Climate Change Adaptation in BC: Helping Local Governments and Stakeholders Stay Afloat as the Tide Rises




“Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT)” at Simon Fraser University

The Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University is the only university-based think tank initiative in North America dedicated to climate change adaptation. Working in conjunction with leading experts, ACT studies the problems posed as well as potential solutions, and identifies policy opportunities while developing adaptation resources.

ACT is a policy planning initiative that is designed to develop timely options for sustainable adaptation to climate change impacts. ACT brings leading experts from around the world together with industry, community, and government decision-makers to explore the risks posed by top-of-mind climate change issues and identify opportunities for sustainable adaptation,” states Deborah Harford, ACT Executive Director.

“ACT studies nine top-of-mind climate change areas: Biodiversity, Extreme Weather, Energy, Water Security, Crops & Food Supply, Sea Level Rise, Health Risks, Population Displacement, and New Technologies. ACT’s findings have stimulated new policymaking and research as well as widespread public interest “


About Deborah Harford

Deborah Harford is responsible for development of the initiative’s pioneering vision and its unique partnerships with the public and private sectors, as well as overall coordination and management of the program. Through her efforts, ACT has created networks between local, national and international climate change research practitioners, NGOs, industry representatives, all levels of government, First Nations groups and local communities; and high-profile public events.

Deborah Harford’s work with ACT has gained her national recognition as a resource for those seeking information on climate change adaptation and practical coping strategies.


Climate Change Knows No Political Boundaries

“Climate change will radically affect the ecosystems we rely on, and knows no political boundaries, requiring local governments to think collaboratively about shared watersheds and coastlines, and stretching already overloaded human and financial resources,” states Deborah Harford.


Sea Level Rise in Metro Vancouver Region

“ACT works with stakeholders across the board to understand the whole spectrum of needs and values, identify knowledge and resource gaps, develop practical responses, and propose opportunities for strategic adaptation approaches.”

“For instance, ACT is working with West Coast Environmental Law to help Metro Vancouver’s coastal municipalities understand and develop responses to issues associated with sea level rise, plus many local organizations on changing floodplains and social and economic vulnerability.”

“In November, ACT and West Coast co-hosted a workshop for local governments. This provided an opportunity for them to share information on adaptation initiatives that they have underway in the Metro Vancouver region. We asked them to reflect on climate change adaptation in the larger context of the region, and where they see linkages and opportunities for collaboration,” explains Deborah Carlson, Staff Counsel with West Coast Environmental Law.

“Climate change impacts require us to think about connections between physical hazards, economic resilience, health risks, environmental goods and services, food security and freshwater challenges on a local, regional, national and global scale,” continues Deborah Harford.



To Learn More:

To read a series of articles published in the Vancouver Sun in December 2012 (i.e. shortly after the Climate Adaptation Workshop was held), click on the links below

West Coast contemplates the calm before the storm: Infrastructure alterations needed as global warming makes mark on planet

Coastal communities plan for rising sea levels: Municipalities are planning ahead, slowly building up surrounding lands, dikes

Water damage claims surpass fire claims: Climate change and its effect on the oceans and storm systems seen as the culprits

Prce tage for rising seas could hit $9.5 billion: False Creek, Steveston need protection, report on Metro warns

“The level of insured losses is going up so rapidly from flooding that the insurance industry has gone from thinking of itself as a fire mitigation agency to a flood mitigation agency,” observes Deborah Harford. “Half of every dollar that the insurance industry spends in Canada right now is on basement inundation. Heavy precipation is causing those damages.”


Relevance to BC’s Water Act Modernization

“Development of effective policy responses and resources for everyone—from decision-makers, urban and social planners, engineers, and developers to health professionals, emergency responders, the public and the business community—is therefore essential if we are to meet these challenges in ways that sustain us and future generations.”

“For instance, BC’s Water Act is 100 years old. We desperately need it to be updated to address the impacts we will face in the next few years.”

“ACT will further develop our resources regarding water management in our upcoming fifth report: Climate Change Adaptation and Crops & Food Supply – which will be available in May 2013,” concludes Deborah Harford.



Emerging Collaboration with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia

“The joint initiative by ACT and West Coast Environmental Law in Metro Vancouver has opened the door to 3-way collaboration with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. We were pleased to participate in their November 2012 workshop on Climate Change Adaptation. As I listened to the discussion, it struck me that there were parallels with the consultation workshop that the Green Infrastructure Partnership organized and the City of Surrey hosted in May 2005,” comments Kim Stephens, Partnership Executive Director.

“The 2005 workshop was a defining moment in our ‘convening for action’ history, and Susan Rutherford of West Coast was one of the key players that day in May. The 2005 workshop created an opportunity to bring together local government champions. It became an event and a springboard to action in the Metro Vancouver region and on Vancouver Island. The ripple effects of that day are still being felt. It leads me to wonder whether lightning might strike twice.”

Under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan for BC, the Partnership is the “implementation arm” for the Province’s Living Water Smart and Green Communities initiatives. “Numerous groups and organizations implicitly share a vision for integrated water management. Partnerships hold the key to building broad-based support for integrating water management with land use,” states Kim Stephens.


Planning for Resilience

“My first contact with Deborah Harford was in March 2010 when we were both panelists at the Planning for Resilience Symposium organized by UBC School of Community and Regional Planning,” continues Kim Stephens. “Buzz Holling was the keynote speaker. In my mind, he is a living legend because he and Carl Walters pretty well invented the science of Adaptive Management some 40 years ago when they were both at UBC. Later, Buzz moved to Florida where he was a driving force behind the Everglades restoration. Buzz Holling has had a major influence on my thinking”

Resilience, initially rooted in ecology, is defined by Buzz Holling as the “measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables”.


To Learn More:

Click on Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Collaborate and ‘Design with Nature’ to Adapt to Climate Change.


Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk

“We have been at this for quite awhile,” emphasizes Kim Stephens. “In November 2007, for example, the Fraser Basin Council hosted a workshop in Vancouver on adaptive decision-making, water management and climate change.  The workshop featured a panel session comprising four speakers representing diverse fields of thought. I provided a water resource practitioner’s perspective.”

“In my presentation, I made the point that we have a culture of expecting one answer; and this ignores uncertainty. Engineering standards are the epitome of the singular answer mindset.  One of my key messages was that the future will always be different than expected…because there are so many decision points along the way that influence the outcome.”

“When it comes to dealing with uncertainty and managing risk, there is no silver bullet. We need to do a whole bunch of little things because the flip side of a problem is an opportunity; hence, the flip side of a cumulative impact is a cumulative benefit. Over time the benefits accumulate,” concludes Kim Stephens.


To Learn More:

Click on Dealing with Uncertainty and Managing Risk: How we can adapt Water Management Systems to download a copy of the presentation by Kim Stephens.