Climate Change and Sea Levels Issues

Each year the Global Risks Report issues a new report outlining threats that pose as a risk to the globe. The world is facing an increase in the number of risks from geopolitical and geo-economic tensions to climate change and sea levels rising (Global Risks Report, 2019). Each one of these risks have or will have an impact on Canada and its population. One of those main threats outlined by the Global Risks Report (2019) is the rapid increase in sea levels due to global warming. For the purpose of this paper the focus will mainly be on sea-levels rising and its direct effect on Canada and its population. As an consequence of global warming the Global Risks Report (2019) lists the rapid rise in sea levels as a major threat to the world, and in the context of Canada, it will also be directly affected by the submerging of prominent cities in Canada underwater. With the direct impact of having cities underwater there comes many other threats to the community. Some of those threats include destruction of natural sources, significant damage to property which include homes, businesses but also public properties and critical infrastructure, which also adds environmental, economic and social stress to the both the taxpayer and government (Global Risks Report, 2019). As global temperatures increase, sea levels have risen at an accelerating rate. Global sea levels will continue to rise through the 21st century and beyond, due to increased oceanic warming and loss of glaciers and ice sheets (Global Risks Report, 2019). Sea levels are only estimated to rise between 0.30 metres and 0.93 metres by 2100 and other research suggests this rise could be as much as 2 metres even with global warming and beyond 2100, it could eventually reach 6 metres (Global Risks Report, 2019). Chouinard, Plante and Martin (2008) posit that impacts from climate change and sea-level rise are especially important for coastal neighborhoods where flooding and erosion are estimated to only increase. In Canada, certain parts of the Atlantic coast are especially vulnerable to storm surges and rising sea-levels, for example the Northumberland Strait part of the Gulf of St Laurence is considered the most susceptible area for storm surges in Atlantic Canada (Chouinard, Plante & Martin, 2008).

Furthermore, in Canada, sea-level rise due to the expansion of warming waters is heightened by coastal subsidence and will also effects parts of Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Chouinard, Plante & Martin, 2008). Many coastal communities of New Brunswick already suffer from flooding and coastal erosion related to storm surges that have hit the area and Chouinard, Plante and Martin (2008) state with the sea-levels rising the potential in the increase of frequency and severity of these events and the related impacts will only worsen. Chouinard, Plante and Martin (2008) provide an example of this in New Brunswick in January 2000, when a storm surge event resulted in over 1.5 million dollars’ worth of damages and in the same year in October another storm surge totaled 1.3 million dollars. Additionally, other storm events since then have also caused serious problems for infrastructure such as roads, bridges and residences (Chouinard, Plante & Martin, 2008). But storm surges can also have other impacts. In some particularly vulnerable coastal areas, flooding during surge events has isolated residences or whole sections of communities, resulting in accessibility problems for emergency vehicles and potential threats to residents’ health and safety (Chouinard, Plante & Martin, 2008). Moreover, indirect impacts to health of citizens can also be linked to damages to local infrastructure, the displacement of local populations or changes to the natural habitat (Chouinard, Plante & Martin, 2008). As stated previously some of the risks that the Global Risks Report (2019) outline that sea levels rising pose are the destruction of natural sources such as coastal mangroves and increasing the strain on groundwater reserves. Moreover, sea-level rise threatens significant damage to property and not only homes and businesses but also public properties and many other critical infrastructures, which adds significant liabilities to the taxpayer (Global Risks Report, 2019). The Global Risks Report (2019) list some of the various forms of infrastructure and economic activity that are at risk from rising sea levels include railways, ports, the internet, sanitation, tourism, agriculture, energy and drinking water. This is no means an exhaustive list of the many impacts the rise of sea levels can have on cities.

Additionally, it is likely to lead to population movement within and from large cities and more people will be crammed into shrinking areas of habitable urban space, and more are likely to move to other cities, either domestically or in other countries (Global Risks Report, 2019). These movements have the potential to cause spillover risks as they could result in heightened strain on food and water supplies and in increased societal, economic and even security pressures (Global Risks Report, 2019). A specific analysis by Malik and Abdalla (2016) to study the potential effects of sea levels rising on the city of Richmond located in British Columbia Canada was conducted. Through the analyses, Malik and Abdalla (2016) found that sea level rise in Richmond will affect the range of different areas and infrastructure which included beaches, estuaries, and creeks to be most likely affected, followed by floodplains and tidal areas. Additionally, Malik and Abdalla (2016) posit that valuable infrastructure such as road network, residential and non-residential buildings, and utilities will also be damaged as a result of rising sea levels. As result of an impact on infrastructure, many people will be displaced or forced to move out to other safe locations (Malik & Abdalla, 2016). Malik and Abdalla (2016) argue that the local government can take several initiatives to minimize the impact of sea level rise. Some of these initiatives can include passing a law that will prevent further development and re-development in the low-lying regions along the coast of the city, educate the public through intensive public awareness campaigns; this can be effective through media such as television, radio, and social network websites (Malik & Abdalla, 2016). Additionally, construct levees, bulkheads, raise development in flood-prone areas, and finally, allocate funds for strategic planning related to the impacts of sea level rise (Malik & Abdalla, 2016). According to the Global Risk Report (2019) preventing sea level rise and its accompanying threats will require exceptional action to drive decarbonization of agriculture, energy, industry and transport. With that being said, although completely halting global warming and the rise of sea levels is unlikely, working towards the severity of the impact can be controlled to some extent. Nicholls (2011) focuses on how to best plan for the threat of sea level rise and its implications and proposes two major responses are possible. The first is mitigation, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing climate change, including sea level rise, through a climate policy (Nicholls, 2011).

The other is adaptation, reduce the impacts of sea level rise by behavioural changes, starting with individual actions and ranging to collective coastal management policy, such as upgraded defenses and warning systems and land management approaches (Nicholls, 2011). Nicholls (2011) argues that mitigation can slow the rise in sea level and reduce its impacts and has an important additional effect of stabilizing the rate of sea level rise. Given that the rate of sea level rise controls some impacts, such as wetland loss or coral reef submergence, mitigation reduces these impacts (Nicholls, 2011). In the case of flooding, absolute sea level rise is of more concern, and many of its impacts may be delayed rather than avoided due to the imminent rise of sea levels (Nicholls, 2011). Nicholls (2011) further states that the fundamental goal of mitigation in the context of coastal areas is to reduce the rapid increase of sea level rise to a rate and eventual rise that can be adapted to at a sufficient social and economic costs. Furthermore, mitigation of human-induced subsidence needs to be considered in susceptible areas and such should include measures to control and/or reduce groundwater extraction and manage water levels, and such measures have been successfully implemented in a number of cities and delta areas to date (Nicholls, 2011). Adaptation to sea level rise is another strategy Nicholls (2011) suggest that involves responding to the extreme levels of rise. Given the large and quickly growing concentration of individuals and activity in coastal areas, independent adaptation processes alone will not be able to handle sea level rise (Nicholls, 2011). Further, adaptation in the coastal context is widely seen as a public rather than a private responsibility, therefore, all levels of government need to have a key role to play in developing and facilitating appropriate adaptation measures (Nicholls, 2011). Nicholls (2011) concludes that sea level rise is clearly a threat, demanding a response and the increase in sea levels means that an ongoing adaptation response is essential through the twenty-first century and beyond in which the aid of the whole country is required. Cities faced with the risk of damage from rising sea levels can adapt with strategies either by trying to keep water out or learning to live with water at higher levels (Global Risks Report, 2019).

The Global Risks Report (2019) lists three main strategies, the first is engineering projects to keep water out of cities, such as sea walls, storm-surge barriers, water pumps and overflow chambers. The second incorporates nature-based defences for conserving mangroves and salt marshes or seeking to shape how floods will affect cities, rather than always trying to prevent them (Global Risks Report, 2019). The third strategy includes people, by moving households and businesses to safer ground, or investing in social capital to make flood-risk communities more resistant (Global Risks Report, 2019). The Global Risks Report (2019) conclude that suitable incorporations of coastal adaptation measures can potentially help reduce the severity and magnitude of sea level rising threats All in all, sea levels rising not only effects Canada and its population, it has a large impact for many more countries around the globe and is a major threat that needs to be addressed sooner than later. Coastal rural communities in Atlantic and Pacific Canada must be prepared to deal with increasing environmental, economic and social stress associated with the impact of sea levels rising (Chouinard, Plante & Martin, 2008). With the combination of the mitigation and adaption plans proposed by Nicholls (2011) and the three strategies listed by the Global Risks Report (2019), Canadians can work towards efficiently addressing and lessening the effects of sea levels rising in Canada.