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Vancouver in the Research Spotlight as One of World’s Most Vulnerable Cities to Rising Sea Levels

An international group of scientists led by a Canadian is launching a study to determine the risk of rising sea levels and what can be done about it. It’s of special interest to Vancouver – the Canadian city identified in the study.

The study was announced at the recent Taipei Cities At Risk (CAR) II conference. The cities represented at the conference demonstrate that rising sea levels are a global concern.  Taipei hosted 50 delegates from coastal cities around the world, including Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Washington DC, Hawaii, China, Taiwan, and Canada.

The study has another Vancouver link – leader Dr. Gordon McBean is also the author of Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather: Making Canada’s Communities More Resilient to the Impacts of Climate Change for Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT).

All cities represented in Taipei were experiencing a major increase in extreme weather and related impacts such as flooding, and all were concerned about sea level rise.

Combined with sinking land caused by the weight of concentrated construction, and intense storm surges driven by the increase in extreme weather, even a small amount of sea level rise has the potential to cause significant ocean encroachment, and the resulting risks and threat of damage is fast becoming a top priority around the world.

According to ACT executive director Deborah Harford, who was a delegate to the conference, the presentations and audience responses painted a picture of cities responding to climate change through adaptive thinking, planning and implementation at an astounding rate.

”It is truly impressive to hear about the extraordinary level of preparedness and pro-active thinking being demonstrated in cities around the world,” says Harford. “From Singapore to Australia, national and local governments are busy investing in resilient infrastructure and programs that can help people adapt.”

Key issues addressed at the conference included aging infrastructure, vulnerable populations, access to resources including finances and data, and health and cultural issues associated with damages and displacement. These conclusions, and the fact that climate change is likely to progress in sudden jumps rather than a gradually increasing curve of change, will inform next steps by the International START (global change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training) Secretariat and the CAR group, including the new International Development Research Centre-funded research initiative led by conference chair Dr. McBean and a group of researchers from Canada twinned with researchers from developing countries.

Along with Vancouver as the city in the developed world, the other cities identified for study are Lagos, Bangkok and Manila as representatives of three developing country cities. ACT will lead the coordination of research into risks for Vancouver.

Research by the Sierra Club from 2006 shows that in the case of 6 metres of sea level rise, which may be a reality by 2300 or earlier depending on tipping points in the system, Lower Mainland municipalities will lose the following percentage of their land mass:
Richmond – 91 %
Delta – 76 %
Pitt Meadows – 76 %
Port Coquitlam – 51 %
New Westminster – 32 %
Surrey – 23 %
Maple Ridge – 22 %
Burnaby – 7 %
Coquitlam – 9 %
Vancouver – 9 %
Langley – 6 %
White Rock – 3 %
North Vancouver – 3 %
Port Moody – 1 %
West Vancouver – 0 %

The project begins in June 2011.

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