Toronto needs to start asking the right questions on climate change

“We are the largest urban centre on the planet,” according to frequent resident Shawn Micallef. “So we are most likely to become a megacity because of population explosion and energy demand.”

Canada’s sixth largest city experiences its fair share of civic crises: crime, traffic congestion, natural disasters, and general political gridlock. At the same time, the city is adept at taking measures to manage the growing pressure that comes with more people.

Toronto is adapting. In the face of intense pressure from fast-growing urban centres, Toronto is slowly creeping towards streetcars and electric rapid transit. A recent subway line extension helped cap the growth of Toronto’s population to 3.3 million by the end of 2016, an increase of 60,000 people since 2011.

Now, Toronto is turning its attention to confronting the increasing risk that its massive population has on its environment — particularly its vulnerable financial assets. Rain in Toronto is not widely considered as a flood threat, as it is in New York City, but the growing climate change threat to Toronto’s estimated 2.6 trillion won ($2.24 trillion) in commercial real estate has been discussed repeatedly.

“What’s most important is that in Canadian urban centres, our urban operations across the country are so coordinated that we’re able to address the environmental impacts of development and growth and the impacts of natural disasters,” Tobe Sommerville, a representative for the London office of the International Monetary Fund, said at the event.

At least that is the argument in favour of assessing the risk posed by climate change to Toronto’s property stock. In a recent survey conducted by UBS, the investment bank, Toronto was given a solid score for resiliency against rising water levels — at 48%. (New York scored 40%, rising to 58% at sea level.)

It is little surprise that potential flood zones for large cities are increasingly brown and white:

What is most troubling for Toronto property owners is the question of how to protect their assets, and it’s not at all clear how quickly the city will be able to undertake this transformation.

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