City of Surrey: Climate Adaptation Strategy

This case study reviews the process and steps taken by City of Surrey to develop its Climate Adaptation Strategy (CAS) (2013) in response to high level climate risk areas related to drainage and flooding, tree mortality and ecosystem change, energy security, and agricultural viability in Surrey. Surrey is located in the lower mainland of British Columbia, with a rapidly growing population and increasing urbanization and development within the region. In response to these impacts, cross-departmental working groups developed 91 actions to increase resilience in six sectors: Flood Management and Drainage, Infrastructure, Ecosystems and Natural Areas, Urban Trees and Landscaping, Human Health and Safety, and Agriculture and Food Security. The CAS was coordinated and written by the City’s Sustainability Office, with ongoing direction for the strategy development coming from the staff Adaptation Advisory Team. Additionally, a large number of City staff participated in cross-departmental working groups to define the adaptation actions, including Engineering, Finance & Technology, Planning & Development, and Parks, Recreation and Culture. Additional input was provided by a cross-cutting group of sectors and stakeholders, including environmental consulting companies, health care, academic research teams, and community organizations.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

In Surrey, rising average temperatures and more frequent and intense rainfall events have already been observed, and are expected to continue on that trajectory. In British Columbia, the University of Victoria’s Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) delivers high quality climate data, analysis and interpretation to local governments and other stakeholders. City of Surrey also collects extensive weather data which assists the City in corroborating projections, undertaking finer-grained analyses and recognizing emerging trends. Climate projections and historic weather trends must now be considered together in decision-making since historic weather is no longer an accurate predictor of future climate. In determining the local climate impacts, data were obtained from the PCIC, BC Ministry of Environment reports, and other credible and scientific sources. A vulnerability and risk assessment were conducted for each of 18 impact statements to determine the areas in which the City should focus its effort, resulting in a priority set of 14 impact statements that described the key ways in which Surrey would be affected by projected climatic changes. Of those 14 identified risks, three high risk, three medium-high risk, four medium risk, and four medium-low risk impacts were identified. High risk impacts correspond to sea level rise and expected increases in precipitation and include increased flooding and potential overtopping of existing sea dykes from storm surges and sea level rise.

Identifying Actions

The overarching framework used for adaptation planning was ICLEI Canada’s 5-milestone planning process, Building Adaptive and Resilient Communities (BARC). The planning process began with the ICLEI collaborative in 2011, following approval by Surrey City Council in February 2011 (Council Report No. R028). Facilitated by ICLEI, City of Surrey is following ICLEI’s five-milestone approach to climate change adaptation, which includes the following milestones: initiate, research, plan, implement and monitor. The level of risk assigned to each impact (as noted in the ‘Understanding the Issue’ section) was later used to help prioritize adaptation strategies and actions. Following the risk assessment, cross-departmental staff teams met regularly and developed overarching goals and actions to address the climate impacts identified for different sectors. The six working groups were: Flood Management and Drainage, Infrastructure, Ecosystems and Natural Areas, Urban Trees and landscaping, Agriculture and Food Security, and Human Health and Safety. Once a refined list of actions was developed by each working group, the feasibility of implementing each action was evaluated based on criteria related to cost, ancillary benefits, urgency, political acceptability, and capacity. The feasibility outcomes were then mapped against the sectors’ risk ratings to give a priority level. The Advisory Team then used the prioritization ratings to identify 11 actions for immediate implementation.


The adaptation 11 actions for immediate implementation are:

  • CC-1.1 Review City policies and by-laws to identify those practices that support resilience, and reinforce their implementation and enforcement
  • CC-1.2 Integrate climate change education and awareness into existing programs and communications, and develop new education initiatives where gaps exist for Surrey residents and City Staff
  • FL-1.1 Support the development of a Regional Flood Management Strategy in coordination with senior levels of government, other municipalities, and key stakeholders
  • FL-2.1 Conduct detailed analysis on Surrey-specific climate impacts, including the timelines and extent of sea level rise and its related effects on flood construction levels and floodplain designations
  • IN-1.1 Enhance data collection and monitoring for climate impacts in Surrey
  • EC-1.1 Improve the quantity and quality of the City’s habitat to enable species migration and resilience through the implementation of the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy
  • TR-1.1 Utilize City by-laws, standards, and permitting processes to ensure adequate canopy, root crown and root growth space is provided for trees to mature to optimal size on public and private property
  • TR-2.1 Select tree species and planting stock from provenances that will be well adapted to Surrey’s future climate projections, particularly with respect to temperature and drought conditions
  • AG-1.2 Work with all levels of government to evaluate long-term flood management options in response to sea level rise impacts with considerations for agricultural viability
  • HS-2.2 Encourage development to incorporate passive building design features that keep buildings cool while reducing reliance on air conditioning
  • HS-4.1 Continue to build community capacity to respond effectively in an emergency

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The Climate Adaptation Strategy identifies 91 actions to help Surrey prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change. Many of the actions are cross-sectoral, in that they help build the City’s adaptive capacity in more than one area. Effort has been made to minimize potential conflicts or trade-offs between actions (e.g. habitat vs. agricultural protection); however, more exploration and analysis may be required to resolve these issues in the implementation of some actions. Actions are organized by key cross-cutting actions, in addition to the six sectoral areas previously identified (Flood management and drainage, infrastructure, ecosystems and natural areas, urban trees and landscaping, agriculture and food security, and human health and safety). Each section is prefaced by a description of the ‘current state’, which provides background information on the sector’s existing strengths, stresses and adaptive capacity. The Strategy also incorporates details relevant to the implementation of each action, including the supporting City departments, related policy tools, relative costs, and spheres of influence. Adaptation and mitigation linkages were also made with each action.

Next Steps

Using the prioritization ratings, the Advisory Team identified 11 actions for immediate implementation, and were considered based on urgency, ease of implementation, and representation across a spectrum of issues. As a relatively new and rapidly evolving issue, the Climate Adaptation Strategy will be a living document to be revisited regularly and updated as necessary. To ensure the successful implementation of the Adaptation Strategy, a series of indicators have been proposed to track progress over time that are aligned with existing reporting efforts. The City’s Sustainability Office will collect the data to establish a baseline and monitor progress of these metrics. Surrey staff, including members of the Adaptation Advisory Team, will convene as needed to review progress on the adaptation actions and assess the indicator data as it is collected and as trends emerge. Finally, the climate impact statements and actions will be integrated into the City’s Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Framework, where they can be strategically managed by the department responsible.

A fulsome progress update of all 91 actions undertaken in 2018 will inform the evolution of the next iteration of the Climate Adaptation Strategy as part of a larger update of the City’s overarching Climate Change Action Strategy. This update will take place 2020-2021 and will include refinement of the action list, updated climate data and projections, review of local climate risks and hazards to address any gaps or new technologies to be added and a focus on further embedding adaptation planning and implementation directly into plans and strategies across the organization.