Taking action to adapt to a changing climate

Our climate is changing, with more frequent and extreme events like flooding, forest fires, ice and wind storms, dry land and warming winters. The effects of climate change increase the risks to our health and costs to homes and businesses, economy and society. Understand the impacts of climate change on Ontario.

Our actions to put a cap on the greenhouse gas pollution that businesses can emit, along with our carbon market, work with our Climate Change Action Plan to move Ontario toward a low-carbon economy.

We know climate change is already affecting Ontario. As we reduce our greenhouse gas pollution, we must still adapt and prepare for the worst of climate change. Building on our existing efforts, we are taking further action to help Ontario residents adapt to a changing climate by:

  • Creating a new climate change adaptation organization to help build local adaptation capacity, enhance networks and take action
  • Working with climate change adaptation experts to undertake a provincewide risk assessment of the effects of climate change to better understand vulnerabilities and prioritize our actions
  • Developing an enhanced all-of-government approach to climate change adaptation
  • Sharing information on the effects of climate change in order to help Ontario residents better understand the current and future effects of a rapidly changing climate

These steps will help Ontario continue to build a resilient province, where our communities and businesses can thrive in the face of a changing world.

A new climate change organization

As a first step, we will create a new climate change organization. This organization will be a one-window source for leading-edge climate projection data and adaptation information and services.

While climate change projection data is available, it is not always easy to find, understand or use. Municipalities, Indigenous communities, conservation authorities, as well as government and the private sector, vary widely in their capacity to undertake the technical analysis to understand the implications of climate change and use the analysis to make climate-smart decisions.

The organization will work with decision-makers in communities, private businesses, and government to facilitate adaptation learning, capacity building and initiatives across Ontario. It will partner and work with Ontario’s many climate change adaptation experts and existing service delivery agents to help build local adaptation capacity, enhance networks and take action.

Over the past 10 years, we have invested in research to refine climate projections for the province. The new organization will work with experts to continue to review and improve on Ontario climate change projections, and to make use of this data along with other information, to better understand the implications of climate change and local actions that can be taken to adapt.

The new organization, working with existing providers and learning from future program users, will also have the potential to offer a wide range of services that could include:

  • Training and regional workshops on climate data, risk assessment processes, and adaptation planning
  • Connecting users with experts and providing examples of best practice adaptation solutions
  • Helping municipalities, Indigenous communities or private sector companies perform risk assessments, either on their own or with existing service providers. This might involve analysing regional climate data, training on how to carry out a vulnerability and risk assessment, or undertaking the actual risk assessment
  • Building capacity and awareness through outreach efforts

All Ontario sectors, municipalities, Indigenous communities, provincial ministries and agencies, and people across the province, would have access to the data, analysis and services and programs created by the organization through a one-stop online platform.

Provide feedback on our approach

If you have any comments or questions please contact us. We invite your thoughts and ideas for the kinds of services and programs the new climate change adaptation organization could offer.

This proposal is also available on the Environmental Registry.

Please submit written comments by:

Email at: OntarioAdapts@ontario.ca

Mailing address is below in the Contact Us section

Provincial climate change risk assessment

We will also undertake a provincewide risk assessment of the effects of climate change, a first for Ontario.

This is an assessment of current and potential effects of climate change, existing and future vulnerabilities to those effects, and the magnitude and the likelihood of the risks that will occur as a result.

Will we see more extreme rain storms? Will drought become a more significant threat than increased rain storms, and if so, when? Are there specific regions and populations that are more vulnerable, and which public infrastructure assets will be most at risk in the next 10, 20 or 50 years?

We need to understand current and future vulnerabilities and risks in order to prioritize our actions, because some risks will be greater than others. Risk assessment can help us set priorities and direct our investments towards areas where they will be most needed.

This risk assessment will build on the work done by the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, which produces, on an on-going basis, a provincial Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) that identifies and assesses public safety hazards. The provincewide climate change risk assessment will help to identify long-term vulnerabilities and risks as climate change continues to evolve, and will help identify potential future areas of risk to agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, public health and safety, businesses and the financial sector across the province.

A whole-of-government approach

The changing climate and extreme weather events impact almost all provincial ministries as well as their service partners like agencies and local institutions. We are working towards developing a more strategic and coordinated whole-of-government approach to managing climate change risks.

We will look to develop an approach that will incorporate climate change considerations into all corners of government and help us manage climate change risks that may impact our policies, programs and services. Government leadership on climate change adaptation is critical for the future financial and economic well-being of our province.

Raising public awareness

We also plan to share information on the effects of climate change with the public. It is important that Ontario residents gain a real understanding of how a changing climate will affect our homes, businesses, environment and communities, and what we can do to adapt.

The new organization will play an important role in building awareness. It will provide access to information and analysis on how climate change could affect Ontario, now and in the future. But it will also bring it closer to home — with local information that helps people better understand how a changing climate could affect them. Understanding what a changing climate could mean to them, their children or grandchildren will encourage people to act.

Our goal is to encourage each person, each community, and each sector to understand the importance of preparing and acting. Together, we can help protect Ontario from the effects of a changing climate.

How we are already protecting people in Ontario

We have already taken significant steps to help Ontario adapt to climate change. This commitment is shared by partners across the province; a wide range of adaptation measures are being undertaken by municipalities, conservation authorities, businesses, organizations, Indigenous communities and so many others. It is important that, together, we continue to build on progress made.

Our actions to date have been guided by the Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation, established in 2007 to advise us on how Ontario could become more resilient and better prepared for the effects of a rapidly changing climate.

Based on the Expert Panel’s advice, we released Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan (2011-2014), which contains 37 actions and serves as a solid foundation upon which we will continue to build our adaptation work and resiliency — including integrating adaptation into our policies and programs.

We have made good progress on the actions outlined in Climate Ready, including:

Climate change projections

Public health

Far North and Indigenous communities

  • We have been working closely with Indigenous communities to address concerns around the effects of climate change. We have created bilateral tables with Indigenous partners to exchange information, and identify opportunities for partnership and collaboration.
  • Through Ontario’s Green Investment Fund, 40 Indigenous communities are in the process of collecting their community traditional ecological knowledge, leading the assessment of their communities' vulnerabilities to climate change, and developing adaptation plans. This investment will also help create a Northern Ontario climate change impact study.
  • We have made it a priority to connect a number of remote First Nation communities to Ontario’s electricity grid. Shorter winter road seasons in the Far North of Ontario mean there is a shorter timeframe for delivering diesel fuel by trucks; as a result, fuel has to be flown in, which increases costs. Electrical grid connections, where viable, will improve the quality of life in the affected communities and enable their economic development.

Natural environment and agriculture

  • We are taking steps to increase the overall amount of natural cover in Ontario to help native species and ecosystems adapt to climate change. Initiatives already underway include a commitment to plant 50 million trees across the province by 2025, creating, maintaining and enhancing 30,000 hectares of grassland by 2036 through the Ontario Grasslands Stewardship Initiative, and releasing A Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario 2017-2030 to advance wetland conservation across the province.
  • Through recent amendments to the Municipal Act, 2001, and the City of Toronto Act, 2006, municipalities will be required to put a policy in place to protect and enhance their tree canopies and natural vegetation by March 1, 2019. This mandatory policy is an opportunity for municipalities to consider how climate change affects trees (e.g. increased number and extent of wildfires, new diseases), as well as how protecting trees can help increase the climate resiliency of communities.
  • Other initiatives include the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s strategic framework Naturally Resilient (2017-2021) that will guide our continuing actions on sustainable natural resource management in Ontario, and help make Ontario more resilient to the effects of climate change.
  • Healthy soil strengthens Ontario’s capacity to produce food in a changing climate because it protects crops from weather and temperature extremes, retains moisture during dry periods and improves infiltration during wet periods. This is why we are working collaboratively with farmers, industry, community partners and Indigenous communities to develop an Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy that will sustain and support healthy soil into the future.
  • Through the Pollinator Health Action Plan and in partnership with external stakeholders, we are working to build the resilience of managed and wild pollinators to better withstand the effects of a changing climate.

Land use planning

  • In 2014, we updated the Provincial Policy Statement to require municipalities to consider the effects of climate change in planning for resilient communities. This includes planning for new or expanded infrastructure and strengthening protection of natural areas, including wetlands. Municipalities and other planning authorities must undertake long-term planning on a watershed basis.
  • We've updated provincial policy direction on land use planning in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to support resilient communities. In May 2017, we updated the four provincial land use plans – the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Revised policies in these plans are helping to make communities less vulnerable to the effects of climate change. For example, communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe must now undertake stormwater management planning, including low impact development and green infrastructure. In addition, the plans also require the consideration of the effects of climate change in planning for new or expanded infrastructure and incorporate strengthened protection for natural and key hydrological areas.
  • We are working to enhance the understanding of the ways which climate change affects communities in the Great Lakes. As part of this, we are funding the Great Lakes Climate Change Adaptation Project led by ICLEI ― Local Governments for Sustainability, to increase climate change resilience for Great Lake communities. Sixteen communities are learning to use climate data to identify local vulnerabilities, assess risks and develop adaptation plans while 12 communities are learning how to move from planning to implementation on adaptation actions.

More than ever, many local and municipal governments are including adaptation in their official plans, developing adaptation plans, and taking actions, including assessing the capacity and condition of culverts and bridges to prevent washouts and road disruptions, and supporting green infrastructure projects such as raingardens and green roofs.

  • Our province’s floodplain mapping has been recognized as the most comprehensive and progressive in Canada in a recent report by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation in October 2016, where Ontario received the highest score in its ability to limit potential flood damage.
  • The province continues to actively work with Public Safety Canada to administer the National Disaster Mitigation Program with federal funding of $200M over five years starting in 2015. This includes opportunities to update floodplain mapping. To date, the federal government has approved 72 projects in Ontario, including 29 floodplain mapping projects undertaken by municipalities and conservation authorities on behalf of municipalities.

Infrastructure and buildings

Our province’s existing infrastructure has an estimated value of $550 billion. It includes buildings, transportation systems, telecommunications, water supply and sanitation facilities and more. These public assets are vital to a strong and healthy province. They also have long operational lifetimes and are sensitive to climate volatility over decades.

We are in the midst of the largest infrastructure program in the province’s history — investing $190 billion over 13 years starting in 2014-15 to expand and renew our infrastructure to improve the lives of Ontarians. The effects of climate change are a prime consideration for this investment because we recognize it is more practical and less expensive to manage climate risks early than to react after the fact with disaster relief and rebuilding efforts.

An independent study commissioned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, found that the investment return in the United States was $4 in cost savings for every $1 spent on disaster mitigation. Studies in Australia have found a return of 3:1 from investments in disaster mitigation, and in the United Kingdom, 5:1.

For this reason, we are building climate change considerations into infrastructure project decisions, including through the planning, procurement, building, operating and maintaining phases.

  • The Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015, enshrines the principle that infrastructure planning and investment should be designed to be resilient to the effects of climate change. The upcoming Long Term Infrastructure Plan will build upon this principle and lay out our vision for evidence-based planning and investment decisions to build resilient infrastructure across Ontario.
  • Ontario’s next Long-Term Energy Plan (2017) will build on the current activities underway and pursue further actions to strengthen the ability of the energy sector to anticipate the effects of climate change and integrate those insights into operational and infrastructure planning.
  • We are also beginning to address vulnerabilities in key sectors, including energy. Many Ontario residents have personal stories of ice or wind storms that have downed hydro lines and cut the flow of electricity into their homes or communities. Ontario’s Smart Grid Fund is supporting innovative projects that will help increase energy system reliability and resiliency to homes and businesses while providing economic development opportunities and creating jobs.
  • In recent years, we have implemented a number of new tools such as the Ministry of Transportation’s online Intensity-Duration-Frequency application that can be used for rainfall intensity forecasts for updates to existing, or the planning of new, highways and roads.
  • We funded the Home Flood Protection Assessment program, developed by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. The program helps homeowners reduce risk and minimize damage of flooding through free web-based check-lists, tips, how-to videos and information, and fee-based assessments and action plans. The program is currently being rolled out in 4,000 homes in Burlington, which could inform its broader delivery across Ontario.

We welcome your comments

If you have any comments or questions, please contact us. We invite your thoughts and ideas for the types of services and programs that the new climate change adaptation organization could offer.

This proposal is also available on the Environmental Registry.

Please submit written comments by:

Email at:

Mail at:
Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
Strategic Policy Branch
77 Wellesley St. West, 11th floor
Toronto, ON M7A 2T5

You can also respond to the Environmental Registry posting.