Flooding will become "more common" in certain areas of Toronto.
On August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) dropped its climate change report, which prompted António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to call it a "code red for humanity."
Some of the key findings in the document revealed that sea levels are rising at an alarming rate and that it is "virtually certain" that hot extremes, like heatwaves, have become more frequent and intense since the 1950s.
Narcity spoke with Kent Moore, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), who shared what Toronto can likely expect in the years to come and how climate change will affect the city itself.
What kind of extreme weather events can Toronto expect?
"Toronto, on average has warmed by about a degree and a half, maybe 2 degrees over the last 30 years. That means that our summers are warmer, and our winters are warmer as well," Moore said.
"We've been seeing in the last few summers, a lot of really, really heavy downpours that cause flooding," he added. "That's consistent with what we expect to see with a warming because as the atmosphere warms up, it can hold more water vapour."
Toronto has had a hot, wet summer in 2021, with the city recently reaching highs of over 40 degrees with the humidex and coming close to mugginess records previously set in the 1950s. According to the Government of Canada, Toronto experienced an average temperature of 20.3 in August of 1990. This August, temperatures averaged about 24 degrees.
But, Moore explained, that doesn't just mean sweatier residents — it means more damaged infrastructure.
How could climate change affect Toronto?
"The basic problem is that our infrastructure just wasn't designed for the climate that we're now experiencing," Moore said.
He pointed to neighbourhoods on top of subway tracks and the Don Valley Parkway as a few examples of areas within the city that will have to cope as flooding becomes "more common" in Toronto.
"Anytime you have water flowing on the surface, and you don't have the infrastructure to support those water flows, you're going to get flooding happening," Moore continued.
"That even happens downtown," he said, referencing a viral video from 2013 of a flooded Ferrari in the Lower Simcoe Underpass.
"We've paved over a lot of river beds in the Toronto area," Moore said. "So if you're living in a bit of a depression where there used to be a river flowing through, then water is going to accumulate in that area."
"You can mitigate those things by building some sort of dikes or levees, but that's a huge expense."
Moore noted that the amount of heavy rain these last few years has also impacted basements in Toronto.
"In the last few years there have been some of these really, really heavy rain events where people's basements have flooded," Moore said. "So yeah, I think potentially basement apartments could be less livable."
How can Toronto prepare for climate change?
The asphalt in the city is a problem for both extreme heat and flooding, Moore noted.
He explained that asphalt absorbs more heat than grass and soil does, and only moves water elsewhere rather than capturing it and letting it soak into the ground.
The result is a "heat island" effect, which makes the air hotter and increases water runoff, which is more damaging for urban infrastructure like sewers.
He said the city is changing to accommodate these dangers, pointing to two underground detention tanks in the Beaches, which capture sewage overflow and stormwater, preventing it from going into Lake Ontario.
Moore said Torontonians should make small changes to help out — like opting for public transit or paving their driveway with interlocking bricks instead of asphalt, so the water can soak into the ground.
"That'll help not only Toronto, it's going to help the whole earth. This is a global problem, but we can help address it locally," he concluded.