diverse urban form that is well integrated with mass transit. In order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Edmonton must create a different urban form than it has traditionally followed in the past. It is not viable to only reduce single detached family homes and increase housing mix. Edmonton must also strategically place the new housing mix in consideration of transportation. Additionally, any new urban form must be integrated with a mass transit network that reduces the amount of automobile travel undertaken by these housing types are physically located.
An increase in non-automobile mode share reduces greenhouse gas emissions. A coordinated land use and mass transit network results in a net and proportional increase in the number of active and transit trips made by Edmontonians. The benefits stemming from this increase will help make Edmonton a healthier city and assist in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Areas of lower greenhouse gas emissions are correlated with more concentrated and compact development.
As we think of future policies as well, on top of recommended land use and what is outlined in the Edmonton Energy Transition Strategy it is important to keep in mind that climate change burdens are often borne disproportionately by vulnerable populations such as those who have little control as to where they live, often near busy cores where they are regularly exposed to pollution. Right here in Edmonton, our homeless population is more exposed to the smoke from forest fires.
Before making decisions like banning single use plastic for instance, we have to make sure that the ecological alternatives are first accessible to our vulnerable populations such as vulnerable families who would need these solutions the most so as not to unjustly penalize them.
Using a social equity metric to measure the effect that future climate change policies will have on various demographics and populations within our city is crucial as we move forward with preserving our environment and making it a safe community for everyone.
By R.Maggay and A.Knack