How climate change will affect Thunder Bay and what's being done about it
Experts spoke to CBC following release of latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report
Weather in Thunder Bay, Ont., will grow warmer, wetter and less predictable over the next 30 years, and that will affect everything from our risk from floods and forest fires to food prices, and mental and physical health, experts say.
But, they say, there is much that can be done at a local level to mitigate those effects and prevent further warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report on Feb. 28, cataloguing how humans and the natural world are being affected by the changing climate and how they can adapt.
It found North American cities are already facing more frequent and severe "climate-induced hazards" and extreme events, such as severe storms.
Climate data compiled on the Prairie Climate Centre's Climate Atlas of Canada suggests the average temperature in Thunder Bay in July will warm by approximately two degrees by 2050, while the average temperature in January will warm by approximately 2½ degrees. The frost-free season will grow by more than 20 days, and the city will receive an average of around 40 millimetres more rainfall per year.
While the promise of warmer days and a longer growing season may sound positive to some, the City of Thunder Bay's climate adaptation co-ordinator said the problem is one of unpredictability.
"Even though weather in general is getting warmer, that is just meaning that there's more energy in the atmosphere," Jacob Porter said.
"So that can end up resulting in higher amounts of water stored so we get larger winter storms. However, it can also mean that … an Arctic air mass is pushed over the city in times we are not expecting cold weather."
Severe weather events could overwhelm city infrastructure, such as storm water systems and sewer lines, Porter said.
It could lead to flooding and pooling of water throughout the city.
And severe weather events, whether local or in other parts of the world, could ruin crops and lead to food shortages that further drive up the price of food, he said.
Other impacts on the city relate to the costs of hosting increasing numbers of people needing to evacuate surrounding communities due to floods and wildfires, he added — and to the increased risk of Lyme disease related to an expanding black-legged tick population.
The City of Thunder Bay can take action to mitigate the effects of climate change, Porter said.
Taking steps to prevent flooding
The city has been upgrading its storm-water management systems and building what are known as low-impact developments, he said.
"They look almost like a garden, but it is in almost a scooped out area so that they can hold a large amount of water," Porter explained.
"They have a lot of natural, deep-rooted plants in them. And they are able to hold a volume of water in a rainfall and let it drain out more slowly over 24 hours, so it doesn't overwhelm any of the pipes downstream. … Underneath, there's actually a system of pipes. There is storm water infrastructure that these low-impact developments will lead into."
One example of such a development is what appears to be a garden next to Memorial Avenue near the Beverley Street intersection, Porter said, which features trees, shrubs and a mixture of gravel, stone and mulch.
The city has a climate adaptation strategy that calls for:
- Integrating the goal of climate adaptation into other city policies and procedures.
- Identifying infrastructure at risk from extreme weather and developing ways to protect it.
- Working to secure funding for climate-related initiatives.
It also calls for incentivizing the planting and maintenance of the urban forest, identifying resilient species for planting, and supporting the establishment of a local tree nursery.
Thunder Bay's Net Zero strategy calls for the city to plant 100,000 trees within the municipal boundary by 2050.
That strategy aims to end Thunder Bay's contribution to global warming by achieving community-wide net zero emissions by 2050.
Key elements of it involve retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, abandoning fossil fuel heating systems, focusing 90 per cent of development near the core of the city to reduce the need for motor vehicles, sending 95 per cent of organic waste to an anaerobic digester, and electrifying the city's vehicle fleet.
Currently, the energy needs of buildings account for around 28 per cent of Thunder Bay's emissions, and transportation accounts for another 22 per cent, according to the strategy.
Summer Stevenson, the city's acting sustainability co-ordinator, said there are new technologies, including bio gas, to decarbonize heavy machinery.
"There's really cool work being done in the [United] States that looks at how we can use old restaurant oil and the leftovers from farming," Stevenson said. "There's a lot of cool work with bio fuels as well that can help decarbonize some of those harder things like snowplows or garbage packers."
The City of Thunder Bay is currently doing a study on how it could finance a program to help people retrofit their homes and install systems such as heat pumps that do not run on fossil fuels, she added.
It also plans to electrify its transit fleet by 2035, according to the strategy — though Stevenson said Edmonton has ended up running diesel-powered heaters on its electric buses in the winter time to help maintain their battery performance in the cold weather.
The city has also identified longer term projects to consider after 2025, she said, which includes exploring the feasibility of car-share services featuring electric vehicles.
Stevenson also acknowledged the need to find ways to offer green retrofit programs to people who are typically excluded from them, such as mobile homeowners who rent land in mobile home parks.
It's a 30-year plan, Stevenson said, and things will seem to move slowly at first before picking up steam.
"If you think about, our current system as a giant ship in the ocean going one direction, it's going to take a lot of pressure to change its course," she said. "And so that's where we're at right now. … But as we implement new initiatives, and as we build new networks and connections, things will start to progress much more rapidly."
With files from Nicole Mortillaro