Nature-based solutions as a means to environmental justice in New York City; the importance of nature-based solutions to protect Canadian coastal communities

Opportunities for Growth: Nature-Based Jobs in NYC is a new report released on December 1, from Just Nature NYC, a partnership between the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and The Nature Conservancy in New York .  The report argues that nature-based solutions “ are vital to improving environmental health and building climate resilience – particularly in environmental justice communities. Climate scientists project that the frequency of annual heat waves in NYC will increase three to-five-fold by 2050, and heat waves are expected to last longer than those of the recent past.”

The report breaks new ground with a discussion and definition of a nature-based job:

“Nature-based jobs (NBJs) are defined as jobs that directly contribute to natural infrastructure and nature-based ecosystems with the goal of enhancing human health and well-being and promoting biodiversity.”  

Using that definition, the report determined that were 45,560 nature-based jobs in the New York City in 2020, in such positions as landscape architects, construction managers and tree trimmers and pruners. It notes projected growth for each role between 2020 and 2025, with the most expected growth to be in the professions of soil and plant scientists (expected to grow by 41 percent) and conservation scientists (with a growth of 27 percent). With a focus on the environmental justice benefits,  the authors call for near-term growth of nature-based jobs; increasing job equity, accessibility, and quality; and the need to promote deeper public appreciation of nature-based solutions.  Summaries are available in  “To Combat Climate Change, NYC Needs More Nature-Based Jobs: Report”  (City Limits, Dec. 6)  and  a December 1 summary in The Medium.

Another report arguing for the importance of nature-based solutions was published by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo in December.  Rising Tides and Shifting Sands: Combining Natural and Grey Infrastructure to Protect Canada’s Coastal Communities  assesses the urgent dangers of flood and storm damages on Canada’s East and West Coasts, and discusses the current status of coastal protection measures. It differentiates between grey infrastructure (the hard, engineered measures such as seawalls) and nature-based solutions (which depend on, or mimic, natural systems to manage flood and erosion risk).   The report argues that nature-based solutions are underutilized, and in addition to offering protection, deliver multiple benefits, including improved biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, enhanced wellbeing and opportunities for recreational activities.

Rising Tides and Shifting Sands recommends scale-up of nature-based solutions through: 1. Developing national standards to support consistent evaluation of the benefits of nature-based solutions;  2. Developing national monitoring standards for coastal protection measures, focused on nature-based solutions; and 3.  Building  capacity to finance and deliver nature-based solutions by engaging the private sector. (“ Public-private partnerships can potentially assist in financing, delivering, monitoring, and maintaining nature-based solutions. The insurance industry can also assist in managing construction risks and offering innovative insurance products that provide funds to restore natural features protecting the coastline, should they be damaged during extreme events.”)

Nova Scotia launches public consultation for Coastal Protection regulations

Recognizing the dangers of rising sea levels to their 13,000 km coastline, the government of Nova Scotia passed a Coastal Protection Act in 2019.  On July 15 2021, two days before dissolving the Legislature and calling a general election, the provincial government launched a new public consultation on the Regulations, which, once passed, will enable the Act to come into force. Without duplicating the federal and municipal regulations which also exist to protect the coast, the proposed provincial regulations will define the “Coastal Protection Zone” where the act will apply; ensure that any construction on submerged Crown land (such as wharfs, infilling and shoreline protections ) are designed, constructed, and/or situated where disruption of valuable coastal ecosystems is minimized. The Regulations will also apply to construction on private or public land (homes, cottages, commercial or industrial buildings), to minimize risk from sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion.  The consultation will run from July 15,  and will continue until Sept. 17. Documentation is available at  https://novascotia.ca/coast/.

This follows another public consultation process regarding the province’s GHG emissions reduction targets, which closed on July 26. Voting in the Nova Scotia election is scheduled for August 17, 2021.

Millions of people, Trillions of dollars at risk from coastal floods

A report on May 16 from an agency of the World Bank, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), says that cities around the world are failing to plan for fast-increasing risks from extreme weather and other hazards, and by 2050, 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets will be threatened by worsening river and coastal floods alone.  Losses in 136 coastal cities are projected to rise from $6 billion a year in 2010 to $1 trillion a year by 2070.  The report, The Making of a Riskier Future: How Our Decisions are Shaping the Future of Disaster Risk is here  ; a summary from Thomson Reuters is here   .  A separate report, also in May, from Christian Aid, ranks cities with the most to lose from coastal flooding.  Topping their list: Calcutta (14 million people), Mumbai (11.4 million) and Dhaka (11.1 million).  Miami, with 4.8   million people, ranks 9th in population but tops the ranking by exposed assets in 2070 , with  $3.5 trillion. New York City ranks 3rd in exposed assets with $2.1tn.  The report also discusses the risks to the city of London, U.K.  Read Act Now or Pay Later: Protecting a billion people in climate-threatened coastal cities    .

Canadian Cities Rank High in Climate Change Adaptation – and Some Examples

A newly released survey conducted by the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigates the progress in climate adaptation planning in 468 cities worldwide – 298 of which were in the U.S., 26 were in Canada. Results show that 92% of Canadian cities are pursuing adaptation planning, compared to 68% worldwide, and 59% in the U.S.. The top ranked impacts identified by cities that conducted assessments were: increased stormwater runoff (72%), changes in electricity demand (42%), loss of natural systems (39%), and coastal erosion (36%). Other important issues were loss of economic revenue, drought, and solid waste management. The report, Progress and Challenges in Urban Adaptation Planning: Results of a Global Survey is available at: http://www.icleiusa.org/action-center/learn-from-others/progress-and-challenges-in-urban-climate-adaptation-planning-results-of-a-global-survey, and summarized at: http://www.icleiusa.org/blog/survey_us_cities_report_increase_in_climate_impacts_lag_in_adaptation_planningworldwide-progress-on-urban-climate-adaptation-planning. For a policy perspective, read the David Suzuki blog “Canada’s Success depends on Municipal Infrastructure Investments” (March 13) at: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2014/03/canadas-success-depends-on-municipal-infrastructure-investments/. For a more anecdotal report which names and describes some innovative Canadian municipalities, see “Five Canadian Communities Fighting Climate Change That You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before” from the DeSmog Blog at: http://www.desmog.ca/2014/04/03/five-canadian-communities-fighting-climate-change-you-ve-probably-never-heard-of-before. It describes Dawson Creek, B.C.; Guelph, Ontario; Varennes, Quebec; T’Sou-ke First Nation, B.C.; and Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. An overview of the Upwind-Downwind Conference of municipalities in Hamilton in March, and a summary of Hamilton’s climate action initiatives, appears in “Ontario Municipalities take Action on Air Quality and Climate Change” at: http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/community/blogs/current-events/ontario-municipalities-take-action-air-quality-and-climate-change.

Coastal Cities at Risk from Climate Change: Vancouver, New York

According to an article published in Nature Climate Change online in mid-August, Vancouver ranks 11th amongst the world’s 136 large coastal cities at risk of flooding, as measured by annual average losses of people or “assets”. Most at risk: Guangzhou, Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Mumbai. The article is part of an ongoing OECD project to explore the policy implications of flood risks due to climate change and economic development. Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities is available for purchase (with a brief free preview) at the Nature Climate Change website at: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1979.html#access. Also see a summary at the OECD website at: http://www.oecd.org/env/resources/future-flood-losses-in-major-coastal-cities.htm

Vancouver adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in July 2012 to guide building and maintenance of streets, sewers, building infrastructure, parks and greenspaces. See http://vancouver.ca/green-vancouver/climate-change-adaptation-strategy.aspx for links to the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, plus implementation reports for 2011-2012, and 2012-2013.

In June 2013, New York unveiled a plan in response to Superstorm Sandy, which proposes more than 250 initiatives, costed at $19.5 billion – most of which would be spent to repair homes and streets damaged by Sandy, retrofit hospitals and nursing homes, elevate electrical infrastructure, improve ferry and subway systems and fix drinking water systems. See A Stronger, More Resilient New York, at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shtml