How climate change will shape Kingston

As Queen’s and the City tackle action plans, projections look ahead

Image by: Chris Yao
Kingston’s climate will be markedly different by 2050.

In 2050, Kingston moves to Ohio. 

According to City of Kingston projections, the city’s climate levels with Syracuse, New York in the 2020’s and the future takes shape. Heat waves, ice storms and intense rain buffet the city. 

The heat leads to long, hot dry spells and draughts that yield scarce crops and threaten farmer’s livelihoods. The heavy precipitation impacts civil infrastructure; flooding is so common that insurance is hard to come by in the University District. 

Heading into 2050, disease outbreaks become far more common—Lyme Disease in particular spikes as ticks spread the illness. At this point, the City’s climate and surrounding regions most resemble Columbus, Ohio.


Tied to climate change, patterns similar to those mentioned above are likely to be increasingly common. 

The city’s projections are based off the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading climate research body. They project the summers will be hotter and the winters milder. Kingston in 2050 won’t escape global change after all.

“It’s a huge problem and, in many ways, it’s an abstract problem for a lot of people,” City Environmental Director Paul MacLatchy said. “Connecting [their] everyday lives to the problem of climate change can be difficult.”

When City Council passed a motion to declare a climate emergency last week, it was them “really putt[ing] their stake in the ground,” MacLatchy added.

The motion at Council called on the City to “officially declare a climate emergency for the purposes of naming, framing, and deepening our commitment to protecting our economy, our eco-systems, and our community from climate change.”

According to similar data, neighboring cities are also set to change. 

The science journal Nature recently published a climate visualization tool which matches North American cities’ future climates to present-day examples, as reported by The Varsity. In 2080, Toronto will feel like Secaucus, New Jersey, with its warmer and wetter climates reflecting similar transitions in Ottawa and Montreal.

For MacLatchy, it’s early. The City’s declaration has made climate and sustainability a priority going forward, and the effect will likely seep into other municipal programs.  Meanwhile, he said, “fatalism” will need to be addressed as the City sets its sights on a more sustainable future.

“We’re a lake city and a lot of tourism and quality of life is very much linked to the lake and the water,” he said. “If climate change threatens that, it threatens our quality [of] life.”

There have been bright spots. A study of 63 municipalities released in academic journal Climatic Change last year found Kingston’s Climate Action Plan the best of its kind in Canada. Researchers from the Universities of Guelph and Waterloo found most cities failed to assess the specific impact of climate change. 

Only seven cities identified neighborhoods that would be particularly vulnerable, and twelve noted key industries that were endangered. 

From the 2011 baseline, the Kingston Climate Action Plan aims to reduce emissions by 15 per cent by 2020, then down to 30 per cent by 2030. There’s another reason to be optimistic: according to a 2016 City report, there was a 12 per cent reduction from 2011 to 2015, helped along by phasing coal out as an electricity fuel source, which lowered emissions.

Along with the City’s other efforts, this reduction can also partly be attributed to increased ridership on public transportation following recent transit investments and the introduction of express routes. 

At Queen’s, the University’s climate action plan aims to reduce its greenhouse gas levels by 35 per cent from 2008 levels in 2020, and down by 70 per cent in 2030. In February, the school also joined the University Climate Change Coalition, a group of 19 post-secondary institutions aiming to spark local and regional action.

However, the Administration has refused to divest fossil fuels, drawing protests from student groups like Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC).

These are encouraging steps. But, going forward “the number one challenge is always going to be resources,” MacLatchy said. 

As climate change escalates, MacLatchy said species in Kingston near the southern end of their habitat might be pushed north, with other species possibly moving into the area. Meanwhile, the Kingston Climate Action Plan reports increased winds and ice are a risk for the downtown core’s silver maples. 

As precipitation rises, MacLatchy said homeowners would need to flood proof their homes, but getting insurance will be “more and more difficult, if not impossible.” Flooding would stress the city’s infrastructure, damaging ditches and roads as Kingston adapts to new conditions.

Currently, Kingston experiences four days of intense heat over 30 degrees Celsius, typically during the peak of summer. By 2050, that’s expected to rise to 30 days. 

“Things really do change,” MacLatchy said, explaining it could be too hot to work outside. These conditions could also pose a risk for vulnerable people with no space to cool down. 

Then there are additional social effects. “Climate change is going to displace a lot of people,” he said. 

In the wake of climate change, Canada will see more newcomers being pushed from their homes and looking to take refuge.

Indeed, as Kingston’s lawns become drier with each summer’s intensifying heat waves, changing conditions raise other questions. 

“We really want to figure out about urban heat waves and ice storms, but what about the food supply?” Professor Marcus Taylor of the Global Development department told The Journal. While his research focuses on India, he’s directed “cursory and tentative” work to understand how Southeastern Ontario will face a changing climate, particularly in its agriculture. 

Extreme heat often means a rise in draught conditions. This past summer, Kingston saw a mild level draught leading to a burn ban and increased risk of wildfires in the region. This pales in comparison to 2016’s draught—the driest since 1888 and the second driest since the first records 140 years ago. That summer baked farmer’s fields.

As the heat sets in, the region’s crops are at stake. Sparse yields and dried-out soil could pose a major threat as Kingston and its surrounding areas dry up in coming summers.

“We saw a specific drought over the summer period that sent the price of grain soaring. People were getting in bidding wars. People were driving to Quebec to get hay,” Taylor said. 

Primarily, he points to the region’s dairy farming as a sector that will face a challenging future.

“It put a lot of farms in financial trouble: if you have so many cattle or in some cases horses, and other livestock, and suddenly you need to bid double, triple or even more for hay,” he said.  “And then some people are trying to sell animals. If you can’t feed them, sell them and then the price of animals goes down.” For Taylor, this might entail transforming what the region grows and which animals it raises. 

On the broader public level, there would also need to be shifts in transportation, energy, and infrastructure. Students can personally have an impact simply by cutting down on meat and dairy and avoiding high-emission activities, like air travel. Taylor added even switching from beef to chicken can have a positive effect.

Due to climate change, Kingston’s changing conditions will include more than rising temperatures—the economic and public health of the region will also be affected.  According to projections, Kingstonians and Queen’s students may see the earliest effects of climate change in the weather, worsening road conditions and sounding off heat warnings.

They’re signs of things to come. 

“People need to take it a little more seriously and start planning,” Taylor said.

—With files from Hannah Stafl 

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