Smart City 1.9: Smart Climate Change

mitigateThere is no question that climate change is happening; the only arguable point is what part humans are playing in it. – David Attenborough

Whether we agree on the reasons for climate change or not, we are faced with the fact that it is changing. In the last twelve months Wellington has suffered a drought not seen in decades, has had a storm not seen in decades, and over the past ten years seen an increase in climate events that are often touted as one-in-fifty or hundred year events.

Action on managing climate change, as is the case in Wellington, is often heavily misrepresented by the belief that we should be limiting our emission into the atmosphere. This is often the entire extent of a Council’s climate change plan and it is not enough.

While a plan to reduce emissions is entirely necessary, to rely on that as a single method of managing climate change is bordering on naïve. Emissions today will still largely be in our atmosphere in thousands of years. While we should stop choking ourselves as much as possible we also have to prepare for the climate change that we are seeing today.

“The Council has taken steps to reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change. They include practical steps that appeal to households like increased funding for energy savings saw almost a thousand energy assessments and four hundred retrofits since August 2011. Our own social housing insulation has made a big difference too.” – Celia Wade-Brown, Wellington Mayor

To a large extent, the self-congratulatory news item released by the Council, quoted above, shows the entire plan for dealing with climate change that will impact the city. It is not enough and it is not preparing the city for what increasing high-impact climate events. In my personal opinion this is driven by the largely hard-left Green policies the Council suffer from, which are naïve and lack balance.

“Many urban areas in developing countries already experience “adaptation deficit” whereby existing infrastructure is insufficient to cope with present climatic conditions – let alone those that will arise as a result of climate change. The adaptation for these urban areas are thus based on the need for development that takes a changing climate into account and a reckoning that the future will be more hostile for many urban residents.” – Global Report on Human Settlements 2011

We need a much more balanced approach and pragmatic view of preparing the city for significantly more powerful adverse weather. Vancouver is a city that has got this strategy right and could be used as a case study for Wellington.

“There is significant overlap between climate change adaptation, mitigation and sustainability measures including those designed to improve greenspace, foster urban agriculture and facilitate improvements in buildings and urban infrastructure. Adaptation more explicitly engages a wider range of issues, particularly emergency management, health and the needs of vulnerable populations in a changing climate.”- City of Vancouver – Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

Vancouver’s strategy covers mitigation while recognising they need to adapt. Here are some examples of their action plan.

The City has identified that rain events are likely to increase and become more intense, this means that the risk of landslide with the potential to damage residential and city property increases.

In order to mitigate against that the action plan is to “map and prioritize the highest risk slopes and create actions plans including: planting, percolation, vegetation best practices, anchors, retaining walls, deepwater infiltration or purchase property, etc.”

The plan assigns where funding is coming from, the departments responsible, the level of effort, and the year it is to be completed by.

Vancouver has recognised the threat of the sea-level rising and that this is likely to be coupled with storm-surge damage along the coastline.

Actions are again pragmatic, practical, and given to specific departments with dates to be completed. In this case the plans vary from understanding the zones which are likely to be impacted to monitoring ground water for salinity through running a City wide competition to come up with ideas on how to mitigate the problem.

Their plans continue in order to mitigate against storms, severe heat & associated drought, and a range of other areas. The best part of this, is that it’s all free. Vancouver have made this information free to the global community.

Wellington will suffer from similar problems that need solid action plans to be acted on.

The train route from city to coast and valley will continue to be damaged more frequently by more intense storms coupled with a rising sea level, as will the motorways themselves. On the south coast and inner harbor east coast we are seeing the loss of roads and property.

We are already seeing increased slips and extreme rain events around the city. The sewer and storm water systems can’t handle these events today, and we see localised flooding along with wholesale discharge of raw sewage into the rivers and ocean.

The wind events associated are increasing in intensity.

Last summer we came within a few days of running out of water across the entire region.

Part of being a Smart City is preparing ourselves and our city for climate change. In order to that we have to mitigate and adapt. If we fail to do so, we’ll find that the cost of repair and our overall quality of life will decline.

One comment

  1. Agree we need both mitigation and adaptation – will be introducing the updated Climate Change Action Plan later this month.

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