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Vancouver`s adaptation strategy: An encouraging first step

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Last week, the City of Vancouver announced its plan to adopt a climate adaptation strategy. On July 24, City Council voted to approve the plan in principle that will address strategies on how to deal with future climatic events such as intense storms, flooding, and hotter and drier summers.The strategy will be reviewed annually and updated every five years.

Adaptation strategies are not inexpensive; indeed, Vancouver's sewer separation program - which will expand sewers from one to two pipes and alleviate backup problems caused by heavy rainfall - is pegged at $84 million in the City's 2012-14 Capital Plan. A coastal flood risk assessment can cost upwards of $750,000.

The essence of adaptation, however, is to pay upfront costs now to minimize damages and potentially larger costs in the future. The adaptation strategy is part of Vancouver's Greenest City Plan and includes nine measures such as water conservation actions, extreme heat planning, and a backup power policy.

At the December 2011 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Durban, South Africa, 14 mayors and other elected leaders representing over 950 local governments from around the world, came together to sign the Durban Adaptation Charter, a political commitment to strengthen local resilience to climate change. Vancouver was one of those signatories, and it is encouraging to see that the City is following through.

However, what is missing from Vancouver's 60-page climate strategy is how green infrastructure and nature-based adaptation approaches will be used.

It is commendable how comprehensive the strategy is, but there is little discussion of how greener options such as constructed wetlands and green roofs will be implemented, which makes the financial and environmental case for the strategy less compelling.

New York City has an entire plan dedicated to green infrastructure as part of plaNYC. Green infrastructure can be more cost-effective than hard structural alternatives such as dykes, and can have less adverse impacts on the environment as argued in a recent paper in Nature.

Vancouver's adoption of this strategy is a good first step, but thinking carefully about how to implement other cost-effective actions, such as green infrastructure, would enhance the efficacy and resiliency of its overall strategy.

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