IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

14.5.1 Practices and options

Canada and the U.S. emphasise market-based economies. Governments often play a role implementing large-scale adaptive measures, and in providing information and incentives to support development of adaptive capacity by private decision makers (UNDP, 2001; Michel-Kerjan, 2006). In practice, this means that individuals, businesses and community leaders act on perceived self interest, based on their knowledge of adaptive options. Despite many examples of adaptive practices in North America, under-investment in adaptation is evident in the recent rapid increase in property damage due to climate extremes (Burton and Lim, 2005; Epstein and Mills, 2005) and illustrates the current adaptation deficit.

Adaptation by individuals and private businesses

Research on adaptive behaviour for coping with projected climate change is minimal, though several studies address adaptations to historic variation in the weather. About 70% of businesses face some weather risk. The impact of weather on businesses in the U.S. is an estimated US$200 billion/yr (Lettre, 2000). Climate change may also create business opportunities. For example, spending on storm-worthiness and construction of disaster-resilient homes (Koppe et al., 2004; Kovacs, 2005b; Kunreuther, 2006) increased substantially after the 2004 and 2005 Atlantic hurricanes, as did the use of catastrophe bonds (CERES, 2004; Byers et al., 2005; Dlugolecki, 2005; Guy Carpenter, 2006).

Businesses in Canada and the U.S. are investing in climate-relevant adaptations, though few of these appear to be based on projections of future climate change. For example:

  • Insurance companies are introducing incentives for homeowners and businesses that invest in loss prevention strategies (Kim, 2004; Kovacs, 2005b).
  • Insurance companies are investing in research to prevent future hazard damage to insured property, and to adjust pricing models (Munich Re., 2004; Mills and Lecomte, 2006).
  • Ski resort operators are investing in lifts to reach higher altitudes and in snow-making equipment (Elsasser et al., 2003; Census Bureau, 2004; Scott, 2005; Jones and Scott, 2006; Scott et al., 2007a).
  • With highly detailed information on weather conditions, farmers are adjusting crop and variety selection, irrigation strategies and pesticide application (Smit and Wall, 2003).
  • The forest resources sector is investing in improved varieties, forest protection, forest regeneration, silvicultural management and forest operations (Loehle et al., 2002; Spittlehouse and Stewart, 2003).

Adaptation by governments and communities

Many North American adaptations to climate-related risks are implemented at the community level. These include efforts to minimise damage from heatwaves, droughts, floods, wildfires or tornados. These actions may entail land-use planning, building code enforcement, community education and investments in critical infrastructure (Burton et al., 2002; Multihazard Mitigation Council, 2005).

Flooding and drought present recurring challenges for many North American communities (Duguid, 2002). When the City of Peterborough, Canada, experienced two 100-year flood events within three years, it responded by flushing the drainage systems and replacing the trunk sewer systems to meet more extreme 5-year flood criteria (Hunt, 2005). Recent droughts in six major U.S. cities, including New York and Los Angeles, led to adaptive measures involving investments in water conservation systems and new water supply-distribution facilities (Changnon and Changnon, 2000). To cope with a 15% increase in heavy precipitation, Burlington and Ottawa, Ontario, employed both structural and non-structural measures, including directing downspouts to lawns to encourage infiltration and increasing depression and street detention storage (Waters et al., 2003).

Some large cities (e.g., New Orleans) and important infrastructure (e.g., the only highway and rail link between Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada) are located on or behind dykes that will provide progressively less protection unless raised on an ongoing basis. Some potential damages may be averted through redesigning structures, raising the grade, or relocating (Titus, 2002). Following the 1996 Saguenay flood and 1998 ice storm, the province of Québec modified the Civil Protection Act and now requires municipalities to develop comprehensive emergency management plans that include adaptation strategies (McBean and Henstra, 2003). More communities are expected to re-examine their hazard management systems following the catastrophic damage in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina (Kunreuther et al., 2006).

Rapid development and population growth are occurring in many coastal areas that are sensitive to storm impacts (Moser, 2005). While past extreme events have motivated some aggressive adaptation measures (e.g., in Galveston, Texas) (Bixel and Turner, 2000), the passage of time, new residents, and high demand for waterfront property are pushing coastal development into vulnerable areas.

Climate change will likely increase risks of wildfire (see Box 14.1). FireWise and FireSmart are programmes promoting wildfire safety in the U.S. and Canada, respectively (FireSmart, 2005; FireWise, 2005). Individual homeowners and businesses can participate, but the greatest reduction in risk will occur in communities that take a comprehensive approach, managing forests with controlled burns and thinning, promoting or enforcing appropriate roofing materials, and maintaining defensible space around each building (McGee et al., 2000).

Public institutions are responsible for adapting their own legislation, programmes and practices to appropriately anticipate climate changes. The recent Québec provincial plan, for example, integrates climate change science into public policy. Public institutions can also use incentives to encourage or to overcome disincentives to investment by private decision makers (Moser, 2006). Options, including tax assistance, loan guarantees and grants, can improve resilience to extremes and reduce government costs for disaster management (Moser, 2005). The U.S. National Flood Insurance Program is changing its policy to reduce the risk of multiple flood claims, which cost the programme more than US$200 million/yr (Howard, 2000). Households with two flood-related claims are now required to elevate their structure 2.5 cm above the 100-year flood level, or relocate. To complement this, a 5-year, US$1 billion programme to update and digitise flood maps was initiated in 2003 (FEMA, 2006). However, delays in implementing appropriate zoning can encourage accelerated, maladapted development in coastal communities and flood plains.