A newly-released provincial government policy memo includes frank language about the realities of climate change and how changing weather will affect British Columbians.
“Under any scenario of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, BC will have to adapt to the impacts of climate change in order to mitigate the risks to human health and safety,” reads the November 2014 “information note” prepared for B.C. minister of environment Mary Polak.
“Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped now,” it continues. “In British Columbia, anticipated impacts include sea level rise and ocean acidification, decreasing snow pack, longer and hotter summers and more intense rainfall.”
The document was recently posted online in response to a freedom of information request.
It states the province has already begun to implement adaptation policies such as those included in the 2010 “British Columbia’s Adaption Strategy”. It goes on to recommend further engagement with provincial ministries and public sector organizations, municipal governments, industry and private businesses, and First Nations communities.
It also recommends “raising the profile of adaptation in new provincial climate initiatives”.
The document notes the federal government is on the same page, having provided $4.2 million to B.C. climate-change adaptation programs since 2009.
The Straight previously reported that in 2013 the federal government was also looking at geoengineering as a means of responding to climate change. And in July 2014, the Straight reported the City of Vancouver was reviewing (and later passed) a bylaw change in preparation for rising sea levels and an increased risk of floods due to climate change.
The related report that went to council recommended the city raise flood construction levels in several low-lying areas designated as flood plains. Those include a large section of False Creek, Granville Island, part of Kitsilano Beach, and much of South Vancouver along the Fraser River.
Thomas Pedersen is executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at the University of Victoria. In a telephone interview, he said nothing in the Ministry of Environment memo will come as a surprise to the engineers, city planners, and scientists who are already working on infrastructure designed to manage more volatile weather associated with higher concentrations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.
“It’s an honest recognition that climate change is upon us and that we have to respond to it in the most effective way, particularly within the context of building resilience,” Pedersen said. “There is a very strong understanding that all of us in society need to adapt to the different climate that is upon us.”
He listed a number of specific jurisdictions and adaptation programs underway today. In the Fraser Valley, for example, the province is looking at dike reinforcement. In the Cowichan Valley, cities like Duncan are preparing for sea-level rise and storm-surge flooding. And, Pedersen continued, cities up and down B.C.’s coast are beginning to build further back from the shoreline and plan storm-water infrastructure that can manage more heavy rainfall events.
“I think some things are happening faster than we anticipated,” Pedersen said. “Scientists, by nature, are conservative….The climate change projections that are delivered by computer models, they are almost always on the conservative side.”
Andrew Weaver, Green Party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, applauded the province for a realistic approach to climate change. At the same time, the former member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argued adaptation will be useless without mitigation.
“When you talk about adaptation, you have to know what you’re adapting to,” he explained. “Are you adapting to a climate that has stabilized because we’ve taken international measures to curb emissions? Or are you trying to adapt to an unbounded growth of greenhouse gas emissions? The latter, I would argue, is not possible.”
The release of the provincial government memo on adaptation came the same week that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded a weekly average atmospheric CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, that surpassed 400 parts per million. (The first time the Earth crossed that threshold was only last April.)
According to the NOAA, the atmospheric CO2 concentration before the industrial age was 280 ppm. The International Energy Agency describes 450 ppm as the maximum concentration of CO2 the planet can sustain if a global temperature increase of more two degrees Celsius is to be avoided.
The Ministry of Environment did not make a representative available for an interview. An email supplied by spokesperson David Karn states the province began work on climate change adaptation in the early 2000s.