Climate change will mean billions of dollars in additional annual infrastructure costs for future Ontario governments, the province’s fiscal watchdog warns.
In a new report tabled Tuesday at Queen’s Park, the Financial Accountability Office predicted extreme rainfall, heat and quickening freeze-thaw cycles will ravage public buildings like hospitals, schools, public transit systems, universities, colleges and government offices.
“Ontario’s provincial and municipal governments currently own and manage a large portfolio of buildings and facilities worth about $254 billion,” Peter Weltman, the financial accountability officer, told reporters Monday.
“These public buildings have long service lives and maintaining this portfolio of assets over the century will require substantial ongoing spending even in the absence of climate change,” he said, noting federal facilities were excluded from the two-volume, 98-page study.
“Our report finds that the estimated costs of maintaining Ontario’s current portfolio of public buildings and facilities in a state of good repair would be $10.1 billion (annually),” the FAO said, estimating additional yearly expenses could range from $800 million to $1.5 billion.
Between next year and the end of the decade, Weltman said, extreme weather could “add nearly $6 billion to the costs of maintaining public buildings and facilities in a state of good repair” beyond the current annual expenses.
He predicted that there would be an additional $800m in maintenance costs annually even in a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2040s. It could add $1.5 billion annually if emissions continue to rise.
According to his report, climate change could cause structural, electrical, and mechanical problems in buildings as well as challenges in landscaping.
“We have all seen the catastrophic impact of extreme rainfall that took place a couple of weeks ago in southern B.C., as essential bridges and highways were unable to sustain the impacts of the heavy rain,” the watchdog said.
“What happened in B.C. underscores the importance of work like this, which quantifies the budgetary impact climate hazards will have on public infrastructure,” he said.
“The FAO also explored the financial implications of adapting Ontario’s public buildings to withstand these climate hazards and found that broad adaptation strategies would be modestly less costly for provincial and municipal governments than not adapting.”
As well, measures like modernizing the building code, updating design parameters, and improving flood protections “would have significant but uncosted benefits, such as minimizing the disruption of public services.”
The fiscal office undertook the review in 2019 after a request from Green Leader Mike Schreiner, who said the findings underscore the “need to be honest with Ontarians about the costs of the climate crisis.”
“It is abundantly clear: the cost of inaction far exceeds the cost of climate action. Climate change is nature’s tax on everything,” said Schreiner.
Environment Minister David Piccini insisted the government is staying on top of the challenge, noting it launched “Ontario’s first-ever climate change impact assessment.”
That assessment “will inform our province as we fight climate change and make important investments to build adaptation and resiliency,” said Piccini, pointing to the “historic commitments” on new infrastructure.
But NDP MPP Catherine Fife (Waterloo) said Premier Doug Ford’s environmental policies have “actually made things worse in Ontario.”
“He ripped out electric vehicle charging stations. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars not building renewable energy. He forced gas stations to put up propaganda stickers wasted $30 million on a failed court challenge against federal climate change action,” said Fife.
“It’s an alternate universe here sometimes. He has fought an ideological war against any action to address these risks.”
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