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Ottawa creates $530-million fund to help cities adapt to climate change

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OTTAWA -

Canadian cities and towns facing an uphill battle to stave off the effects of climate change will share more than half a billion dollars from a new federal adaptation fund, but the money is barely a blip in the bills Canadian municipalities are facing for floods, fires and other severe weather.

A 2020 analysis done for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Insurance Bureau of Canada said local governments need $5.3 billion a year to adapt to climate change.

On Monday, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced Ottawa will provide $530 million over the next eight years for the new Local Leadership for Climate Adaptation program.

Under the initiative, local governments can apply for up to $1 million to help cover adaptation project costs and up to $70,000 for risk assessments and feasibility studies.

"In a world of floods, vicious storms, wildfires and other climate impacts, making our communities more livable means planning ahead and building more resiliency into key local infrastructures," Guilbeault said.

The program was announced in November 2022, but only got its funding in the most recent federal budget in April.

Guilbeault made Monday's announcement on the banks of the Ottawa River just west of Parliament Hill.

The river has had one-in-100-year floods twice in the last seven years, which brought tens of millions of dollars in additional bills for Ottawa and other municipalities along the waterway.

Tim Tierney, an Ottawa city councillor and third vice-president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, welcomed the new adaptation money even as he admitted it is a drop in the bucket of what is actually needed.

"We'll take anything we can," he said. "We're just happy to finally actually have some kind of structure in place."

He said Ottawa might consider applying for funding for projects to shore up riverfront areas in the city that have already been hit by repeated flooding, or money for burying hydro lines.

Since 2018, the city has seen three major power outages that lasted days, if not weeks -- due to a tornado, a major wind storm called a derecho and an ice storm.

The program will be managed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities under its Green Municipal Fund.

Chris Boivin, the managing director of the fund, said the $1-million limit per project may seem small for major cities, but for a majority of small- and medium-sized communities, it will help significantly.

Dustin Carey helped design the new adaptation program as the lead on climate adaptation for the Green Municipal Fund. He listed more examples of what could receive funding under the program.

Eligible projects can include building of artificial wetlands, riverbank restoration, installing shade to address heat issues, planting trees or even helping set up community centres, libraries or other city buildings to become cooling centres during a heat wave.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

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