Should we try to fight rising sea levels — or abandon the coasts?

Screenshot 2014-05-22 12.21.21Cape Cod, Truro, Massachusetts. John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

The world’s sea levels are expected to rise 1 to 3 feet — or more — as the planet heats up in the coming century. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the bigger the rise, but we’ve already locked in at least some sea-level increase no matter what.

So what should the millions of people living in low-lying coastal areas do?

Broadly speaking, there are three ways to deal with sea-level rise. First, large coastal cities like New York or Boston or Tokyo will likely spend billions to erect dikes and other defenses to fend off the rising oceans. Second, some coastal infrastructure will have to be elevated.

But there’s a third option that rarely gets as much attention — retreat. In many areas, it may make more sense for residents and communities to flee inland rather than fight the rising seas.

In a recent paper in Climatic Change, Carolyn Kousky argues that there are inevitably going to be parts of the United States where dikes and artificial defenses against sea-level rise probably shouldn’t be built. Often, the barriers just won’t be worth the cost. In other regions, seawalls might create more problems than they solve — by, for instance, increasing coastal erosion or by destroying crucial wetlands.

For these areas, Kousky argues, “managed retreat” is probably the best option. But coastal communities will need to start planning ahead of time. In some places, that may mean restricting development in high-risk areas or not subsidizing reconstruction after hurricanes and other disasters. But there aren’t any easy policy options here — and in many places, the process could get messy and controversial.

Access the full article here.


What drives national adaptation? A global assessment

Screenshot 2014-05-20 11.05.26


That the climate is changing and societies will have to adapt is now unequivocal, with adaptation becoming a core focus of climate policy. Our understanding of the challenges, needs, and opportunities for climate change adaptation has advanced significantly in recent years yet remains limited. Research has identified and theorized key determinants of adaptive capacity and barriers to adaptation, and more recently begun to track adaptation in practice. Despite this, there is negligible research investigating whether and indeed if adaptive capacity is translating into actual adaptation action. Here we test whether theorized determinants of adaptive capacity are associated with adaptation policy outcomes at the national level for 117 nations. We show that institutional capacity, in particular measures of good governance, are the strongest predictors of national adaptation policy. Adaptation at the national level is limited in countries with poor governance, and in the absence of good governance other presumed determinants of adaptive capacity show limited effect on adaptation. Our results highlight the critical importance of institutional good governance as a prerequisite for national adaptation. Other elements of theorized adaptive capacity are unlikely to be sufficient, effective, or present at the national level where national institutions and governance are poor.

Find the PDF here.



Screenshot 2014-05-20 10.38.26Every year, natural events, such as earthquakes, floods, storms, heatwaves and droughts cause huge humanitarian and economic damage around the world. Although we are now better able to identify and respond to such natural disasters, in many cases lack of knowledge and poor planning, resourcing and deployment of relief systems can create problems for both the local and global community. This report examines the three key aspects of disaster response and the need for engineers to be at the heart of efforts to reduce the impact of these events, from initial humanitarian aid through to building resilience for the future.

This report has been produced in the context of the Institution’s strategic themes of Energy, Environment, Education, Manufacturing and Transport, and its vision of ‘Improving the world through engineering.’

Access the report here.






Adaptation Inspiration Book: 22 great examples of European adaptation! SLR, heat, flooding, drought responses

InspirationAbout this book

The idea of supporting an inspirational book on practical climate adaptation first appeared in 2011 during the preparations for a CIRCLE-2 workshop called ‘From National Adaptation Strategies to Concrete Adaptation Actions’.

Right from the start the challenge was to answer fundamental questions such as ‘what does a practical adaptation example look like?’ and ‘what exactly does it mean to be inspirational?’ Fortunately, and thanks to the vision and knowledge of our partners and in particular of our editors and contributors, an (inspirational) answer was soon to be found: ‘a practical adaptation example has to be something that can be photographed’ and that ‘inspires others to see adaptation as an opportunity rather than a response to a problem’. Well, that is easier said than done. Adaptation remains a complex and often elusive concept. In practice, both in Europe and around the world, it is still dealt with from a strategic perspective rather than an effective one (hence the title of that workshop back in 2011). And for many, adaptation is tangled so tightly with other areas of science, policy and practice that it becomes difficult to understand and clearly define its frontiers. But CIRCLE-2 thrives precisely in this interface were science meets policy.

Our experience shows us that adaptation is the ultimate trans-disciplinarily challenge and one that will only succeed through original, imaginative and inspiring solutions. This is how decision-makers and communities across Europe and the world will be inspired to adapt to a changing climate. Or how they will perceive that there is more to adaptation than a very distant future. This book is designed to inspire science, policy and practice. It is one out of the several CIRCLE-2 contributions to something we aim and expect to see in the coming decades: the branding of adaptation as a positive approach to face climate change. Please enjoy this marvellous set of adaptation examples. We hope that you too, like us, feel inspired by them!

The book is available as a PDF here.


The Future is Local: Progressive Civic Governance Forum May 29th, 2014 in Toronto

The future is local

Progressive Governance Forum

Thursday, May 29th 9:00am – 3:30pm
Victoria College, University of Toronto

Read more and register here.

The Future is Local preliminary program

Highlighted Session:  

Rising to the Climate Challenge – Across the country, local leaders are experiencing the brunt of climate change impacts, through unpredictable weather patterns and damage to infrastructure. And across the country, local leaders are rising to the challenge, through greenhouse gas reduction strategies, recommitments to public transportation, green energy, and more. The crisis of climate change is global, but many of the most impactful actions are possible right where you are.

Featuring Dr Danny Harvey, a lead author of the IPCC’s 4th and 5th assessment reports.




One Simple Idea That Could Revolutionize Wetlands Conservation in New Orleans

The Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge: Resilience Blog

By: Chris Michael and Elena Goodinson

Louisiana state officials estimate that the cost of restoring the wetlands around the Mississippi Delta—which are the primary buffer between New Orleans and the hurricanes that hit the city nearly every summer, and which have been seriously degraded over the past eight or so decades by levee- and dam-building and oil and gas industry activity—will cost around $50 billion. They estimate the process will take at least half a century, over which time—let’s be realistic—the cost could increase drastically. But what’s even less certain than the actual cost of the undertaking is where the money will come from. Creators of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan say they are “reasonably sure” that damages from the BP oil spill, congressional appropriations for levee and restoration programs, and a share of federal offshore oil money will be enough to cover the bill. But with the future of New Orleans and the entirety of southeast Louisiana very seriously at stake, actors in both the public and private sectors are looking for ways to create novel revenue streams that can help fund this monumental task.

Sarah Mack was working as the liaison between the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans and other agencies responsible for the post-Katrina recovery when she came across the idea of using carbon-offset credits as a source of funding. She was trying to initiate a project that would use treated wastewater to nourish a newly planted 10,000-acre cypress wetland, but money allocated from FEMA would not be enough. She began looking at carbon credits—which companies that emit the carbon that fuels global warming can purchase under cap-and-trade programs—and, today, she has positioned herself and her new company, Tierra Resources, at the forefront of a nascent industry that could prove a serious boon to coastal restoration coffers.

Read the full article here.


‘Historic achievement’ as British Columbia replaces its 105-year old Water Act

Ted_van_der_Gulik“The Act provides a new opportunity and framework to collaborate and implement watershed-based solutions,” says Ted van der Gulik, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

On April 29, 2014 the British Columbia Legislature passed the Water Sustainability Act (Bill 18). The Act recognizes the connection between land use actions and the implications for the both the water cycle and watershed sustainability. This means the Act will have widespread impacts on how water and land practitioners conduct their work. 

Completion of the enactment process involves development of regulations and Royal Assent. The Province’s plan is that the Water Sustainability Act will come into force in 2015. In the meantime, the first phase of work will be undertaken this year and will comprise groundwater regulations as well as a number of other tools.

“A decade in the making, the new Water Sustainability Act truly is an historic achievement. Provincial staff merit accolades for their diligence and commitment in developing an Act that moves the province in the right direction,” states Ted van der Gulik, President of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC. Recently retired from government, he observed the roles that government staff had and the approach that was taken.

“Developing and crafting the Act was a difficult and challenging job, as there are many views on water, many of them conflicting. Provincial staff consulted far and wide to ensure a diversity of input. The end result is legislation that has broad-based support.”

“There are many water management issues that need to be resolved and the new Act has established a process that can address many of them. For example, BC is one of the few remaining jurisdictions in North America that have yet to licence groundwater, something that will now be rectified.”

“Also, proclamation in 2015 of the provision that allows for the development of  Water Sustainability Plans will enhance food security by securing water for future development of agricultural lands; ensure critical environmental flows for survival of fish and other aquatic habitat; promote a water balance way-of-thinking; and establish a water reporting system so that water is used beneficially.”

“The Partnership for Water Sustainability is already working with the Province on an array of programs that support implementation of the Water Sustainability Act as well as a water balance way-of-thinking in the local government setting.  Notable examples of collaboration include the Water Sustainability Action Plan, released in 2004, and the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative, launched in 2012.”

“The Partnership is the lead entity for existing web-based tools that will support implementation of future Water Sustainability Plans in populated areas. These include the Water Balance Model andWater Balance Model Express for Landowners for watershed-based rainwater management; and the Water Conservation Calculator for water supply planning. In addition, the Partnership is assisting the Ministry of Agriculture to expand province-wide application of the Agriculture Water Demand Model because it will be useful in the Water Sustainability planning process.”

“BC is at the dawn of an exciting new era in water and watershed management. The Water Sustainability Act provides a fresh opportunity and framework for a uniquely British Columbian ‘top-down / bottom-up’ approach. The provincial government, local governments, stewardship sector and others can formally align efforts and collaborate to implement watershed-based solutions,” concludes Ted van der Gulik.

TO LEARN MORE: For a summary of what is in the Water Sustainability Act, download an Overview of the Legislative Proposal. For much more information, check out the Water Sustainability Act website. 

The Partnership for Water Sustainability is the hub for a “convening for action” network in the local government setting. The Partnership believes that water and watershed sustainability in the local government setting will be achieved by implementing green infrastructure policies and practices. How BC communities get there relies on a change in mind-set and “land ethic”. The mission of the Partnership is to help facilitate that change. 

To learn more, click on ABOUT THE PARTNERSHIP.



Climate Change Class Action Filed By Insurers Against Cities In Chicago Region

A recently filed lawsuit headed by Illinois Farmers Insurance Company against municipalities in Cook County, Illinois, should act as a serious wake up for local governments ignoring their management of climate change.

The lawsuit, Illinois Farmers Insurance Company and Farmers Insurance Exchange v The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago sees the insurer and all of its subsidiaries filling a request for a class action and jury trial against approximately 100 cities, villages and townships in the Cook County region (including the City of Chicago).

The legal action is based on a heavy rainfall event in the region on the 17th and 18th of April 2013. The Plaintiffs state that the Defendants, amongst other things, failed to “adopt and/or implement policies which would maximize the stormwater storage capacity of its stormwater sewers and sanitary water sewers so as to prevent injury to Members of the Plaintiff’ Class” (p.21).

Interestingly the legal action specifically mentions climate change:

…defendant knew or should have known that climate change in Cook County has resulted in greater rain fall volume, greater rainfall intensity and greater rainfall duration than pre1970 rainfall history evidenced, resulting in greater stormwater runoff from a rainfall with Cook County and its Watersheds. (p.20)

This legal action is a very interesting case and is at the very heart of the local government / insurance nexus. Climate Planning will be following and reporting on this case it as it unfolds.  Please click here or to download the action or here for the original article.


Lloyd’s calls on insurers to take into account climate-change risk

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A home damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2013 in the Staten Island borough of New York City. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest and biggest insurance market, has for the first time called on insurers to incorporate climate change into their models.

The call to action comes a day after a landmark US report, named the National Climate Assessment, which has warned that climate change is wreaking havoc across the US.

Lloyd’s says damage and weather-related losses around the world have increased from an annual average of $50bn in the 1980s to close to $200bn over the last 10 years.


Read the full article here.


Post-Sandy, Designers Are Forced to Imagine Asking People to Move

Screenshot 2014-04-28 10.17.29The numerous re-planning efforts after Hurricane Sandy have produced enticing renderings of designer dunes and fish-filled inland bays. Yet there’s been little serious discussion of what happens when rising seas put many of those happy places underwater — until now.

Among the ten ambitious proposals unveiled earlier this month by Rebuild by Design, the high-speed, invited competition sponsored by a presidential task force, two teams tiptoed into the fraught territory of what’s called Managed Retreat. They imagined how to entice people to seek safer refuge from their beloved shore.

Read the full article here.


Invitation: “Green Growth” experts debate, April 29th, uOttawa, hosted by Paulk Kennedy of CBC Ideas

Sustainable Prosperity and University of Ottawa are hosting a live debate on Green Growth: Can Profits help the Planet.

The debate will feature four of North America’s top experts on this vital issue.  It will take place Tuesday April 29th, 3:30pm at uOttawa.  An edited version (with audience questions) will be broadcast at a later date on CBC Radio’s Ideas.  

To register to attend, or for more information, see below.

Can we reconcile a growing economy with a finite planet? Can we shift to ‘green growth’ for a healthier environment and economy? If so, how?

CBC Radio’s Paul Kennedy, host of Ideas, moderates a debate at the University of Ottawa, on one of the most critical questions of our time.  The participants are four of the continents leading experts on this issue:

  • Nancy Olewiler.  Economics Professor and Director of the Public Policy School at Simon Fraser University; author of widely-read books on environmental and resource economics;  ACT Board member and Co-Founder.
  • Avrim Lazar.  Former CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada; led the industry’s major shift towards sustainability.
  • Joshua Farley.  Economics Professor, University of Vermont; author ofEcological Economics, Principles and Applications (with Herman Daly)
  • Stewart Elgie.  Professor of Law & Economics and Director of the Environment institute, University of Ottawa;  Chair of Sustainable Prosperity.

Date: Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 at 3:30 pm.

Location:  Faculty of Social Sciences, Room 4007, University of Ottawa, 120 University Private.

Space is limited, registration is required.


To register for the event, or for more information, please go to www.sustainableprosperity.caThe debate will be only in English.

CBC News: Extreme weather is the new normal


CBC reports that climate specialists are calling for a national strategy to help Canadians prepare for extreme weather.

View the short video here.

The CBC report includes interviews with Bob Sandford, ACT Water Governance author and senior water policy adviser, and Dr. Gordon McBean, Chair of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Co-Principal Investigator of the Coastal Cities at Risk Project and ACT Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather report author.


Big Ideas for Sustainable Prosperity Conference – April 28 & 29 – Join us over webcast!

Research Conference - April 28 & 29, 2014

Conference Webcast

The Sustainable Prosperity research-policy network is bringing together some of the world’s pre-eminent environment & economy thinkers for a two day research conference to share knowledge and think big about Policy Innovation for Greening Growth.

Join us online Monday, April 28 & Tuesday April 29 for fascinating panels, inspiring keynotes & powerful conversation.

Keynotes & Speakers

Marianne Fay, World Bank, Chief Economist, Sustainable Development & Climate Change

Jeremy Oppenheim, McKinsey, and Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

Geoffrey Heal, Columbia, and Earth Institute

Kathryn Harrison, UBC

James Meadowcroft, Carleton (CRC)

Matthew Kahn, UCLA

Vic Adamowicz, Alberta

Richard Lipsey, SFU

Anne Dale, Royal Roads (CRC)

Peter Nicholson, Council of Can. Academies

Ed Barbier, Wyoming, and author of New Blueprint for a Green Economy


Visit our conference website  for the full schedule and list of speakers.

Or join the conversation online by following #SPBigIdeas





Join DSF and David Suzuki for a movie night at the Rio!

FREE tickets for SFU staff &  students. RSVP to Ryan Kadowaki at rkadowaki@davidsuzuki.org and he will put you on the guest list. The event information is below.


Join the David Suzuki Foundation for the Vancouver premiere of Climate Change in Atlantic Canada on April 24. The evening will include a screening of the documentary followed by Q&A and a panel discussion with David Suzuki and filmmaker Ian Mauro. Dialogue will focus on issues facing communities and the leadership required to navigate our collective future.


Rio Theatre
1660 East Broadway
Vancouver, B.C.


April 24, 7 to 9 p.m.
Doors: 6:30 p.m.

About the film

Across Atlantic Canada, coastlines and communities are being adversely affected by climate change, and as temperatures, sea levels and storm surges increase, mitigation and adaptation initiatives are being planned and implemented to navigate the impending storm. Ian Mauro and his multi-media research team used video to document this remarkable story of climate change in Atlantic Canada and conducted over 100 semi-structured interviews with stakeholders across the region, including researchers, local and traditional knowledge holders, government officials and industry.

Using cutting-edge multi-media research techniques, the objective of this project is to assess and present the challenges and opportunities facing Atlantic Canadians, as their environment, cities and municipalities, and mechanisms for societal governance experience often immense and immediate climatic changes. The results of the project suggest four main thematic case studies – focused on climate, communities, mitigation and adaptation – leading to this documentary and multi-media website to showcase the results. Given the high-impact nature of digital media, this project seeks to increase awareness and educational opportunities for Canadians about the real-world experiences and responses of coastal communities, which are on the front lines of climate change.


A Risk Analyst Explains Why Climate Change Risk Misperception Doesn’t Necessarily Matter

Screenshot 2014-04-21 16.34.36Climate change doesn’t feel “It can happen to ME” personal. It doesn’t feel immediate/imminent. It doesn’t feel…well…real. It’s more of an idea, a concept, an abstraction. Who “thinks globally” about climate? We wake up in the local here-and-now and check today’s weather.

These influential components of risk perception psychology, of our Inconvenient Mind, identify opportunities to frame climate change in ways that are emotionally resonant to the audiences that climate communicators are trying to influence.

Read the full article here.


California Suffers Astonishingly Fast Snowpack Melt as Drought Intensifies

Screenshot 2014-04-21 16.26.57While the drought conditions in California and Texas were likely initially triggered by natural variability, such as ocean temperature patterns in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, studies show that manmade global warming can intensify such conditions by raising temperatures and increasing evaporation. In addition, a new study found that manmade global warming likely intensified the weather pattern that has kept California so dry since 2013.

Read the full article here.

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