Sector level adaptation: Marine infrastructure

The ocean is in the foreground, and there are two boat moored to the right and two small wooden house stand in the background in front of a forest of evergreen trees.
Compton Island, Blackfish Sound | Photo by Scott Harris

In BC, the provincial government has conducted vulnerability assessments for highway systems and continues to monitor and assess sea level rise. The British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is one of the first jurisdictions to require infrastructure design work for the ministry to include climate change implications. However, infrastructure operators in BC have primarily been responding reactively to failures, rather than anticipating and proactively preparing for projected changes or impacts [74]. This approach typically results in impacts being more costly or severe than if proactive adaptation actions had been taken.

Across the infrastructure sector, proactive approaches such as integrated vulnerability and risk assessments that incorporate climate projections, using effective guidelines for data interpretation by managers and decision-makers, could improve adaptive learning and decisions. Incorporating the results of climate change vulnerability and risk assessments into planning and adaptation efforts for the marine transportation sector would reduce the risks from climate impacts and improve the likelihood of adaptation. Proactive climate change adaptation can foster environmentally and socially responsible planning strategies, that protect communities, built environments, and marine infrastructure. Responsible planning strategies can be limiting to human activities and development in vulnerable areas, preserve and enhance coastal ecosystems that provide flooding and erosion protection [142], or support communities to retreat from hazardous areas.

While attributes of resilience may exist inherently, the impacts of climate change challenge long term adaptive capacities through rapidly rising sea levels and coastal storms, new impacts that threaten coastal communities who are dependent on vulnerable infrastructure and a lack of essential relief services [25]. Limited economic resources and support to cope with increasing impacts, and the lack of land use planning that considers climate change, also affects the adaptive capacity of coastal communities.

To date, most climate change related adaptations have been reactive responses to unpredicted events, such as extreme forest fires or the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Planning for climate change seems to compete with a host of other priorities for the limited capacity of local and regional governance, as only one of the many stressors that affect the ecosystems, industries, and communities of British Columbia. For these reasons, cumulative impacts assessment [143–146] may be highly appropriate for regional (and/or sub-regional) adaptation planning.

Proactive adaptation examples for coastal marine infrastructure include:

  • Investments in early warning systems, particularly for storm surge related activities, as well as other disasters such as tsunamis;
  • Planning in emergency management, such as planning for alternative routes for evacuations; and
  • Identifying infrastructure under risk roads, docks, rail routes, etc., and planning phased programs to either mitigate impacts, or retreating and relocating options.
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