What is the climate emergency?

    London's City Council approved the declaration of a Climate Emergency on April 23, 2019.

    This climate emergency is a call to action to combat and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and to establish net zero GHG emissions by 2050 or sooner. Reduction in GHG emissions is required to slow and hopefully stop the rapid intensification of the greenhouse effect within our atmosphere and stabilize global temperatures to no more than 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.

    In Canada, Federal and Provincial levels of government have established legislation and programs to reduce GHG emissions and increase sustainability and resiliency among communities. However, these are not sufficient to stop the increases in GHG emissions worldwide or meet the targets as set out in the United Nations Paris Agreement.

    The changing climate is a problem that is both impacting all communities around the world and caused by the actions of all communities around the world.

    More information and reports on the climate emergency from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can be read at www.ipcc.ch

    What is causing this climate emergency?

    Exponential population and economic growth, combined with the energy-intensive modern lifestyle of our globalized consumer society over recent decades have all continuously increased the emissions of CO₂ and other greenhouse gases. The concentration of these greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere is currently higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

    The increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the resulting warming is a reflection of the inability of the planet’s natural systems to accommodate the rapid injection of historically sequestered (or stored) carbon.

    How has the climate crisis affected London?

    London has had five severe flooding occurrences in the last 30 years (March 1977, September 1986, July 2000, April and December 2008). Current infrastructure was designed and constructed on the basis of standards and codes that were developed decades ago. With the changes in these rainfall events and climate patterns, some infrastructure may no longer have the capacity to handle the new rainfall events. Embedding climate change considerations has now become a necessary component of the majority of infrastructure projects.

    There are many adaptation measures already completed or underway in London that will support a Climate Emergency Action Plan. Some of these adaptation measures include:

    • Rainfall intensity duration frequency curves research.
    • Increased public education campaigns.
    • Integrate climate change into asset management.
    • Middlesex-London Health Unit partnership to monitor for West Nile and other vector diseases.
    • Completion of the sewer system pollution prevention and control plan.
    • Low impact development installations (43 and counting).
    • Free downspout disconnect.
    • Update to the emergency flood plan.
    • Enhanced sewer maintenance and monitoring (including neighbourhood-scale precipitation monitoring).
    • Basement flooding subsidy program.
    • Increased number of public shade structures.
    • Enhanced invasive species removal.
    • Installation and monitoring of rain gardens.
    • Increased number of splash pads / cooling centres.
    • Update to the urban forest strategy with a tree inventory and tree protection by-law.

    How will the climate crisis affect London in the future?

    The impact on London of a changing climate includes:

    • severe weather damages including those from flooding, high winds, freezing rain and extreme temperatures;
    • increase in warmer-climate diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile virus;
    • increase in cost and decreased availability of food;
    • increase in health care costs from heat waves;
    • increase in property insurance costs;
    • loss of biodiversity;

    These impacts will only get worse if strong collective actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changes already occurring are not taken immediately.

    Why the urgency?

    Significant tipping points exist in the earth’s climate system. These include the melting of the earth’s ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, the results of which would include:

    • sea level rise on the order of metres and disappearance of earth’s polar “reflectors” of sunlight;
    • destabilization of the vast expanses of permafrost in the northern hemisphere and subsequent release of immense amounts of methane, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with global warming potential that is 25 to 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide; and,
    • the slowing and/or reversal of established ocean currents that are key drivers of weather patterns globally.

    Any one of these tipping points may have the potential to initiate irreversible acceleration of the changes to our climate system and we cannot be sure of when these will occur, only that their occurrence will become more likely with continued warming.

    Because the world is already most of the way to 1.5°C of warming (approximately 1.04°C warmer than pre-industrial levels), the earth’s “carbon budget” (i.e., the remaining amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted and still limit global warming to a level of 1.5°C warmer) is relatively small.

    To prevent the earth from warming more than 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to net zero as soon as possible.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN body established to assess the science related to climate change and is widely regarded as the authority on the topic.

    The reports produced by the IPCC since its creation have provided the world with ever-increasing certainty that human activity is responsible for the current state of climate change. Furthermore, the IPCC has increasingly urged that world leaders take action to significantly reduce the rate of greenhouse gas emissions. The most recent IPPC reports, culminating from the sixth assessment cycle, include:

    • Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”;
    • Climate Change and Land: an IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse gas fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems” approved draft dated August 7, 2019; and,
    • The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” dated September 24, 2019.

    What can a municipality do?

    Municipal government (local governments) around the world are often viewed as the closest level of government to residents, employers, employees and visitors. That proximity to human activity and resulting responsibility comes with making decisions that can drive local sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction.

    Decisions made by City of London Council regarding land use and transportation have influence on approximately 70% of London’s community (local) greenhouse gas emissions

    The decisions made at City Hall have a direct influence on the establishment of norms and expectations for Londoners related to both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the City’s ability to adapt to the climate emergency. And London is not alone. London is one of 1,180 local governments (as of December 2019) to recognize and declare a climate emergency.

    As the level of political leadership closest to citizens, municipalities have the unique opportunity to leverage that connection to affect real, on-the-ground change even in the absence of strong leadership from higher levels of government. As reported in London’s 2018 Community Energy and Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the municipal government has direct control (versus direct influence) over only approximately 4% of London’s community greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., methane emissions from the W12A landfill and fossil fuel use by municipal operations).

    Prioritization of walking, cycling, and public transit over personal vehicle transportation, designing for a reduction in the average distance to amenities from residential neighbourhoods, walkability of civic streets, support for green and low-impact infrastructure development, social safety net and emergency response programs and mandatory assessment of large projects for their impacts with respect to climate change are only some of the ways a single municipality can make a difference.

    Is there debate around if climate change issues exist?

    Yes, there are still ongoing debates about climate change in the media, in academia, and in some political circles. The following scientific bodies have issued statements that are “non-committal” on the human contribution to climate change. These are:

    • American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and
    • American Institute of Professional Geologists.

    However, in the science community, there is a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that human activities are largely to blame. The vast majority of national and international scientific bodies and organizations support the position of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and there are no national and international scientific bodies that take a dissenting position.