Adaptation: Challenges and Opportunities

While actions to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions are critical, communities also need to prepare for unavoidable climate change and its impacts. This is referred to as “adaptation”.

Bella Coola river courtesy M.Wigle/picturebc.caScientists have warned that further climate change is inevitable. We may slow the rate of change and limit the extent of change, by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The excess greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, however, mean that the climate will continue to change for the next few decades no matter how successful our efforts.

In general, British Columbia can expect more long-term warming, more extreme weather events, changes to precipitation patterns (wetter or drier) and rising sea levels.
 
Recent events demonstrate the risks that changes in climate and extreme weather events pose to communities in British Columbia:

  • The mountain pine beetle infestation, triggered by warmer winters, has affected more than 14.5 million hectares of forest in B.C. with profound social and economic effects. Climate projections indicate winters will continue to warm.
  • The seasonal droughts of 2003 and 2009 demonstrated the vulnerability of community and agricultural water supplies. Projections indicate B.C. can expect more droughts and a reduction in summer water supplies.
  • During 2003 and 2009 B.C. experienced dangerous and expensive wildfire seasons. Projections point to longer and more intense wildfire seasons.
  • Extreme precipitation events in recent years have caused flooding, landslides and damage to infrastructure. Such events will likely become more frequent and more intense.

While actions to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to these risks are critical, communities also need to prepare for unavoidable climate change and its impacts. This is referred to as “adaptation”.

Adaptation can take the form of changes in policy, management, technology and behaviour that minimize negative impacts or exploit opportunities.  It can involve both “hard” and “soft” solutions, including: changes in engineering, planning, zoning, bylaws, and public education.

Adaptation also means considering potential climate change impacts in the decisions that local elected officials and others are already making on behalf of their communities. While it will be possible to adjust incrementally to climate change, in many cases there will be important social, economic and ecological benefits to planning ahead.

Some B.C. communities are already preparing for climate change impacts:  

  • Richmond has developed new dyke standards that consider sea level rise projections and the need to protect buildings and infrastructure and maintain coastal wetlands Read more...
  • Prince George is dealing with the effects of the pine beetle infestation including a program to remove dead trees in parks to prevent tree fall hazards.
  • Langley is testing the effectiveness of engineered wetlands for surface drainage and water retention to deal with more frequent extreme rainfall events.
  • Penticton has introduced a fire smart manual to encourage property owners to reduce the risks of interface fires.
  • Elkford has completed a climate change assessment to identify climate related risks and priorities for action and addressed these priorities in its Official Community Plan. Read more...

Climate change will affect different communities in different ways. For example, coastal communities have experienced moderate changes in climate change, but have to cope with sea level rise. Northern communities are facing rapid warming and already noticeable impacts. Interior communities are facing decreasing summer water supplies as glaciers and snowpacks recede.  These trends will almost certainly continue.   

Even within the same region, some communities will be more resilient than others as a result of different location, terrain, land use patterns, social networks, infrastructure and planning capacity.

In addition, different communities facing similar risks and opportunities will likely make different adaptation choices. Values, vision, tolerance to risk, resources and other factors will also vary from one community to the next.

Communities need to consider the degree to which climate change will affect them, the cost and effectiveness of their options and other institutional, political and financial realities when they select their own adaptation measures.

To date:

  1. The B.C. Government is working with local, regional, provincial and national governments and with the research community to develop information, tools and expertise to help communities identify and prepare for the local and regional impacts of climate change. See http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cas/adaptation/index.html
  2. The Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium provides detailed information about past and future climate change in B.C. and impacts on water and ecosystems. See http://www.pacificclimate.org
  3. The Columbia Basin Trust is helping communities in the Columbia Basin identify their vulnerabilities and develop adaptation plans. See http://www.cbt.org/Initiatives/Climate_Change/?Adapting_to_Climate_Change
  4. The Fraser Basin Council is  managing the BC Regional Adaptation Collaborative (RAC) —21 collaborative projects across the province supporting decision-making on water allocation and use, forest and watershed management, flood protection and floodplain management and community planning. http://www.fraserbasin.bc.ca/programs/bcrac.html

Resources

ReTooling for Climate Change (retooling.ca) is your first stop for finding tools and resources that can help communities adapt to climate change impacts – with a particular focus on the needs of local governments and First Nations in BC. The ReTooling site is funded through the BC Regional Adaptation Collaborative (BC RAC), a partnership program of the Fraser Basin Council and the BC Ministry of Environment – Climate Action Secretariat, with funding from Natural Resources Canada and in-kind contributions.  For more information about the website and related resources, contact The Fraser Basin Council Climate Change Program: T: 604 488-5350 or E: jvanderwal(at)fraserbasin.bc.ca

Climate Change Adaptation for Local Government: A Resource Guide This adaptation guide updates and adds to resources identified on the ReTooling for Climate Change website. The document was produced for participants in the forum Resilient Communities: Preparing for the Climate Challenge, June 14-15, 2011 in Vancouver. The report was co-authored by Jenny Fraser, BC Ministry of Environment, and Matt Strand, who was supported through a Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions grant to Simon Fraser University’s Adapting to Climate Change Team (ACT). Download it here.

Preparing for Climate Change: An Implementation Guide for Local Governments in BC This guide is designed to assist local government elected officials and staff, including planners, engineers, chief administrative officers, financial officers and others, to plan and act in ways that will make their communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. This resource identifies the tools that local governments can use to implement climate change adaptation strategies. Wherever possible, this guide provides concrete examples, drawing on the growing experience of local governments in BC, and also some examples from outside the province. Download here.

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