A landmark U.S. study on climate change says rising seas, floods and erosion pose major threats to the northwest part of the country.
Those findings are consistent with previous reports, including those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, a regional agency based at the University of Victoria.
But the high profile of the newly released National Climate Assessment – the backdrop to U.S. President Barack Obama’s renewed focus on climate change – makes it of more than passing interest to B.C. officials.
Both provincial and municipal governments are reviewing the assessment, the third published since 2000.
“We have reviewed it. … It’s very consistent with the IPCC report and some provincial government reports,” Jason Emmert, an air-quality specialist with Metro Vancouver, said on Friday.
The provincial Climate Action Secretariat is also reviewing the U.S. study.
“Whenever the U.S. does something and puts a lot of high profile around it, it definitely perks our elected officials’ ears a bit – and they sit up and take notice,” Mr. Emmert said.
The assessment predicts changes in mountain snowpacks that could affect agriculture, industry and tourism.
When it comes to forests, “the combined impacts of increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks and tree diseases are already causing widespread tree die-off and are virtually certain to cause additional forest mortality by the 2040s,” the study said.
And while agriculture can adapt to changing conditions, “there remain critical concerns for agriculture with respect to costs of adaptation ... and availability and timing of water.”
The northwest region is one of eight reviewed in the assessment, which was released May 6 and describes climate-change scenarios and response strategies for each region.
While the assessment does not address conditions north of the Canada-U.S. border, its conclusions echo findings from Canadian research, says Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer.
“For us, it confirms data that we have had available in Canada for a while now,” Ms. Reimer said in a recent interview. “We should expect wetter winters, dryer summers, sea level rise. And marine flows and river flows will shift in timing – so even if the water flows stay exactly the same, [that shift] has fairly substantial impact for agriculture, tourism and fisheries.”
In 2012, Vancouver announced a climate-change adaptation strategy that called for an urban forest-management plan, a coastal flood-risk assessment, water conservation and other mitigation measures.
Some of those steps have been completed – city council endorsed an urban forest strategy in April – while others remain under way.
The city also this year updated its building code with changes that included provisions to make new large buildings more energy efficient and encourage neighbourhood energy systems. The B.C. provincial climate action plan, released in 2008, called for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 33 per cent by 2020. But greenhouse-gas emissions decreased by a mere 4.5 per cent between 2007 and 2010 and the possibility of hitting that target is in doubt, especially given the provincial government’s push to develop an energy-intensive liquefied natural gas industry.
The insurance industry has flagged climate change as a major concern.
Canadian insurers paid a record $3.2-billion in claims related to floods, hail and ice storms in 2013, roughly double the next highest year on record.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada recently rolled out a pilot project known as MRAT, or municipal risk assessment tool, to help communities reduce basement flooding.
Water has overtaken fire to become the leading cause of property damage in Canada, costing insurers about $1.7-billion a year, according to the IBC.