Using climate information to drive adaptation: Developing a multi-risk adaptation plan

L’Islet, Quebec is an amalgamated municipality featuring three smaller regions with a combined population of approximately 4,000 over an area of 11,952 km2. The municipality is located along the flood plains of the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The municipality’s climate change vulnerability and risk assessment (2017) and its subsequent Climate Change Adaptation Plan (2018) were initiated as a proactive move, rather than an emergency response, to specific climate related events. The municipality of L’Islet collaborated with a citizen environmental committee, the ROBVQ (Regroupement des organismes de bassins versants du Quebec) and Le Groupe Conseil Carbone to develop its vulnerability and risk assessment and adaptation plan, utilizing historical and projected climate data. The municipality’s goal is to implement at least 60 percent of the actions by 2025, focusing specifically on the most cost effective actions with the greatest benefits.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The municipality of L’Islet experienced two significant coastal flooding events in 2020. On both occasions, private residences, heritage buildings, the natural shoreline and seasonal recreational facilities, such as campgrounds, were impacted. Prior to these flooding events, the community was also negatively affected, although to a lesser degree, by extended heat waves, lack of summer precipitation and associated drought-like conditions. Such droughts, as elsewhere in southern Quebec, raised concerns about water shortages for both domestic and agricultural uses in L’Islet. The summers between 2015 and 2017 were the hottest on record in the area.

The municipality of L’Islet collaborated with a citizen environmental committee, the ROBVQ (Regroupement des organismes de bassins versants du Quebec) and Le Groupe Conseil Carbone (CCG), a climate change consulting firm, to develop its vulnerability and risk assessment and adaptation plan. Historical climate hazards were investigated in order to evaluate the current and future effects of climate change on the municipality. Social, economic and environmental aspects were also considered in the evaluation of vulnerabilities and risks.

For the vulnerability and risk assessment, the municipality consulted with citizens to assess climate-related vulnerabilities and risks on soil use, water courses and municipal infrastructure in order to establish a “collective memory.” The goal was to use this citizen input to provide contextual insights on climate information.

Numerous physical, natural and socio-economic systems were identified as being vulnerable to climate related events within the municipality of L’Islet. The climate-related events examined included flooding, intense storms, damaging waves on the St. Lawrence River, heat waves, and drought. The resulting vulnerabilities included:

  • Unstable and aging retaining walls on private and municipal property along the St. Lawrence River susceptible to shoreline erosion from high waves, high tides and seasonal flooding.
  • Heritage buildings (e.g. churches, graveyard, several schools), including residences prone to flooding damage and a loss in heritage sites, which could negatively impact the region’s tourism.
  • L’Islet’s aging population and agricultural labour force who are particularly exposed to extreme heat events.
  • Migratory birds and other species affected by flooding, drought and intense storms, which could also affect nature-based tourism.
  • Biodiversity loss, including possible loss of native species and an increase in invasive species and insect pests.
  • The quantity and quality of drinking water from private wells and municipal sources being vulnerable to flooding events and subsequent runoff.
  • Agricultural lands being susceptible to summer droughts and resulting crop loss.

A total of 29 social, economic and environmental risks were then identified, with the highest ranked risks being declines in agricultural crop yield, plant biodiversity reduction and damage, water contamination, increased need for building and shoreline maintenance, and damage to heritage buildings. Also highly ranked were an increase in the number of very hot days associated with heat exhaustion, heat stroke for exterior workers, accelerated shore erosion, and an increase in damaging coastal flooding events.

Identifying Actions

Subsequently, the probability of climate-related events and risks occurring in the future led to the identification of adaptation actions. A second citizen consultation completed in 2018 sought additional input on the proposed adaptation actions to address the noted risks. This left the municipality with an array of citizen-endorsed actions that ranged from shore naturalization to opening dialogues with the farming community about water quality and scarcity.

A climate change adaptation plan was developed based on the vulnerability and risk assessment and the citizen consultations, which identified 32 citizen-endorsed actions to address the 29 risks.

Use of Climate Information

Historical climate data

The municipality of L’Islet developed a multi-risk adaptation plan to respond to significant coastal flood events and other climate change impacts, such as heat waves, lower summer precipitation and associated drought.  The municipality and CCG relied heavily on historical climate data supplied by Ouranos, Quebec’s Innovation Cluster on Regional Climatology. This non-governmental organization makes available observations and simulations of total precipitation, extreme heat, general temperature, cold, and freeze and thaw cycles among other climate indicators.

Ouranos also provided river flowrate data, information useful when studying the impacts of flooding and drought. Additional information on the St. Lawrence River was obtained from Quebec’s Ministère de l’environnement et de la lutte aux changements climatiques. Finally, supplementary historical climate information was obtained from Environment and Climate Change Canada, including precipitation data recorded near Montmagny between 1965 and 2001.

Projected climate data

The municipality also obtained future projected temperature data from Natural Resources Canada’s Le Quebec en evolution and Ouranos. As is the case across Canada, temperatures are rising, contributing to an increase in weather extremes, including precipitation extremes. An analysis of winter temperatures revealed that fewer snowfall days are likely in the future, with an increase in rain and freeze-thaw cycles. One important question remains of whether or not the projected increases in rainfall will be enough to compensate for the increased rates of evapotranspiration driven by much hotter summer temperatures.

Implementation

A number of adaptation actions are currently being implemented, including the re-treeing of the shoreline. Additionally, increased vegetation and tree cover are now integrated into new developments, as are smaller streets with increased permeability to reduce the impact of flooding. Moreover, water meter monitoring is being instituted in some areas of the municipality to help with water conservation efforts. Some of the adaptation actions, which have also been categorized under 11 broader community objectives, include:

  • Acquiring shoreline land for coastal erosion protection,
  • Implementing shoreline vegetation inspections an ensuring norms are met,
  • Creating an urban forestry plan,
  • Establishing a drinking water conservation program,
  • Opening a dialogue with all stakeholders about water quality, and
  • Managing the floodplains.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Several opportunities and challenges presented themselves to the municipality of L’Islet during this initiative. In particular, several unique opportunities presented themselves, including increased access to government funding, enhanced communication with citizens, and community engagement in the broader issue of climate change. In contrast, some large challenges were encountered while assessing climate change vulnerabilities and risks, and developing and implementing the adaptation plan. These challenges included a lack of ongoing financial and political support, making the case for certain capital cost actions, and the need for ongoing citizen champions.

The municipality’s goal is to implement at least 60 percent of the actions by 2025, focusing specifically on the most cost effective actions with the greatest benefits.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Shifting weather patterns, changing seasonality, and increases to average temperature have resulted in changes to the conventional patterns of disease vectors. Vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease, are becoming more prevalent in Canada as a direct result of climate change. Warmer temperatures in Canada have resulted in the expansion of vector-borne diseases transmitted by ticks, mosquitos, and other animals. As Canada’s climate continues to warm and increases in spring, summer, and fall season length has contributed to greater distribution of these species and their life cycles.

Lyme disease, carried by black-legged ticks, is the most common tick-borne disease in Canada. Various hosts for black-legged ticks include white-tailed deer, white-footed mouse, and migratory birds. White-footed mice habitat has been expanding northward at a rate of 10 km per year, and migratory bird patterns have been expanding northward at an accelerated pace due to climate change. This, in conjunction with warmer and more temperate fall seasons has resulted in the expansion of black-legged ticks, and the establishment of populations in places previously too cold to sustain them.

Mosquitos carry a host of VBDs, including West Nile virus, dengue, malaria, chikungunya, and Zika. Of primary concern now is the transmission of West Nile, considered the most health-endangering mosquito-borne illness in Canada. Though largely asymptomatic, severe cases of West Nile can be life threatening, and climate models demonstrate a growing geographic range in the spread of West Nile in Canada. Further, the less common vectors of malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika could become more likely as Canada experiences further warming.

Environmental trends related to warmer temperatures in Canada are predicted to increase the risk of acquiring Lyme and West Nile, as well as other mosquito and tick-borne diseases, and represent a public health concern in Canada, especially in at-risk populations such as those over 70, and childbearing persons.

Identifying Actions

The development of guidelines employed an evidence-informed, modified-Delphi approach relying on stakeholder input, guideline revision, and expert panel consultation to build consensus.

CASN established a pan-Canadian advisory committee of experts to establish an environmental scan of the baseline knowledge, skills, and attitudes that entry-level nurses should possess in regards to VBDs and climate change. This included a scoping review and literature review of existing nursing-specific and interprofessional resources, regulatory and/or educational competencies, and other relevant Canadian and international documents. The findings of the literature review were revised, analyzed, synthesized, and developed into a draft document of learning outcomes for nurses.

This draft and the findings of the advisory committee were shared with over 50 stakeholders National Stakeholder Forum comprising multiple sectors including nursing education, nursing regulation, nursing employers, practicing nurses, public health organizations, government, nursing students, and persons with lived experience of VBDs in Canada. This feedback was then reviewed and through a national validation survey by a multi-stakeholder group that included all nursing programs in Canada, CASN’s network, as well as project stakeholders and Forum attendees. Further, the education guidelines underwent both gender-informed and Indigenous reviews to ensure gender-equity, the perspectives of marginalized populations, and the integration of Indigenous perspectives and experiences into the guidelines.

Finally, the Climate Driven Infectious Disease (CDID) Committee, a group of dedicated experts in climate-driven infectious disease and nursing who developed the domains and learning outcomes delineated in this document, reviewed all comments and made revisions to the education guidelines based on the results of the validation survey and the expert reviews. The guidelines were then translated into English and French.

Implementation

The finalized guidelines, available in the Guidelines for Undergraduate Nursing Education on Climate-Driven Vector Borne Diseases report, are also part of an open-access e-resource found at https://vbd.casn.ca/. The guideline consists of five domains:

  • Domain 1: Public Health – Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases
  • Domain 2: Populations Exposed to Potential Risks
  • Domain 3: Prevention (Primary and Secondary)
  • Domain 4: Treatment (Tertiary Prevention)
  • Domain 5: Advocacy

Each domain is accompanied by detailed learning outcomes (37 in total) to help clarify what must be learned in a course or program, offer direction for the selection of learning outcomes, and provide benchmarks for the assessment of the learning. Further, these learning outcomes provide targets for graduates of baccalaureate nursing programs to achieve in the area of climate-driven vector-borne infectious diseases.

The e-resource is targeted at nursing faculty, students, nurses in practice, and other health professionals. It aims to:

  • Support the integration of learning outcomes within CASN’s Guidelines for Undergraduate Nursing Education on Climate-Driven Vector-Borne Disease into entry-level nursing curricula across the country.
  • Provide faculty, students and practicing nurses with information, teaching and learning materials, and tools related to the education guidelines
  • Impart the knowledge and skills to help build nursing capacity to work with populations whose health is, or may be, affected by climate change driven infectious diseases.

Resources

Link to the Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

Further understand how climate information can be applied in decision-making by exploring the Health Module on ClimateData.ca