Town officials are being called upon to step up their efforts to better protect the community from the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
Sabine Dietz, an environmental consultant from Sackville who specializes in climate change adaptation and risk reduction, is imploring town council and staff to be more forward thinking and start better preparing for what is to come.
“You need to really start thinking long term; please I beg of you,” Dietz said to members of council at their monthly discussion meeting.
Sea level is not going to stop rising, she said, and this will lead to devastating results if there aren’t enough adaptation measures put in place to safeguard the community and its assets.
“Our biggest priority needs to be on reducing risk,” she said.
Dietz’s warning comes just as a new report on climate change was released this week, revealing that Canada is warming at twice the global rate. The sweeping report, called Canada’s Changing Climate, was commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada and authored by government scientists across a number of departments as well as a number of university experts.
The report goes on to note that much of Atlantic Canada will experience higher-than-average sea level rise in the coming years, leading to more storm surges and flooding, ecosystem and infrastructure damage, and coastline erosion.
“Climate change is real,” said Dietz. “And it will get worse, there’s no doubt about that.”
And while lowering global emissions can help mitigate some of the worst-case outcomes, scientists say this trajectory cannot be reversed and governments need to place more focus on protecting infrastructure and planning for the impacts of these projected rises in at-risk communities.
And make no mistake, said Dietz, Sackville is one of those at-risk communities, faced with some of the world’s highest tides flowing toward the town every day.
“I think sometimes we forget we’re in a coastal community.”
Dietz said the dikes that currently keep the tidewaters out were built more than 100 years ago and were originally designed for agricultural purposes, not to protect the town and surrounding infrastructure.
“We’ve been really, really lucky it hasn’t happened yet. But it’s just a matter of time,” she said of a storm surge that could overtop the dikes.
Dietz said government officials need to stop burying their heads in the sand when it comes to the threats of climate change.
“The risk is real. The risk is there. And this is something municipal governments should pay more attention to.”
She said it’s the municipality’s responsibility to prepare for the inevitable and not to ignore its responsibility to take measures to adapt and protect.
While some of the steps the town has taken over the past few years are a start, she said they are only small pieces of the puzzle and there are many more short- and long-term approaches that can be taken to manage the risk.
“Things change so fast, we need to adapt what we do all the time.”
For example, she said the town is currently working under an outdated flood risk zoning bylaw, including inadequate flood-risk maps, which does not allow developers or planners to adequately assess the risks associated with the possible impacts from coastal flooding. She urged council to update these regulations and start to consider placing stronger development restrictions on that zone.
She also called on council to adopt a “climate lens” in all of its everyday actions and to be more innovative in its thinking.
“You need to go beyond business as usual,” she stated.