Predicted spike in Ottawa temperatures worries experts, councillor

Ottawa is among 13 cities worldwide that could see temperatures rise more than 2 C over the next decade, according to a new climate change report released this week.

New report says temperatures could shoot up as much as 2 C by the 2020s and nearly 7 C by the 2080s

The disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic is helping drive up temperatures in northern cities. A new report says Ottawa's temperatures could be as much as 2.3 C higher in the 2020s than they were in the period 1971-2000, and as much as 6.9 C higher in the 2080s. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Ottawa residents can expect to skate less, drive over more potholes and even fall more on slippery streets, according to experts and a city councillor digesting a new report on climate change and cities.

Ottawa is among 13 cities worldwide that are projected to see temperature hikes that could exceed 2 C in the next decade or so, according to the report from the Urban Climate Change Research Network at Columbia University.

The study looked at 100 cities in total and Ottawa's projected maximum temperature increase of 2.3 C was the third highest. Moscow and Helsinki have the highest predicted temperature increases. At minimum, the report predicts an increase of 1 C over average temperatures in the period 1971-2000.

"The cities in the higher latitudes really are on the front lines of the warming," said Cynthia Rosenzweig, an editor of the report and a researcher with NASA. 

The less action is taken to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the more likely it is that cities will see temperatures hit the predicted maximums, Rosenzweig said.

The report also made predictions for later decades. It suggests that Ottawa's temperatures could rise a full 6.9 degrees by the 2080s in the absence of action to stop climate change.

Numbers no surprise to experts, advocates

The temperature prediction for Ottawa in the 2020s didn't come as a surprise to climatologist Paul Beckwith of the University of Ottawa.

He said, in the High Arctic, warming is happening much faster than anywhere else on the planet and the loss of sea ice contributes to the warming trend to the south. Northern cities will warm much faster than other cities, he predicted.

"Ottawa will warm even faster than Toronto, for example," he said, adding that inland cities will see temperatures rise more quickly than those on the coast or near large bodies of water.

Already, Ottawa is seeing the effects of climate change with this unusually warm February, he said, and people living in the city should prepare for future winters filled with the freeze-thaw cycles that wreck the roads and make sidewalks slippery and dangerous for pedestrians. It's bad news for the natural environment as well.

"We (humans) live indoors in controlled environments," Beckwith said. "What about animals and trees? They're used to certain rainfall patterns, certain temperatures."

Daniel Scott, director of the University of Waterloo's Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo, also predicts both wildlife and infrastructure will be casualties. 

Coun. David Chernushenko, chair of Ottawa city council's environment committee, says no government, including Ottawa's, is doing enough to reduce the threat of climate change or adapt to it. (CBC)

Cities that don't take measures to adapt to climate change, such as protecting and maintaining infrastructure, could even discover it affects their ability to borrow money. Scott said creditors are starting to look at city's preparedness.

"A city that's not prepared...might have higher borrowing costs in the not-too-distant future," he said. 

Scott was part of a group that prepared a report in 2005 for the National Capital Commission, which looked at the impact of climate change on recreation and tourism — a report which anticipated smaller temperature increases than the 2.3 C figure released in this week's report on cities.

"We had looked at scenarios that would have had that amount of warming, but it wouldn't have been until the 2040s or 2050s," Scott said.

'Nobody anywhere is doing anywhere close to enough'

Ottawa city Coun. David Chernushenko, the head of the city's environment and climate change committee, was also dismayed by the new numbers, though not surprised.

A 2 C change might not sound like a lot, he said, but heat waves in summer that are two degrees hotter could make it too hot to sleep without air conditioning. He also worries about what days over 35 degrees would do to the city's infrastructure.

"You're looking at transformers and other equipment that might actually be overheating and not capable of sustaining that," Chernushenko said.

Asked whether the city of Ottawa is doing enough to prepare, his response was "nobody anywhere is doing anywhere close to enough" because until residents start experiencing the negative effects of climate change firsthand, politicians are not motivated to move quickly or invest the money needed to address the problem or adapt to it — especially if governments around them are also sitting on their hands.

"Until you see every country and every other city doing it, you start to feel like, well, why would I be investing that kind of money?" he said. "Yet that's where we have to get to."

"Climate change is the most serious problem facing humanity and it could be a civilization destroyer."