Climate Change Adaptation Strategy: 2018 Update and Action Plan

This is the second iteration of the nationally leading Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (CCAS) that aims to prepare Vancouver, Canada’s third largest city, for the shocks and stresses associated with new climate normal. Proactively planning for change allows for a greater variety of implementation options, harnessing windows of opportunity and lower costs. The Strategy relies on a diversity of existing City and community strategies and efforts that aim to improve the overall resilience of the city to shocks and stresses. The 2018 Strategy includes a new set of priorities, supporting actions and several new focus areas. In this iteration, actions are split into Core Actions and Enabling Actions. The Strategy is composed of five Core Action areas and seventeen Enabling Actions that address adaptation efforts until the next update: Climate Robust Infrastructure, Climate Resilient Buildings, Healthy and Vigorous Natural Areas and Green Space, Connected and Prepared Communities, Coastal Preparedness.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The City of Vancouver reviewed impacts and the 2012 risk assessment based on new climate projections and observed events and impacts. Based on the new climate projections, a summary of climate impacts/risks is provided and divided amongst human, natural, and the built environment systems. The main climate impacts affecting the City include hotter, drier summers (including higher frequency and intensity of heat waves); warmer, wetter winters (including higher frequency and intensity of rain and storms), sea level rise and an overall increase in extreme climate-related hazard events. Together, these impacts have implications across human, natural and the built environment systems. For example, hotter, drier summers are expected to increase health and safety risks associated with extreme heat and air quality events, create water supply shortages in late summer, and decrease the thermal comfort in buildings in the summer due to lack of air conditioning (human systems); increase tree loss due to drought, cause a change in species composition and ecosystem structure, and cause impacts to water quality which is affected by rising temperatures (natural systems); and, new and existing buildings may be maladapted as the climate changes in terms of thermal comfort, water ingress, wind durability, rain on snow loads, etc., and cause increasing stress on green infrastructure in the summer time (built environment). Additional impacts are included for each climate risk/driver.

Identifying Actions

The Strategy relies on a range of existing City and community strategies and plans that aim to improve the overall resilience of the community to shocks and stressors, and to address inequities and systemic vulnerabilities that challenge resilience. The Adaptation Strategy is intrinsically linked to a web of programs and plans that exist or are under development. Governance supporting the institutionalization of climate change adaptation will ensure it is embedded as a foundational consideration and integrated across plans. In order to review and update the plan, two phases of work were carried out: review and gap analysis, and new action planning. The review phase included reviewing the best practices in adaptation globally, speaking with international colleagues and identifying areas where the City could strengthen its approach. With these gaps in hand, interviews were carried out with staff to develop actions to fill gaps. Steps in developing the Strategy:

  1. Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria used climate models to identify anticipated regional climate changes. Impacts from these anticipated changes were identified across the City.
  2. Vulnerability and risk assessments were completed in order to prioritize impacts.
  3. Workshops were created to brainstorm adaptation measures to prepare for, or respond to, impacts.
  4. Adaptation measures were evaluated, reviewed against capital and operational planning and prioritized. Actions are divided into Core actions and Enabling actions. Core actions are aligned with “what” is done whereas Enabling actions focus on “how” things are done – mainstreaming or institutionalizing adaptation.


The 2012 Adaptation Strategy is responsible for, or became the main driver of, the implementation of over 50 actions across the city, increasing the City’s preparedness for climate change. Beyond specific Strategy actions, consideration of adaptation to climate change has been incorporated in diverse projects ranging from the technical detail of new wharf designs to climate resilience principles in community plans. Slowly but steadily over the last six years, the knowledge and capacity to include adaptation in day-to-day work (mainstreaming) is increasing, but there is still far more to do. The Strategy highlights a few actions that were implemented from the 2012 plan, including coastal flood risk assessment, rainwater management and the Urban Forest Strategy. A focus on implementing the coastal flood risk assessment was due to the need to prioritize actions regarding sea level rise and coastal flooding, given the location of Vancouver in proximity to the ocean. Between 2012-2014 the City undertook a vulnerability assessment that identified flood hazard areas, from 2014-2016 preliminary adaptation options were identified for each flood hazard area, in 2014 a new flood construction level was adopted for the floodplain area, from 2017-2019 the City is undertaking community engagement on design options for the areas most at risk, and in 2020 and beyond, the City is furthering the design conversations regarding technical analysis and feasibility, gathering community input, and finally, implementing actions. The Sea2City Design challenge has been initiated following examples from New York and San Fransisco. The Rain City Strategy and the Urban Forest Strategy are two other examples of actions from the 2012 plan that have begun implementation. Core actions from the 2018 plan have implementation timelines of ongoing, to 2020, to 2023. The Plan also incorporates monitoring metrics and indicators. Instead of a refresh, the plan will be redone in 2023.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

In regard to the 2012 Rainwater Management actions that were implemented, an outcome was the development of a city-wide Integrated Rainwater Management Plan (IRMP) with an adaptation lens. This work influenced changes to the City’s sewer design and formation of a new “Green Infrastructure” team to create and implement the Rain City Strategy. The Rain City Strategy reimagines and transforms how rainwater is managed, with the goals of improving water quality, resilience, and livability through creating healthy urban ecosystems. The strategy will implement sustainable rainwater management across the city with a goal of using rainwater as a resource rather than a waste product.

Specific outcomes of the Rain City Strategy include:

  • Vancouver was one of the first municipalities to integrate climate change projections into the intensity, duration, frequency (IDF) curves used to design stormwater management systems.
  • In October 2017, Vancouver launched the Adopt a Catch Basin Program to empower Vancouver residents to name one or more of the city’s 45,000 catch basins and commit to keeping it free of leaves and debris. The goal was the adoption of 1,000 basins which was achieved within three weeks with over 600 volunteers.
  • A range of positive outcomes have been realized from a cooling assessment of social housing to changes to the tree preservation bylaw. An update was presented to City Council in October, 2020 and annual progress reporting is anticipated. The City also reports progress on adaptation in Financial reporting aligned with the guidelines from the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure.

Visual of the Rain City Strategy

Image of a sustainable urban rainwater management project in the City of Vancouver. The schematic includes incorporation of greenscaping as a way of not only beautifying the streetscape, but also to provide functional purposes such as rainwater management and small areas of habitat refugia. The image shows the integration of sustainable design with climate adaptation actions. Specific foci are on the inclusion of more city street trees, native plants, areas for pollinators, rain gardens, and the creation of common spaces for gathering.

Next Steps

The 2018 Strategy builds on existing adaptation work and actions from the 2012 Strategy – noting that climate change adaptation planning is now well established at the local government level and that greater capacity building and implementation are the necessary next steps. A focus in the 2018 plan is on enabling actions, since it was learned from implementation of the 2012 Strategy that it is required to change how things are done in addition to what is done, and requires continued learning and collaborating over years. The adaptation community is increasingly referring to transformational adaptation versus incremental adaptation. The 2012 Strategy included many incremental actions (doing things better with existing logic) such as choosing different tree species to plant or continuing to separate the sewer system. More transformational adaptation requires reframing problems and practices to understand them from a new or different perspective. For example, reconsidering the coastline as potentially hazardous or using a fit-for-use lens in water supply management. These shifts require a change in how we do things from work culture to capacity building. City staff have found monitoring adaptation challenging and aim to improve this work moving forward. Climate resilience will be included in 2021 both in a refreshed hazard, risk and vulnerability assessment and in the Vancouver Plan planning process.