Building a Climate-Resilient City

Nine reports on climate change adaptation in Calgary and Edmonton
Edmonton Calgary

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Today, over 80% of Canada’s population lives in cities. We know that cities will soon face increased climate change impacts, such as more frequent and intense extreme weather events. 

The research series Building a Climate-Resilient City by the Prairie Climate Centre outlines policy steps that cities can take to engage in climate risk management in a range of areas, including transportation, agriculture, electricity infrastructure, disaster preparedness and emergency management.

(Unfortunately these reports were produced only in English.)

Economics and finance

  • Climate change impacts such as damage to infrastructure, productivity losses and adverse health effects have large financial implications for municipalities.
  • Investment in climate resilience reduces exposure to climate risks, lowers liability costs, and improves investor confidence and credit ratings.
  • Multiple-bottom-line accounting methods embed climate risk awareness and the benefit of cost-effective adaptation benefits.
  • Monetizing the value of ecosystem services valuation allows cities to identify and prioritize high-value natural and green infrastructure climate solutions.

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Agriculture and food security

  • Due to the interconnectedness of the global food system, climate shocks in major production areas around the world greatly affect local food availability and prices. Strengthening local food systems can help to limit these impacts by placing more control over production, processing, transportation and marketing of goods.
  • Given the high competition for land in cities, it is essential to protect available agricultural land both within and around city peripheries and encourage the use innovative methods of growing food such as aquaponics and vertical agriculture.
  • Small food-related businesses can help to bolster food security, provide employment and strengthen the local food system. It is therefore essential to review and, as appropriate, revise urban food production, processing and marketing policies in order to ensure they help foster innovation and growth in the industry.

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Urban ecosystems

  • Ecosystems and green infrastructure provide a large roster of critical ecosystem services resulting in environmental, social and economic benefits, including human health, well-being and buffers against natural disturbances.
  • Only healthy and well-functioning ecosystems can provide these valuable services and enhance a city’s resilience to natural disturbances and extreme weather events.
  • Urban ecosystems and green infrastructure are key ecological assets that have a proven monetary value and often provide lower-cost solutions to multiple challenges in comparison to traditional infrastructure solutions.

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Transformational adaptation

  • Adaptation to climate change may be incremental or transformational in nature. Cities can choose to combine both approaches, depending on their needs and circumstances.
  • Transformational adaptation occurs when profoundly new and innovative approaches are taken to address the underlying sources of a city’s vulnerability to climate change—typically in response to a realization that historical approaches are no longer sufficient to address current or anticipated climate risks.
  • Transformational adaptation can be enabled by establishing systems that emphasize transparency, integration and flexibility; promoting monitoring, continual learning and knowledge sharing; and encouraging leadership that is adaptable and comfortable with uncertainty.

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Transportation infrastructure

  • Mitigation strategies are important for building a resilient transportation system, as they help to reduce human pressures placed on infrastructure that are amplified by climate change. Hence, both mitigation and adaptation strategies are key to improving resilience and ensuring that people, goods and services remain mobile in the face of a changing climate.
  • By curbing urban sprawl, cities incur cost savings by limiting the amount of infrastructure to be maintained. This surplus can be reinvested strategically in resilient design for infrastructure projects and retrofits and improve connectivity and alternative transportation modes throughout the city.
  • Complete communities where residents can easily access goods and services, entertainment and employment by foot or bicycle provide co-benefits by both mitigating the impacts of climate change and improving resilience in the transportation system.

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Water supply and sanitation systems

  • Building and maintaining a water supply system that is resilient to climate shocks requires “multi-barrier” thinking that strengthens all infrastructure components, from the integrity of upstream source watersheds to the professionalism of water treatment plant operators.
  • Redundancy of water supply options should be a policy priority with the flexibility to shift between surface and groundwater options.
  • Highly decentralized water supply and sanitation options are technically feasible and provide resilience to climate shocks that can complement centralized systems
  • Water conservation and green infrastructure options for stormwater management are proven approaches for reducing climate risks.

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Electricity and information and communication technology infrastructure

  • A warming and more variable climate stresses the conventional electricity infrastructure grid by increasing cooling demand requirements and by its exposure to climate shocks such as ice storms, droughts and tornados.
  • Conventional infrastructure design standards need to be strengthened to account for climate change impacts; the PIEVC protocol is a proven Canadian methodology.
  • Renewable energy generation and storage technologies are modular, distributed and provide resilience to climate shocks.
  • Information and communication technology (ICT) is naturally decentralized and modular and has high climate resilience. Policies that encourage landlines as backups, Internet service provider diversity, emergency roaming and the diffusion of cell phone micro-charging will increase ICT climate resilience.

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The built environment

  • Buildings are now and will be increasingly exposed to higher climate stresses and more frequent co-occurrence of climate stresses such as more variable and episodic snow loads, and rain-on-snow episodes. Newly developed design processes and tools such as PIEVC protocols and the Climate Change Hazards Information Portal can assist developers and asset managers in assessing climate risk. The routine use of climate-smart design tools for buildings provides a long-term strategic benefit to cities.
  • The built environment creates the urban heat island (UHI) effect, which amplifies the impacts of heat waves and can be deadly to vulnerable elderly and infirm populations. UHI can be mitigated through spatial planning, including the strategic use of green space. The impacts of UHI can also mitigated by designating and maintaining cooling stations.
  • Architectural protocols such as LEED and district-planning paradigms such as EcoDistricts encourage patterns of resource use and community dynamics that increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

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Disaster preparedness and emergency management

  • Projections for more intense and frequent extreme weather events need to be integrated with disaster and emergency management planning.
  • Contingencies for spare capacity and flexibility to deal with climate hazards occurring simultaneously or in quick succession need to feature in disaster and emergency management planning.
  • Strategic investments in disaster prevention measures, including climate-resilient green infrastructure and updated building codes, will provide significant long-term cost savings and social benefits.
  • Continuous outreach and engagement processes can ensure that citizens prepare for and can respond to climate-related disasters.

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