Climate Change: Charting a Water Course in an Uncertain Future

The planet is warming, and many scientists agree that the rise in temperature is human-made. However, science has not developed a model to predict the effects of increasing temperatures. Still, water utilities can and must plan for the uncertainties of climate change and its effects on water supplies and operations. The findings of a comprehensive case study, conducted by the East Bay Municipal Utility District in California on strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate changes, are presented in this article. Water utilities must include climate change in water supply availability and resource planning and can use this case study as a framework. The information presented in this article is applicable to long-term water supply planning and can assist with decision-making.

Analysis of Climate Adaptation Strategies for Southeast US Coastal Cities

The realities of climate change are no longer future predictions to address in years to come. Impacts to Southeast coastal communities from rising sea levels, strange weather, and stronger storms caused by a warming planet are occurring today. Trends in scientific measurements clearly indicate that temperatures are rising, sea ice is melting, and storm intensity is increasing. The Southeast coastline is particularly vulnerable to these changes and local communities are the first to feel the impacts and address the needs. Yet many conversations about adaptation to climate change impacts are only occurring at high levels of government concerning international issues. Local decision-makers in the Southeast U.S. need tools to identify strategies that will provide adequate protection to their citizens as well as to manage environmental quality and prepare for any uncertainties.

This Master’s project identifies primary and secondary climate change impacts to coastal areas of the Southeast U.S. A preliminary analysis was conducted to identify the societal implications incurred from impacts and the specific sector of society to which those impacts correspond. A resiliency criterion analysis was then created to qualitatively examine climate adaptation response strategies through three core evaluation mechanisms: adequate adaptive capacity, environmental sustainability, and the win-win nature of measures. To test the usefulness of the resiliency criteria, sea level rise response strategies were analyzed. Methods for this project included an extensive literature review of scientific findings as well as in-depth interviews with nine professional experts in the fields of government, academia, and coastal environmental nonprofit organizations.

The results of the criteria analysis indicate that measures receiving a “very high” ranking thoroughly meet the resiliency goals of maximizing human safety, community protection, environmental sustainability, and flexibility. Measures ranking “low” or “very low” fail the resiliency criteria in two or more categories and likely contribute to environmental degradation. Reviewing adaptation strategies for resiliency is an effective determination of strategic response initiatives. Creating communities resilient to climate  change will require local officials to utilize tools such as this to choose optimal adaptation strategies.

Adaptation Planning – What U.S. States and Localities are Doing

The scientific community has reached a strong consensus that the climate is changing. Current projections show further global temperature increases from 2.5ºF to 10.4ºF by 2100, while warming in the United States is expected to be even higher. This warming will have significant consequences for the United States, causing sea-level rise that will gradually inundate coastal areas and increase both beach erosion and flooding from coastal storms, changes in precipitation patterns, increased risk of droughts and floods, stronger hurricanes, threats to biodiversity, and a number of potential challenges for public health. Early impacts of climate change are already appearing. Several U.S. legislative committees are analyzing proposed federal greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction policies, and dozens of states are taking action to reduce GHG emissions. While these actions are vital to reducing the impacts of future climate change, we are already committed to further warming for decades to come. As a result, strategies to adapt to the impacts of climate change will be necessary as a parallel strategy to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions..While governments act to mitigate future climate change, they must also plan and act to address the impacts. This preparation includes risk assessments, prioritization of projects, funding and allocation of both financial and human resources, solution development and implementation, and rapid deployment of information sharing and decision support tools. Corresponding to the size of the challenge, impacts span entire communities and regions. As such, adaptation is dependent on numerous stakeholders from federal, state and local government, science and academia, the private sector, and community residents to develop solutions to complex problems for which prior solutions may not exist. Adaptation will require creativity, compromise, and collaboration across agencies, sectors and traditional geographic boundaries.This paper focuses on adaptation plans and actions in progress by state and local governments. Many of these efforts are in their earliest stages. Some states are including adaptation within the scope of their state Climate Action Plans addressing GHG emissions. A few others have recognized the need for separate and comprehensive adaptation commissions to parallel their mitigation efforts. Many are simply responding to climate impacts as they occur, without necessarily attributing the impact to climate change. Regardless of the basis for the adaptive response, states have much they can learn from each other, and from localities where adaptation is already occurring. While comprehensive and proactive adaptation planning is still in the early stages, as states complete their GHG mitigation plans, adaptation planning is gaining greater attention and resources from states and localities.

Climate Change and the Planning Process in Graham Island

Graham Island is the most northern of the Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as Haida Gwaii, located approximately 100 kilometres off British Columbia’s North Pacific coast. The study area — the northeast area of Graham Island — is highly sensitive to future sea-level rise. It naturally experiences extreme environmental conditions, including tidal ranges approaching seven metres, intense wave action, storm surges, and strong winds, typically above gale force. The people of northeast Graham Island are no strangers to the powerful elements of nature and have shown resilience in the face of these natural hazards, which also include strong earthquakes.

Two communities on northeast Graham Island — Masset and Old Masset Haida Nation Reserve — are low-lying and vulnerable to flooding. An evacuation route for these communities was closed for six months due to inundation and washouts. Further south near the community of Tlell, many property owners have lost land to erosion. The main highway that connects the northern communities to Queen Charlotte City, the ferries, and the Sandspit Airport, is continuously threatened in this area by erosion and flooding.

The study took a local perspective and used an integrated approach to assess human and biophysical vulnerability to climate change. This involved a local focus group to guide the research, in depth interviews with key community members (e.g., emergency and municipal planners, Haida elders, business owners and local residents), a community workshop, and several community research forums. The study examined community resilience and adaptive capacity, as well as environmental sensitivity to climate change, and combined these findings to assess ways to build on existing and potential adaptive capacities at the community and household scale. 

Coastal vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise, Northeast Graham Island, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), British Columbia

This report documents the approach, methods, and key findings of CCIAP1 Project A580: Coastal vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise, Northeast Graham Island, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, QCI), British Columbia. This 3-year study was funded by Natural Resources Canada’s Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations Directorate (CCIAD) with additional contributions from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). In-kind support was also provided by BC Parks, GSC, Council of the Haida Nation (CHN), CHN-Forest Guardians, Old Massett Village Council, and the University of Victoria.

The document contains several sub-sections that present: 1) the research context, objectives and approach, 2) research results on climate change signals and impacts, 3) community-defined impacts and elements of adaptive capacity, 4) key vulnerabilities to climate change related risks, and 5) potential adaptation measures and strategies.

Climate Change and the Planning Process in New Brunswick

Storm-surge flooding and coastal erosion affect many low-lying areas of Canada’s coastlines. The coasts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (PEI) and New Brunswick in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence are among Canada’s most vulnerable to sea-level rise. The 190 km Northumberland Strait, varying from 14 to 64 km in width, separates Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In 2000, two powerful and destructive storms ravaged coastal communities along the strait, as well as the southern Gulf. These, and several major storms that followed in short succession from 2001 to 2004, demonstrated existing vulnerability and highlighted the need for adaptation strategies to deal with climate change and accelerated sea-level rise.

“Impacts of Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change on the Coastal Zone of Southeastern New Brunswick” was a three-year study undertaken by scientists and researchers from over a dozen government and academic groups. The project was carried out in consultation with municipalities and planning commissions, community economic organizations and stewardship groups from Kouchibouguac National Park to Cape Jourimain (the entire Gulf coast of New Brunswick south of the Miramichi).

Climate Change and the Planning Process in Salluit

Salluit is located in Nunavik, Québec’s most northern region. This community of approximately 1,100 people sits in a narrow, steeply-sloped valley with homes, infrastructure and community buildings built on permafrost. The population is projected to increase, driving a need for more housing, infrastructure, community amenities and more land area to accommodate growth. Yet land available for expansion near the existing village is limited. Much of the permafrost is rich in ice and vulnerable to degradation and failure that accompanies a warming climate. 

Climate models predict that northern regions of the planet will undergo accelerated warming in the 21st century. Canadian communities already know this is happening. Salluit experienced a 2.6°C temperature increase between 1990 and 2003, and has witnessed the problems that such increases can inflict – damaged buildings, roads and embankments, and the relocation of 20 new homes from unstable land.

The study examined permafrost conditions and future patterns of warming and stability, and provided knowledge about permafrost instability to local government in Salluit to support future land-use decisions.

Urban Planning for Climate Change

Scientific opinion is now unanimous that global temperatures are likely to continue to rise with concomitant extreme weather patterns and events. There is a protean body of scientific literature available on global warming and climate change, which is affecting urban living in every respect from ‘heat islands’, continuous light and sea level changes as well as severe droughts and floods paralysing urban areas. Urban planning implications are reflected in buildings, street and community design for more environmentally sustainable cities. The urban science related to climate change and its implications for human settlement is in its early stages. Nonetheless, climate change is already becoming a concern of insurance and actuarial industries as they begin to assess risk to human settlement, construction and other risks associated with atmospheric conditions. These cannot be anticipated and need to be examined with  a new paradigm for urban problem solving which is outlined in this paper.

Climate Change Adaptation Implications for Drought Risk Mitigation: A Perspective for India

There is growing evidence that climate change has implications for drought vulnerable India with studies projecting future possible reductions in monsoon related rainfall in the country. The existing drought risk mitigation and response mechanisms were looked into and gaps were identified by drawing lessons from previous disasters and response mechanisms. In absence of reliable climate predictions at the scales that make them useful for policy level planning, the emphasis was on identifying no-regret adaptation options that would reduce current vulnerabilities while mainstreaming the adaptation in the long run. The most notable climate change implications for the drought vulnerable India are the enhanced preparedness with due emphasis to the community based preparedness planning, reviewing the existing monsoon and drought prediction methodologies, and establishing drought monitoring and early warning systems in association with a matching preparedness at the input level.

Assessing Mitigation-Adaptation Scenarios for Reducing Catastrophic Climate Risk

Countries can use both mitigation and adaptation strategies to protect their citizens from catastrophic risk posed by climate change (e.g., shift in the jet stream). A nation can mitigate by reducing CO2 emissions, which reduces the probability of a catastrophic event; it can adapt by altering the infrastructure so that damages can be reduced in the event a catastrophe is realized. Herein we add to the current literature by extending the endogenous risk framework into a dynamic framework permitting analysis of both mitigation and adaptation while allowing for the dynamic process of global climate change. Our results suggest adaptation to catastrophe is a small fraction of the national climate protection budget relative to mitigation when nations cooperate fully, when damages are both continuous and catastrophic, and when nations have a short planning horizon. Adaptation becomes more important relative to mitigation when nations are unlikely to cooperate, when damages are mainly catastrophic, or when the nation’s planning horizon increases.