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Climate change risks and adaptation planning on Canada’s East Coast: The case of Charlottetown, PEI


Today we welcomed Dr Jeff Birchall and Emily French from the Faculty of Science, University of Alberta, Canada, who shared his research on local climate change stressors (impacts) and the decision dynamics around why and how communities incorporate (or fail to incorporate) planning for climate adaptation into policy and practice.

Dr Birchall’s research centres around the theme coastal community climate resilience, which broadly explores how communities confront climate change and adapt to the emerging challenges imposed on them due to increases in temperature, more extreme weather events and a rise in sea level. In particular, his work explores the decision dynamics around climate change adaptation policies and actions, and is informed by institutional and resilience theory. His research focuses on coastal communities in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States.

Charlottetown is the capital city on Prince Edward Island, on the east coast of Canada. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, with the traditional one-in-five-year storm now occurring multiple times per year and double the regular levels of snowfall burying houses, the melt overwhelming storm water infrastructure leading to flooding.

In the case of Charlottetown, the costs involved in safeguarding the city against further coastal erosion and flooding, seem to be prohibitive. Major infrastructure changes requiring implementation, such as relocating the sewage treatment plant and the fuel storage depot further inland to higher ground would be so expensive that there just aren’t the financial resources available. The one bridge linking the city centre with the hospital is already susceptible to flooding, which also poses an expensive problem to fix. And yet, not doing anything could be catastrophic in the increasingly likely event of multiple factors such as king tides, storm surges and the exacerbation by sea level rise occurring simultaneously.

Yet, still the community and local government seem unwilling to acknowledge the level of ongoing risk the changes in climate present for them. Even with the extreme events they have experienced to date, these weather changes are still classed as not a big enough event to warrant putting money into it. They still seem to think these are just weather anomalies that will stop happening.

I wonder how many people in communities like Charlottetown will suffer loss due to sluggish or non-existent governance. It’s a very sobering though.

We extend a huge thank you to Dr Birchall for an interesting and thought-provoking presentation. We hope you are enjoying the sunny Sunshine Coast and hope you come back to visit us again soon.

Find out more about Dr Birchall’s research and contact information here.

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