In the last 3 years, Ottawa has seen catastrophic floods predicted to occur only once every 100 years. We have 11 years left to take bold climate action before this becomes the new normal.
The upcoming federal election is a chance to create a movement for change, one that will transition us to a clean economy and resilient world. We can’t afford to wait. The time is now.
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Push for all parties to adopt strong climate platforms
Engage residents in discussions around voting for climate
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Join us on Thursday, May 30th, from 6:00-8:00 pm for an open discussion on climate action in the city of Ottawa and possible opportunities coming up. We’re at an exciting moment in Ottawa, with lots of energy, potential, and attention focused on climate action. We invite you to come out and have your say in what Ecology Ottawa’s Renewable City campaign looks like over the next few months.
Though we won’t have childcare provided, the space is child friendly: we’ll make sure to have craft supplies and distractions in place for little ones, so please feel free to bring them along!
This meeting will be held at Ecology Ottawa offices: 1 Nicholas Street, suite 430
Lots of people struggle with the idea that our current flooding may be caused by climate change. For example Ottawa city councillor Eli El-Chantiry on CBC with Robyn Bresnahan said:
“Quite honestly — I’m a little bit — start to think about — like they told us it happened once in a hundred years. Now it happened in two years. So it’s gotta be something has changed. And what caused that change and what we need to change as well. And I know somebody says it’s climate change. I get that, it’s climate change. It has not much changed the climate on us in the last two years. So the first time you had that type of flooding was in 90 years; exactly 89 years and now you’re having it again in two years. So, has something severely changed? I think — I don’t know, I don’t have the answer. All what I can tell you, all communities from here to Temiskaming, they’re at risk, and all the way to Montreal, so it’s not just our area specifically. There’s something really — some, and some answer — had — I don’t have the answer for that question.”
Councillor El-Chantiry isn’t alone in wrestling with this one.
When we hear that a weather event is a once in a 100-year event we shouldn’t think “ah, we had a flood last year, now we’re safe for 99 years” any more than we would think “heads or tails, there’s a 50/50 chance, I got heads last time, so I’m certain to get tails this time.” That 100-year weather event is an expression of probability. There’s a one percent chance of such weather in any given year.
Probability is confusing. Even over 100 years there isn’t 100% chance of that 100-year weather event. According to the US National Weather Service Flood Return Period Calculator in a 100 years there is only a 63.4% chance of a 100-year weather event.
How those probabilities are calculated are from records of the past. But records don’t exist for every aspect of weather for every place or for all that many decades into the past. So probabilities are calculated from the partial records that do exist. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site Weather.gov has an explainer on how partial data is used to produce probabilities of 100-year or even 1,000-year events.
In short, the partial data is plotted on a graph and a curve is generated that fits the data. New data might change the shape of the curve. There is always some sort of weather so the area under the curve adds up to 100% probability. It’s a little bit of the unlikely plus a larger dollop of the more likely. The fat part in the middle of the curve is the most likely and the skinny part off to the right, where the curve is getting flatter and flatter, is where things are less and less likely. The 100-year event corresponds to the place where there’s only 1% of the area under the curve out there to the right.
All this is true without climate change.
The prominent climate scientist James Hansen has compared climate change to loading the dice of extreme weather probability so that extremes are becoming more likely.
When we hear weather forecasters talk about a given day’s weather and compare it to “normal” they are using a figure for “normal” that is an average of 30 years for that day’s date. Climatologists have long known that “normal” changes over time and so every ten years they update “normal” to be based on the most recent 30 years.
The 2019 Canada’s Changing Climate Report tells us that Ontario and Quebec have both experienced warmer spring temperatures and increased winter and spring precipitation since 1948.
Some of these data points will have been accounted for in the 100-year probability forecasts, but not all; and it is the more recent data that are least likely to have been included while at the same time being the most likely to represent a change from the historic values. That doesn’t mean floods every year, but it does mean a new shape to those curves fitted to the data. It does mean water levels that once had 1% probability now have something higher.
For decades scientists have hated the question “was this event caused by climate change.” The careful answer has been that climate change increased the likelihood of it happening. But in recent years some scientists have begun calculating how much the likelihood has increased due to climate change. This is called “attribution” and instead of avoiding saying an event was caused by climate change, they can say climate change made the event a certain percent more likely to happen.
So if we’re seeing an increased frequency of flooding of the Ottawa River, we’re seeing the beginnings of what climate science predicts. It’s a pretty subtle difference but the reason we can’t say climate change caused this flood is that the changing climate is analogous to loading dice to come up six more often, but that doesn’t imply that unloaded dice never come up six.
Photo credit: Wikipedia commons
This past weekend, we were planning to write you about good news from city hall. Last Wednesday, Ottawa joined hundreds of cities across Canada in declaring a climate emergency. We were elated that our municipal leaders voted overwhelmingly to show leadership on the climate crisis, and we wanted to spread the word.
Recent events have overshadowed this jubilant mood. Over the weekend, flooding devastated homes and communities all over the Ottawa area. As we write this, area dams are buckling under the force of water, and the Ottawa River has yet to crest. Lives are being interrupted and thrown into disarray. And after the third year in a row of extreme weather disasters, Ottawans are wrestling with a sense of climate anxiety that no longer feels distant or abstract.
During the debate around council’s climate emergency declaration, some councillors had asked if climate change was a “real” emergency – on par with crises like opiate addiction, homelessness and violence in our streets. The answer – sadly – is all too obvious now. Climate change is undeniably a real emergency, and its impacts will be felt even more deeply in the years to come. It’s not yet clear if spring flooding will be a disastrous new normal for our city. But it’s clear that climate change poses more than a single threat, and can upend the status quo with alarming speed and violence.
This is why tackling climate change is the most urgent issue of our time.Action in cities like Ottawa, which are directly or indirectly responsible for half of Canadian emissions, is critical. Council’s declaration of climate emergency is a positive step, and is more than symbolic. In fact, it moves forward at least five critical elements. Click here to read more abouthow this declaration moves the needle on important issues like climate equity, resiliency, and aligning Ottawa’s emissions goals with scientific requirements.
As Councillor Shawn Menard noted last week, Ottawa is still at the beginning stages of responding to the climate crisis. Now, we must demand that council be bold in its plan for change. Put simply, we have 11 years to do three big things. We must dramatically change how we heat, cool and electrify our buildings. We must dramatically reduce emissions from how we move around our city. Finally, we must plan the future development of our city in a way that makes the first and second goals easier to accomplish.
There are so many opportunities to tackle these big challenges in the months and years ahead – from putting a stop to wasteful urban sprawl, to making our streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, to creating a green jobs boom by retrofitting our buildings. There’s still time to tackle the climate crisis while building a better city, but we must act now.
In the meantime, we urge you to help our friends and neighbours who are most in need at this critical time. Click here to find out about how you can volunteer to help.
On Wednesday, April 24th, City Council passed a resolution declaring Climate Emergency in Ottawa, and in doing so joined numerous other Canadian municipalities in committing to climate action in our community with renewed vigour and determination. Though the motion wasn’t passed unanimously, as was the case in other municipalities (Ottawa’s motion was opposed by three councillors) this resolution signals a shift in city council: from an era of slow-footed movement on climate, to one of rapid, rigorous change for the better. A new era heralded by this motion, the upcoming release of Energy Evolution Phase 2, and the development of a climate resiliency plan, will be one in which we begin to tackle climate change with the kind of scale and attention the crisis truly requires.
There are five main aspects of the resolution that we at Ecology Ottawa are really enthusiastic about, because the climate emergency declaration is not purely symbolic. These five critical elements (as we see them) are as follows:
The above are the highlights of the resolution: the overall themes, and those few things that we really take heart, and find meaning in when we study the declaration. If you’re eager to learn a bit more about the resolution and really “dig into the weeds” with us, keep reading, because we’re here to break down the resolution for you. Over the following paragraphs, we’ll take you through each of the motion’s 8 points, and hopefully provide you with a deeper understanding of the city’s undertaking with their declaration of “climate emergency.”
We’ve chosen to leave the preamble, or “Background” and “Whereas” sections of the resolution out of our review, as they don’t really require much explanation. What you can read below is a clause-by-clause dissection of the implications of the resolution, made easy to understand, and wrap your brain around.
Each clause, lifted directly from the text, is in bold lettering, and is followed by a paragraph of explanation.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council officially declare a climate emergency for the purposes of naming, framing, and deepening our commitment to protecting our economy, our ecosystems, and our community from climate change;
First off, it should be noted that the use of the term “emergency” in this first point does not mean that passing of this motion puts into effect a “state of emergency” in the formal sense. Instead, use of the term “emergency” is intended, like the above text says “for the purposes of naming, framing, and deepening our commitment”. This differs from a formal state of emergency like that declared by Mayor Watson on April 25th, 2019 which put into effect emergency measures and funding in order to rapidly take action to prevent and mitigate flood damage along the Ottawa River.
THAT COUNCIL establish a Council Sponsors Group comprised of representatives from the Standing Committees on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management, Planning Committee, Transportation Committee, Transit Commission and the Councillor Liaison of Environment Stewardship Advisory Committee;
A Council Sponsors’ Group is an ad-hoc committee comprised of councillors sitting on a variety of official city committees (like the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management which approved the climate emergency motion before it went to Council.) In this Council Sponsors Group, these councillors, representing a wide array of municipal concerns, will gather to informally discuss how to embed a climate change lens in decisions that are made by Committees which wouldn’t otherwise consider environment and climate.
THAT COUNCIL direct City staff to include the following in the review and update of the AQCCMP:
Last updated in 2014, the AQCCMP is Ottawa’s Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan: a lengthy document that aims to lay out a framework for climate mitigation and adaptation over the next 20 years in the city of Ottawa. The document is being revisited this year, and with the passing of this motion (specifically the above points), the city has committed to including in the 2019 review a comparison with how our greenhouse gas reduction targets compare with those laid out by the UN IPCC* recent report on 1.5C. It was in this report (issued last November) that we found out that in order to limit warming to 1.5C and keep the planet (mostly) liveable, we’ll have to reduce our emissions by as much as 107% by 2050, and get on that pathway within the next 12 years. The above points also commit city staff to developing “midpoint targets” for both the City of Ottawa’s emissions, as well as our community emissions- allowing us to see where we’ll have to be by 2030 if we’re going to hit our current reduction targets of 80% reductions by 2050. The third point above is exciting because it’s requiring the city to consider mitigation and adaptation measures in all city business, taking care to develop priority actions for the next five years.
*UN IPCC= United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
THAT COUNCIL direct City staff to include the following in the Energy Evolution Final Report:
Energy Evolution is the City of Ottawa’s renewable energy strategy: designed to help the city manage energy consumption, and promote renewable energy. Initially received by council in 2017, “Phase 2” of the strategy is being released at the end of 2019. With the motion passing, City staff will have to ensure future Energy Evolution documentation will include progress updates on any actions proposed by Energy Evolution Phase 1, and develop new innovations to reduce our citywide greenhouse gas reduction target of 80% by 2050. This clause also includes language about “equity and inclusion” as it pertains to climate change- something we don’t always see from the City, and something that is a very welcome and very necessary addition. We know that the effects of climate change are felt most acutely by marginalized peoples, lower income communities, children, and the elderly. We’re excited to see that the city is taking seriously the fact that it’s those vulnerable people who must be protected and prioritized in any environment and climate policy.
THAT COUNCIL direct City staff to report back, within the 2019 calendar year, on a spending plan for the Hydro Ottawa Dividends Surplus that would help reduce community and corporate GHG emissions beyond the scope of the City’s current climate targets while also saving money;
Simply put: They city needs to plan for money it makes by investing in energy efficiency measures and renewable energy (Hydro Ottawa Dividends Surplus) to be dedicated and diverted toward greenhouse gas reduction measures that will take us beyond the scope of our current reduction target of 80% by 2050.
THAT COUNCIL direct City staff to complete a vulnerability assessment and develop a climate resiliency strategy to reduce the impacts of a changing climate;
Development of a climate adaptation plan or “resiliency strategy” is something that was actually Mandated by AQCCMP back in 2011, but as of today, has yet to surface. We’re excited that the City of Ottawa is finally beginning to get this particular show on the road, as we are already beginning to feel the effects of climate change within our city. Last years’ intense heat waves and tornado, and the flooding we’re currently experiencing, are evidence to the need for a climate resiliency strategy for our community– to ensure that we know what to expect in coming decades, and that we’re prepared for dealing with potential disaster.
THAT COUNCIL recognize climate change as a strategic priority in the City’s strategic plan and accompanying budget directions for the remaining Term of Council;
In past years, council has devoted funding and resources towards those few issues it deems to be Term of Council “Strategic Priorities” (usually about 8 main priorities are set per term.) With this point in the motion we’re hoping to see an as-of-yet unprecedented amount of funding and resource allocation go towards climate change issues and solutions.
THAT COUNCIL work with senior levels of government to accelerate ambition and action to meet the urgency of climate change and provide additional resources for municipalities and the public to reduce their GHG emissions and build resiliency to climate impacts.
This final piece of the motion, though it might look like nothing more than flowery language, is actually of importance in setting the tone for climate action from the City going forward. Within this one sentence it’s made clear that Council stand up to provincial and federal governments, demanding stronger climate action, and support from them. So much of what we do at a municipal level is determined by funding we receive from senior levels of government, and it is only if we have their financial support that we’ll succeed in our ambitions.
The City of Ottawa’s Climate Emergency Motion is by no means the be-all-and-end-all of they City’s municipal climate policy. In so many ways it is only the beginning– the tip of the municipal climate policy iceberg, but still, it has such potential for impact. Cities in Canada are responsible for approximately 50% of all emissions across the country. If Ottawa, and other cities like it who have declared Climate Emergency live up to the responsibilities they lay out in motions like the one passed by our Council on the 24th, we have a very real chance of building the sort of healthy, vibrant, adaptive, and resilient city that we’ll need if we’re to weather the many storms we have yet to face. This past week has made us confident in the City’s commitment, and even more confident in the peoples’ commitment: after all, none of this would have happened without the voices of thousands of Ottawans coming together to demand this action of our representatives. We hope you draw as much strength from this motion being passed as we do, Ottawa, and that with this change, you feel empowered to take further action to defend our community, and to defend our climate.
Ecology Ottawa’s work is funded by contributions from members of the Ottawa community. To support the work of Ecology Ottawa, and initiates like our push for a Climate Emergency Declaration, consider donating today.
On April 16, the Environment Committee voted 6-2 to declare a Climate Emergency and propose bold actions to safeguard Ottawa’s neighbourhoods and ecosystems. This motion will now go to City Council on April 24. Help us build support for this motion by contacting your councillor and Mayor and asking them to vote in support of this motion. Whether you speak to a staffer or leave a voicemail, your direct call lets them know what their constituents care about climate action.
Below are all councillors and their phone number. Please consider calling both the Mayor and your councillor. Your advocacy is critical to the outcome of the vote.
Not sure what to say? Here’s a sample script and some suggesting talking points.
Hi, my name is _________, and I am a resident in ________ Ward. I am calling because as an Ottawa resident, I am very concerned about climate change. We’ve seen the climate impacts from tornadoes, heat waves, floods and erratic winter. Globally and right here in Ottawa, children are on strike demanding stronger, bolder climate actions. I want to see Ottawa as a city do its part to combat the climate crisis and build a better city with vibrant, healthy communities that are resilient to a changing climate. I would like to see [councillor name/Mayor Watson] vote in favour of the Climate Emergency motion coming to Council on April 24 and support Ottawa’s future efforts to fight climate change. Will you commit to doing so?
This year Ecology Ottawa is distributing 12,000 native tree seedlings free of charge to Ottawa area residents in efforts to re-plant our urban tree canopy. We are doing this because Ottawa’s urban tree canopy is under threat. Since 2008, the emerald ash borer has killed 25% of Ottawa’s trees. In addition to this, climate change, invasive pests, expanding urbanization and infill construction are also major threats to trees. We need to re-plant and keep planting to stay on top of the threats!
At all of the events listed below, our team of dedicated volunteers and staff will be handing out tree seedlings on a first-come, first-serve basis, so check the list of events frequently for one near you:
On April 16, councillor Shawn Menard will table a motion to the Environment Committee declaring a Climate Emergency and proposing bold actions to safeguard Ottawa’s neighbourhoods and ecosystems. Help us build support for this motion by contacting your councillor and asking them to vote in support of this motion. Whether you speak to a staffer or leave a voicemail, your direct call lets your councillor know what their constituents care about climate action.
Below are all councillors and their phone number. The bolded councillors are on the Environment Committee, and will be directly voting on the motion on April 16. If the motion passes committee, it will go to council and be voted on by all councillors on April 24th. Your advocacy is critical to the outcome of the vote.
Not sure what to say? Here are some suggested talking points.
UPDATE: The motion passed the Environment Committee 6-2, and will go to City Council on Wednesday, April 24. We still need your help building support for this motion. Please call your councillor and the Mayor today!
The United Nations has made it clear – we now have 11 years to avoid catastrophic impacts to the world’s species and ecosystems. The effects are already being felt in Ottawa: record floods in 2017; tornado impacts in late 2018; summers of extreme and deadly heat; and winters with erratic freeze-thaw cycles. Momentum is building among cities like Vancouver, Halifax, Kingston and Hamilton to urgently respond to this moment of crisis and build a better city, and Ottawa has the opportunity to lead. We are calling on the City of Ottawa to declare climate emergency now.
The City of Ottawa has not yet responded adequately to the scope and scale of the climate crisis. We have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Energy Evolution, but this has been delayed and underfunded. We have set a greenhouse gas emissions target, but have not regularly reported on our emissions. We have not produced a long-promised climate resilience plan despite tremendous damage from flooding, tornadoes, heat waves and other extreme weather events.
We are facing a climate emergency, and we need the City of Ottawa to treat this crisis with the urgency it deserves. On April 16, councillor Shawn Menard will table a motion to the Environment Committee declaring a Climate Emergency and proposing bold actions to safeguard Ottawa’s neighbourhoods and ecosystems. This is our moment to demand bolder commitment and stronger action.
For more information about why this is an emergency, and what a climate emergency means, visit:
COME TO OUR GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE AND RAIN GARDEN WORKSHOP!
You will learn more about creating a rain garden for this summer and all the benefits of rain gardens: acting as pollinator gardens for butterflies and bees, sequestering greenhouse gases, and acting as sponges soaking up and filtering rain water.
This will be a free event with snacks and beverages, open to all ages.
WHEN: April 24, 2019 at 6:30pm – 8:30pm
WHERE: Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre
102 Greenview Ave
Ottawa, ON K2B 5Z6