Toronto summers to get hotter as climate change intensifies, expert says

Climate change will mean Toronto summers will be even more scorching than they are now, an expert said on Monday after the release of a new UN report on global warming.

Climate scientist says conclusions in UN report released Monday not surprising

Smoke from wildfires in northwest Ontario makes for a hazy evening in Toronto on July 26, 2021. Summers in the big city will get hotter as climate change deepens, says Karen Smith, a climate scientist from the University of Toronto Scarborough. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Climate change will mean Toronto summers will be even more scorching than they are now, an expert said on Monday after the release of a new United Nations report.

"There's no question it's going to get hotter," Karen Smith, a physical and environmental sciences assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, told CBC News.

Smith said cities are already warm places because of what is known as the "urban heat island" effect, due to trapping of heat from tall buildings, human activity, concrete and the lack of vegetation.

"You combine that with climate change and we can expect really, really hot conditions in cities in the future," she said.

"We've seen in Toronto some extreme rainfall events, sudden flood events. You combine the urbanization with the changing climates and you get these enhanced extreme events. We're going to have to be prepared for hotter summers and what comes along with that."

Smith said climate change will require massive changes in how energy is delivered and produced and bold leadership to make those changes.

City should focus on buildings, transit, expert says

She said Toronto will have to retrofit older buildings and improve public transit to get more cars off the road. It will be important to electrify vehicles, she added.

"Buildings and transportation are where we need to focus," she said.

Smith's comments come after the UN-appointed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report that climate change is "widespread, rapid, and intensifying" and scientists are seeing its impact in every region.

She said the report's conclusions are not surprising, but the amount of media attention that the report has received is unexpected.

"This is building on decades of previous climate science. With more observational evidence and more climate modelling, the conclusions just get stronger and stronger with each report," she said.

"I think the attention that it is getting is actually something that has been a bit of a surprise to me. This time around, people are really kind of taking notice. And it's a big news item today and it's exciting that it's getting this kind of coverage."

Toronto city staff will review the IPCC report released on Monday, then prepare their own report on how the city can get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. That staff report will go to council in the fall. (John Rieti/CBC)

The report says humans are to blame for climate change and makes dire predictions. It also outlines five scenarios and concludes that all will see the world cross the 1.5-degree threshold in the 2030s — sooner than previously predicted. But it offers some hope.

In a news release on Monday, the IPCC said: "Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion — such as continued sea level rise — are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years. However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change."

City staff to look at how Toronto can get to net zero

Coun. Jennifer McKelvie, who represents Ward 25, Scarborough-Rouge Park and is chair of the city's infrastructure and environment committee, said city staff will review the IPCC findings, then prepare their own report on how the city can get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. That staff report will go to council in the fall. 

McKelvie said the city knows it needs to focus on its buildings, transportation systems and waste.

"What's not surprising is that climate change is real and we are feeling those impacts right now. We all know we need to accelerate climate action for a better future," she said.

Coun. Jennifer McKelvie, who represents Ward 25, Scarborough-Rouge Park, says: 'What's not surprising is that climate change is real and we are feeling those impacts right now. We all know we need to accelerate climate action for a better future.' (Submitted by Jennifer McKelvie)

McKelvie said the city aimed in 2020 to lower its greenhouse gas emissions levels by 30 per cent from 1990 levels. She said the levels have been reduced by 37 per cent. 

"I think residents can be reassured that the City of Toronto takes this seriously because we did set a target for a reduction in emissions. We are moving in the right direction, but we realize the need to do more faster."

Toronto environmentalist say report is call to action

At least one Toronto environmentalist says the report is alarming, it carries a sense of urgency and it is a call to action.

Alienor Rougeot, a youth climate justice activist and an organizer of Fridays for Future Toronto, said government action is needed to prevent future suffering and politicians have a moral responsibility to act. She said the report is not surprising but "it's never pleasant to have a confirmation of bad news" and it has made her quite angry.

"This feels preventable," she said. "And this mostly feels like it's falling in the middle of a crisis that we are already dealing with, the COVID crisis. And it feels like an additional burden on society that I don't think we're ready for right now."

Alienor Rougeot, a youth climate justice activist and an organizer of Fridays for Future Toronto, says: 'This feels preventable.' (Salma Ibrahim/CBC)

Rougeot said the report talks about "tipping points" and she hopes that resonates with people. She added she wants governments to recognize that climate change is indeed a crisis.

"What that report shows is that every single fraction of warming, of the degree matters. Even if we do reach that awful 1.5, avoiding to reach 1.7 will be a huge win, in terms of avoiding suffering, avoiding future collapse of society," she said.

"Really, this is actually a call to action instead of a reason to give up. That's how I'm reading it today and hopefully that's how others will read it too," Rougeot added. 

"There is a chance, there still is a window and now it's up to all of us to work toward the goals we set ourselves."

With files from the Associated Press


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