Report Summary: Local Climate Change Adaptation in PEI

The following are key summary points from Dr. Tanya Chung Tiam Fook‘s report titled, “Coastal Communities and Climate Change Adaptation on Prince Edward Island: Scenarios, challenges and opportunities”.

  • Key climate-related challenges for estuaries and inland watersheds include: watershed habitats and the health, migration and spawning of marine, intertidal and freshwater species; run-off from pesticides into estuaries and concerns of eutrofication from the proliferation of sea plants; coastal sedimentation and siltation in estuaries from downstream restoration work in streams and rivers; an expanded range for invasive species and disease pathogens in Atlantic Canada.
  • Changing coastal morphology under intensifying climate conditions and SLR have created challenges for fisheries, including: sediment accretion in fishing grounds and aquaculture farms; the diminishing of sea ice due to warmer temperatures; the impacts of higher temperatures on lobster and crustacean moulting patterns. These changes have adverse impacts on fishing grounds, aquaculture farms, aquatic species and fish habitat ecology, as well as they contribute to costly damages to fishing gear and coastal infrastructure, and income losses for fishers.
  • Changes in coastlines and intensifying climate variability will bring increasing challenges for tourism operations on PEI as most summer and winter tourism products are dependent on stable weather conditions. Damages to structures and a loss of quality in the physical environment may directly and indirectly impact revenues for National Parks and tourism operations in coastal areas. Warmer temperatures and milder winters may also bring opportunities for alternative tourism products. Water quality is also a concern for both operators and residents with increased saltwater intrusion and leakage of sewage into estuaries when sewage treatment facilities are inundated from tidal and storm surges.
  • Opportunities that can emerge from climate challenges and adaptation planning include motivating more robust conversations, analysis, leadership and modes of action among local stakeholders, governments and institutions with regard to cross-cutting environmental, socioeconomic and development issues that are not often prioritized or addressed in an integrative manner.
  • Demographic and economic trends that influence vulnerability to climate change and shifts in pricing and market preferences include dependence on seasonal resource-based livelihoods, inequitable societal structures, and the variable nature of the market economy and global supply chains that often do not benefit small-scale producers and businesses.
  • Limited employment options and an aging population in most north shore communities create constraints for local economic and capacity development, and the potential for local leadership in risk management and adaptation planning.
  • PEI’s vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise is amplified by its current social and economic challenges and high concentration of infrastructure along the coastline. The additional stress that climate risks place on coastal and socio-economic systems makes them susceptible to both climate and social vulnerability, especially resource-dependent communities and socially marginalized groups. Climate change can disproportionately affect the level of vulnerability of these social groups due to characteristics of their social vulnerability relative to other groups.
  • Particularly vulnerable communities to climate change also face historically and/or structurally-conditioned barriers and inequalities. Vulnerable groups on PEI include Mi’kmaq communities, people with limited livelihood and employment opportunities, the elderly, and people with health challenges as they face social barriers that can make them more sensitive to climate risk and uncertainty due to their constrained resources and choices.
  • An understanding of the underlying social and cultural values of local stakeholders who feel an attachment to coastal areas and directly experience climate challenges, is instrumental to discussion and planning around issues that are particularly complex and uncertain. This understanding can facilitate more meaningful engagement by stakeholders and improve the possibility of reaching mutually agreeable and beneficial outcomes in decision-making and policy processes.
  • For example, communities that are already burdened with non-climate challenges often feel that climate change issues are too overwhelming. When people are not presently in a climate-related crisis, or when projections and research refer to hazards far into the future, they are unable to feel the urgency of making decisions on adaptation in the present moment.
  • Infrastructural vulnerability in coastal areas: the close proximity of many coastal, commercial, public and residential structures to the coastline makes them very vulnerable to erosion, storm surge and flooding and costly tor repair, replace, or relocate. Recognizing that extreme weather conditions and ecological stresses will intensify over coming years, proactive planning and investment into innovative technologies to build climate or environmentally resilient structures will prove to be more cost-effective and sustainable over the long-term. There is growing public concern over the limited policies in place to regulate commercial and residential developments in increasingly sensitive and risk-prone coastal areas.
  • In light of the limited benefits and resilience potential of current land use policies and measures to protect the coastline under accelerating climate change, responsible and alternative forms of land use planning and livelihood practices were identified as a central aspect of proactive planning and decision-making related to adaptation and conservation.
  • Informed by outcomes from interviews and workshops, the discussion on adaptive capacity details existing strengths and aspirations that can facilitate adaptation learning, decision-making and action, and limitations that that can constrain those processes. They also put forward priorities to strengthen capacity and increase their resilience, and identified existing policies and governance structures at multiple government and institutional levels that can either facilitate or constrain adaptation planning at the community level.
  • While the existing capacity level of local institutions and community members is quite high, there are numerous areas for enhancing and improvement of capacities. As climate risks and socioeconomic stresses intensify, it is important that stakeholders identify knowledge and policy gaps that contribute to risk and vulnerability, and seek out opportunities for capacity development that can facilitate their long-term adaptivity and resilience.
  • To date, reliance on static and narrowly-defined mitigation and adaptation policy paths have dominated climate change action policies at global, national and regional levels. This has resulted in the accumulation of often sort-sighted and even maladaptive outcomes that are insufficient for responding to the multifaceted and uncertain nature of future climate risks.
  • Innovative and flexible social processes and planning approaches that can address and keep pace with complex changes will potentially have the power to reinvigorate resilience in coastal systems. Innovative strategies are necessary to leverage existing experiences, and develop local capacities and resilience. These features should be integrated within a comprehensive policy framework and suite of adaptation options that can appropriately support local institutions and create collaborative partnerships across multiple sectors and levels of governance. Constant evaluation, adjustment and refinement to learning, decision-making and action strategies are central to successful adaptation.
  • Conceptual frameworks such as incremental and transformational approaches to adaptation can be used by communities and decision-makers to frame processes and outcomes during the different stages of the adaptive cycle. Approaches that combine incremental responses to current climate and environmental risks, and long-term transformational changes to systems, policies, values and behaviours have the power to create robust and evolving adaptation plans that address a wide range of resilience and sustainable development priorities.
  • Suggestions for adaptation actions are overlapping and must be considered for appropriateness and application according to the goals and level of capacity of different stakeholder groups, and within the particular ecological, socioeconomic, governance and cultural contexts of the communities or regions. Options include: structural measures; improved land use planning and building regulations; alternative insurance policies; sustainability-oriented measures; ongoing assessment and development of adaptive capacity; building a culture of climate change awareness, preparedness and resilience; development a comprehensive provincial coastal strategy; alternative agricultural models and practices.