Adapting to Climate Risk in Coastal Communities
Coastal communities in Canada are expected to experience additional threats from climate change that inland communities will not, including coastal erosion and water inundation from sea level rise, more severe and frequent coastal storms, and storm surges. In some parts of coastal British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, land subsidence will intensify sea level rise. Arctic coastal communities face another unique risk – melting permafrost. Similar to other parts of the country, increases in annual mean temperatures and precipitation are also predicted for coastal regions in the coming decades. These changes are expected to enhance threats to buildings and other infrastructure, human health and safety, and important community resources like water, fisheries and agriculture.
As part of her ongoing research, Faculty of Environmental Studies masters candidate, Susan Chalmers, is investigating what adaptation strategies that three Canadian coastal communities are implementing to address their particular impacts from climate change and which frameworks and tools they may be utilizing to assist them in adaptation planning. Her research on Saanich, BC, Iqaluit, Nunavut and Halifax, Nova Scotia will be featured in a follow up blog next month.
As the first in a series of blogs Susan will be introducing introducing a variety of coastal adaptation strategies that scholars and practitioners often recommend to address coastal risks. “Soft” strategies (e.g. beach nourishment, wetland habitat restoration and shoreline stabilization using vegetation) and “hard” structures (e.g. seawalls, dykes and storm surge barriers) could be used to protect towns from flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges. The former approaches are most effective in low to medium energy environments in sheltered coastal areas (e.g. lagoons and estuaries) or in conjunction with hard defensive structures, while coastal armouring structures are valuable in high energy coastal environments. A second form of coastal adaptation is retreat or withdrawal. Vertical or lateral coastal setbacks are a common form of retreat. They restrict new development within specific distances of the sea, and thus provide a buffer against erosion, sea level rise and storms. Managed realignment may also be used, in which case defences are moved further inland or property is relocated. Finally, hazard mapping, warning systems, wet and dry flood proofing, and floating agriculture may be instituted to minimize flood risks to property, human life and crops.
Similar to inland communities, coastal towns also need to implement more universal adaptive measures to reduce impacts on infrastructure, human health and natural resources and increase their resiliency. For instance, building codes and engineering design standards could be strengthened for infrastructure to limit threats from extreme weather events and climate variability. To address human health concerns, communities may wish to increase surveillance of climate-related diseases; institute more vector control and vaccination programs; develop emergency response plans, heat alerts and early warning systems; increase public education on climate related health risks; and plant additional vegetation to cool urban temperatures.
To protect water quality and supplies, municipalities could identify alternative water sources, adopt conservation strategies, store extra water from the wet season, and improve the safety of water treatment facilities. Finally, to enhance marine and freshwater fisheries productivity, local governments could preserve and restore important natural habitats, adjust harvest rates to provide conservation buffers, adopt ecosystem-based management or expand aquaculture farms.
In order to understand their climate risks and vulnerabilities as well determine appropriate adaptation measures, communities may utilize a variety of planning frameworks. Reputable risk assessment frameworks such as those developed by the UK Climate Impacts Program (UKCIP) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) may be referenced by coastal communities. Alternatively, they may follow ICLEI Canada’s Five Milestone Adaptation Process or institute Integrated Coastal Zone Management to address climate change along with other coastal issues, to name just a few. Generally, these planning frameworks recommend the following steps: 1) define the problem and objectives; 2) create a climate change adaptation team; 3) engage stakeholders throughout the planning process; 4) identify anticipated climate impacts based on future projections; 5) perform vulnerability and risk assessments; 6) develop and appraise adaptation actions; 7) implement adaptation actions; and 8 ) measure progress, evaluate the effectiveness of actions and update the plan as needed.
About Susan Chalmers: Susan is originally from Vancouver. She completed her BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies from the University of Victoria in 2008 and is pursuing her master’s degree at York. Her research interests relate to climate change policy-making and climate justice generally.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 at 10:42 am and is filed under Guest Blog, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.
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