Over the past few years, the global costs of climate change have become increasingly clear. Last month, this reality really hit home for me, quite literally: in each of the two July rainstorms that struck Waterloo Region, different parts of the same tree fell on my house on Cherry St in Kitchener. And I wasn’t the only one, we all saw the visible impacts across our community: uprooted trees, fallen fences, blocked paths in local parks, damaged cars, power outages, the list goes on. The economic impact? After the first storm alone, our local utility companies spent over $500,000 cleaning up. Not to mention the various insurance claims being filed, or in some cases, businesses that have yet to re-open. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear: anthropogenic greenhouse gases are directly contributing to an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. And this is being felt across the world – from droughts across the horn of Africa, to Hurricane Sandy in New York City, to flooding in major Canadian centres like Calgary and Toronto. As some of our own local experts – Dr. Blair Feltmate and Jason Thistlethwaite – have told Canadians across the country: this is ‘the new normal’. And what global economic impact does this have? A recent study put the cost of the melting Arctic – one major symptom of global climate change – at a staggering $60 trillion over 10 years. To give some perspective to a number that is hard to make sense of: this is almost equivalent to our global GDP in 2012 ($70 trillion). And this even while still externalizing the trillions of dollars worth of ecosystem services – value we receive from our ecosystem, like bee pollination or carbon sequestration from trees – that doesn’t show up on any balance sheet. Bringing the challenge – and the opportunity – back to the local level: yes, disaster response is incredibly expensive (in the case of Calgary for example, clean-up costs are now estimated at $5 billion over 10 years). But we have alternatives in Waterloo Region: reducing further impacts of climate change – and thus limiting extreme weather in the first place – may prove to be the best investment of all. While greenhouse gases already pumped into the atmosphere will take some time to have a further effect on climate change, we can still minimize the impact if we invest in mitigation efforts now, which is the focus of all Sustainable Waterloo Region’s current programs. One example is ClimateActionWR – a partnership between SWR, REEP Green Solutions and the Region of Waterloo. By working with our area municipalities, local utilities and dozens of community stakeholders and interested residents, we’re creating a Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region which municipal staff will be bringing to their Councils this fall. After first collecting an inventory of current emissions (in 2010, this was 3.6M tonnes), we have moved onto action planning (scoping out committed projects, like Rapid Transit, and other opportunities to make local reductions next 10 years), and finally setting a reduction target and proposing an ongoing collaborative structure that will catalyze the implementation of more projects over time. Interestingly, the entire cost of creating this plan over the past two and a half years was a smaller investment than the cost of cleaning up just the first of our two July storms.    Similarly, our flagship program – the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) – is also focused on climate change mitigation. Through the RCI, dozens of organizations, representing over 13% of Waterloo Region’s workforce, are setting targets to reduce their carbon impact. By doing so, these organizations are acting in their financial best interest, while with 45,000 tonnes committed to be reduced to-date (and growing), the RCI increasingly represents a significant means of locally reducing our community’s contribution to a changing climate. In addition to these mitigation efforts, simultaneous attention must be focused on adapting to our changing climate. The RAIN program promoting ecological stormwater management – delivered locally by REEP – is one example. This program motivates homeowners to take action on reducing increased lake and river pollution resulting from conventional approaches to urban landscaping and stormwater management, which is exacerbated by heavy rain events. Many more adaptation activities are needed in Waterloo Region – various ideas have already been written about in The Record (here and here). In New York for example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the city is investing $19.5 billion in various adaptation measures – including the expansion of protective dune systems and the development of barrier systems and sea walls to protect specific neighbourhoods –  all justified based on this being a fraction of the storm’s $50 billion cleanup cost. For our part, the Sustainable Waterloo Region team is starting conversations to investigate ways in which we could contribute leadership to local adaptation-focused work. If you have suggestions, send me an email anytime. So, as we continue to navigate a complex ‘new normal’, what is there to do? I suggest a heightened focus across Waterloo Region on both reducing the impacts of climate change, alongside critical efforts to adapt to climate change. Either way, it’ll be a far better investment than paying to clean up the mess after the next storm. -Mike