Adapting to climate change in Canada

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Alberta]On: 27 November 2014, At: 19:56Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Adapting to climate change in CanadaNils Larsson aa International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment, 130 Lewis Street, Ottawa K2P0S7, Canada E-mail: larsson@greenbuilding.caPublished online: 18 Oct 2010.

    To cite this article: Nils Larsson (2003) Adapting to climate change in Canada, Building Research & Information, 31:3-4,231-239, DOI: 10.1080/09613210320000976

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09613210320000976

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  • Adapting to climate change in Canada

    Nils Larsson

    International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment,130 Lewis Street,Ottawa K2P 0S7,CanadaE-mail: larsson@greenbuilding.ca

    The differences between mitigation and adaptation strategies are explained in terms of their environmental, institutional

    and political significance and linkages. The potential climate changes for Canadas different regions are presented and

    discussed for their overall and specific built environment impacts. Current national strategies and polices related to

    adaptation are still in a formative stage, but they recognize that responding to climate change requires actions not only to

    reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to adapt to climate change. A national Framework for Adaptation is expected

    in 2003. Examples are provided of both the public and private sector efforts to consider adaptation to climate change at

    various scales. An overview of potential Canadian climate change trends and measures related to mitigation and

    adaptation is presented, with implications for establishing a research agenda for the built environment.

    Keywords: adaptation, building stock, climate change, governance, public policy, risk management, sustainability, Canada

    Cet article explique les differences entre les strategies de reduction et dadaptation et ce quelles signifient pour

    lenvironnement, les institutions et la politique ainsi que leurs relations. Lauteur presente et analyse les changements

    climatiques et leurs consequences globales et specifiques sur le cadre bati au Canada. Les strategies et les politiques

    canadiennes actuelles en matiere dadaptation en sont toujours a letat de gestation mais il est admis que pour reagir aux

    changements climatiques il faut prendre des mesures afin de non seulement reduire les emissions de gaz a effet de serre

    mais aussi de sadapter a ces changements. Un Cadre national dadaptation est prevu pour 2003. Lauteur donne des

    exemples des travaux entrepris par le secteur public et le secteur prive pour etudier ladaptation aux changements

    climatiques a diverses echelles. Il presente succinctement les tendances possibles en matiere de changement climatique

    ainsi que les mesures de reduction et dadaptation avant dexposer les implications liees a la redaction dun programme

    de recherche sur le cadre bati.

    Mots cles: adaptation, parc immobilier, changements climatiques, gouvernance, politique publique, gestion du risque,

    durabilite, Canada

    BackgroundReducing the risks that climate change may presentrequires both global actions to reduce the build up ofgreenhouse gases in the atmosphere to slow the rateof change (mitigation) as well as making adjustmentsin our practices and policies that take a changingclimate into account (adaptation) (Figure 1).

    Most discussion of adaptation has occurred in the con-text of the needs of developing countries. As a recentpaper states:

    These questions are important to the develop-ing countries both because they wish to reduce

    their vulnerability to climate change in themost effective ways, and because they areessentially in competition with each otherfor whatever international funds may becomeavailable to help them meet the costs ofadaptation. . . . The developed countries haveshown less interest in their own need foradaptation, and have generally assumed thatthey have the financial and technical resourcesto adapt as and when necessary. To this extent,adaptation will only be seriously entertained indeveloped countries when it becomes evidentlynecessary.

    (Burton et al., 2002)

    BUILDING RESEARCH & INFORMATION (2003) 31(34), 231239

    Building Research & Information ISSN 0961-3218 print ISSN 1466-4321 online # 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltdhttp: www.tandf.co.uk journals

    DOI: 10.1080 09613210320000976

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  • Another reason why adaptation may have had a lowerpriority in Canada is that work in this area might betaken as a public indication that mitigation actions arelikely to be unsuccessful. Within the last few years,however, there has been a recognition by Canada thatthere is a need to develop adaptation measures as wellas continuing with strong measures for mitigation. TheThird Assessment Report of the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change (Watson et al., 2001) was animportant milestone in the global recognition of adapta-tion as a necessary response strategy to climate change.

    The questions addressed here are: What are the potentialimpacts of climate change? What existing strategies andactions are being pursued? What strategies and measuresmight be put in place to allow Canada to adapt to therange of climate change impacts that are currentlyforeseen? As a starting point, it is evident that in the builtenvironment, a number of the adaptation strategies andmeasures may overlap with those undertaken for thepurposes of mitigation or conflict with each other.

    Although both mitigation and adaptation issues arepart of an overriding climate change scenario, there arepoints of major difference.

    Understanding mitigation, impacts and adaptationIn one sense, mitigation is not difficult to understand,since relatively few drivers of greenhouse gas emissions

    (GHG), such as the type, extent and intensity ofindustrial, commercial, residential, transportationand recreational activities, appear to be directly impli-cated in a singular global effect. Also, thereare national quantifiable targets for emissions andpotential for an international timetable for attain-ment of the targets. A successful mitigation strategy,because it deals with relatively few systems, cantherefore be conceptually relatively simple, eventhough it requires a large measure of political will andsupport, coupled with the knowledge and willingnessof the private sector and practitioners to implementthese actions.

    Adaptation, on the other hand, is potentially morecomplex, since it will involve an interplay of eco-nomic, social and climate change effects, such asincreased winter and summer temperatures, orchanges in precipitation and flood risks, which arelikely to be highly differentiated in many widely differ-ent regions. Adaptation strategies are therefore likelyto require continuous adjustments by a large numberof actors, until a more stable climate regime isachieved.

    Clearly, the ultimate effect on any given region will bea synergistic result of the interaction of these individualfactors, and this increases the difficulty of assessing thecomposite impact in any given location.

    Figure 1 Mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change. Source: IPCC (2001)

    Larsson

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  • Finally, adaptation is not guided by fixed targets andtimetables; it will be required at different times in thefuture and to varying extents in different regions andsectors. In many cases, adaptation to climate changewill inevitably be mainstreamed into on-going plan-ning processes, designs and regulations.

    Dierences in timingAn aspect that will affect the interaction betweenmitigation, impact and adaptation is the considerabledifferences in timeframes for all three issues. Figure 2shows a crude approximation of the relationshipbetween the three and the changes in intensity of each,against the background of steadily increasing GHGproduction. Because of the long time lags in climatechange impacts, mitigation measures must be anticipa-tory and relatively concentrated to have any usefuleffect. Adaptation measures, on the other hand (andwith some exceptions), will probably be implementedin a more gradual fashion, as specific climate changeeffects become apparent.

    It should be noted that a degree of change in climate isalready apparent (drought in the Prairies, more hotdays during the summer everywhere), although thereis a lively debate about whether or not these changesare part of a natural cycle or are early signs of GHG-caused climate change. In public opinion, it is thecurrent effect that is the main driver, and this createspossibilities for achieving action even if the scientificbasis still causes some debate.

    StakeholdersThe two issues of mitigation and adaptation involvevastly different stakeholder groups, with differentviews and priorities.

    Mitigation discussions tend to involve those who focuson energy use, while adaptation will involve a broadercross-section of players. The exception may be inagriculture where both mitigation and adaptation mea-sures will be very closely linked. By its nature, mitigationrequires a national response from the federal govern-ment with the mandate to enter into international agree-ments. However, it is also dependent on the provincesthat manage many of the natural resources. Althoughmunicipal, private sector and individual decision-making

    will also be important in mitigation activities, in Canadait will probably occur within the context of the largerfederalprovincialterritorial process.

    As in mitigation, governments at all levels have impor-tant roles to play in the development and implementa-tion of adaptation measures, but the role of localgovernments and private-sector organisations may bemore important because of the need to develop mea-sures attuned to the widely differing needs of variousregions and communities. Implementation of adapta-tion measures will also rely heavily on individualhouseholds.

    Priorities and supportGHG emissions are global in their effects and, unlesseffective measures are rapidly implemented, there islikely to be a major long-term impact on humanactivity everywhere; in this sense, mitigation has tobe a priority for responsible national governments,including the Canadian government. When it comes totaking action, however, it is sometimes difficult to sellthis argument to the average citizen or even to well-educated professionals because of the perceivedremoteness of the impacts in time and space.1

    Adaptation, on the other hand, appears to have apotential for greater public support, given the publicperception that it is directly affected and that we arealready feeling the effects of climate change throughmilder winters and record-breaking summer hot spells.Also, given the precedent that many energy efficiencymeasures have been adopted over the last 10 years withno pressure or inducement, as long as they are posi-tioned as leading to improved conditions for health,comfort or productivity, this kind of spin-off benefitneeds to be emphasised wherever possible and realistic.

    Given the potential greater public support for adapta-tion measures, work in this area may best be regardedas a concurrent activity that does not detract from theoverriding need to deal with GHG reductions, and willprobably even aid in its achievement.

    Links between mitigation and adaptation measuresEven a cursory analysis indicates that most specificmeasures in the building sector are likely to relate to

    Figure 2 Timing

    Adapting to climate change in Canada

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  • both mitigation and adaptation. For example, actionsto improve energy performance of buildings or tochange landscape design will reduce GHG emissions(amounts depending on modes of power generation),but may also increase thermal comfort in the warmersummers predicted under climate change scenarios forCanada. This is a good thing, since it will be easier tofind public support and private-sector take-up for mea-sures that have a positive effect related to adaptation aswell as mitigation.

    As already mentioned, some climate change effectsare already apparent, even if the causal factors are notyet firmly established in the minds of politicians orthe public. This creates an opportunity to implementintegrated measures that serve both mitigation andadaptation agendas since, even if support for large-scaleand anticipatory mitigation measures remains to betested, there is likely to be more immediate support fortaking action on perceptions of immediate adaptationproblems, such as coping with warmer summersthrough, for example, improvements in the energy-efficiency of buildings.

    There are a few potential measure areas where thereare conflicts between the goals of mitigation and adap-tation, and it appears logical to undertake an especiallycareful study of such areas. For example, an increase inambient winter temperatures may lead to reduced sup-port for energy efficiency measures due to a longerpayback period; increased summer temperatures willprobably lead to an increased demand for space cool-ing; and an increase of summer smog conditions...