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Innovative project shows what’s on the menu for community climate adaptation

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Climate “Cost Menu” informs BC communities about the costs of preparing for increased wildfires, flood risks

VANCOUVER, BC, Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh Territories – Communities across British Columbia will now have access to valuable information about the real-life costs and benefits of adapting to climate change, thanks to new research by master’s students at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP).

Commissioned by West Coast Environmental Law, and developed in partnership with Kerr Wood Leidal Engineering, the unique project aims to create a “menu” of climate change adaptation options with associated costs, based on the actual experiences of communities that have implemented the adaptations. The initial phase of the menu focuses on stormwater and wildfire management, and can be viewed here.

“Many BC communities are still in the early stages of planning when it comes to protecting their residents and local infrastructure from climate impacts such as flooding and wildfires. Local governments may be aware of their options, but there’s usually very little information available about the price tags for climate adaptation solutions – some of which may require millions, or even billions of dollars to implement,” said Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law.

For example, the research found that BC communities dealing with flooding from extreme weather are spending millions of dollars on specific measures upgrade their stormwater infrastructure. In addition to sharing common solutions and cost estimates for local governments, the menu includes notes about the benefits and challenges of these solutions, as well as potential funding sources and local conditions that may influence costs.

"From this project it was clear that there are real world costs to adapting to climate change. It was interesting to learn from practitioners and local government staff about the current landscape around dealing with climate change impacts in BC, and some of the innovative solutions that municipalities have been undertaking," said SCARP Student and Menu author Charles Pan.

“There is no one-size-fits all, and adaptation measures will need to be carefully tailored to each local context, which will have an impact on approaches, costs and benefits,” said Robin Hawker of Kerr Wood Leidal. “However, order-of-magnitude costs can help communities start thinking about preparing the funding needed to address their climate hazards. Perhaps the menu is less about choosing between options, and more about just understanding what the scope of costs may look like to start the conversation and staff, political, and community-wide scales.”

To develop the menu, the research team conducted a five-stage process including a literature review, interviews with practitioners and local government staff, workshops and menu creation. Based on research interests and an assessment of community needs, the menu focuses primarily on measures to reduce the risks of wildfires and stormwater flooding.

“The project hits on several of the key challenges that planners are grappling with in the face of climate change – and there is a strong potential for this work to have an impact,” said Clare Mochrie, Adjunct Professor at SCARP. “While their work focused on just two common climate change risks, we hope that future cohorts of students will build on this foundation and expand the menu to encompass other types of risks and adaptations.”

As communities across the province continue to build their climate adaptation plans, the research team hopes this resource will be a useful tool for local governments considering different solutions – as well as the sources of funding required to implement them.

Through the Climate Law in our Hands initiative, West Coast Environmental Law encourages communities to evaluate how climate change is harming their communities and consider what legal strategies are needed to help pay for rising local costs associated with climate change, including seeking compensation from global fossil fuel companies.

To read more about what the students learned during their research on climate costs in BC, see this blog post.

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For more information, please contact:

Andrew Gage | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
250-412-9784, agage@wcel.org