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Climate Risk: Getting to Action – Professionals’ Perspectives on Climate Change Challenges

This report summarizes key examples of climate change challenges and solutions for selected professions synthesized from discussions conducted with professionals from various sectors.
Multiple Authors
Climate Risk: Getting to Action-Professionals' Perspectives on Climate Change Challenges


Climate change impacts are rising with extreme weather and sea levels projected to increase in severity and magnitude. Many professions are encountering challenges to established standards of practice and disruption of decision-making processes that are based on historical norms. The elevated risk of damages is causing concern around topics such as liability and investment, as well as exposure to short- and long-term impacts and the complex issues they raise for urban development and other sectoral planning approaches.

Discussing the projected impacts of climate change can be challenging, especially for a public audience. However, the ACT Professional Advisory Committee (ACTPAC) believes it is important to begin planning proactively now in order to build the low carbon resilience and adaptive capacity of our economies, communities, and ecosystems. ACT formed the ACTPAC in 2014 in order to develop a better understanding of the climate challenges for different professions through engaging with senior representatives of major sectors in British Columbia on key insights into the challenges they face, and solutions they are considering.

Professions represented on the ACTPAC include engineering, law, agriculture, utilities, forestry, flood management, mediation, accounting, water & wastewater management, real estate, development, policy, and planning. New members are added on an ongoing basis – representatives of the health, insurance, architecture and accounting professions have joined since the development of this report.

Designed to be a conversation starter rather than an exhaustive analysis of the issues, this report* summarizes key ideas on examples of climate change challenges and solutions for selected professions. It also identifies further support and actions that would be useful in helping to advance and expand their work. This information was synthesized from discussions conducted with the ACTPAC over the past two years, as well as insights gained during an ACT workshop with BC thought leaders held in Vancouver on September 9th, 2016, entitled Climate Risk: Getting to Action.

Details of the workshop, as well as ACT’s contribution to the recent federal consultation opportunity during formation of the upcoming pan-Canadian climate action plan, are included in the Appendices.

*The full report is available to download from the right-hand column.

From page 29 of the report.

In the report

Section 1. The Current Systen: Uncertainties and Challenges

  • Responding to climate change is an urgent issue
  • Uncertainty and risks for key industry sectors
    • Agriculture; Development; Infrastructure; Insurance; Planning
  • New challenges for governments
    • Increasing costs; Limited resources; Political inertia
  • The need for public awareness
  • Inconsistent communication and collaboration
    • Between sectors; Between governments
  • The need for shared language
  • Professionals not adequately included in policy-making

Section 2. Closing the Gap

  • Opportunities for key sectors
    • Agriculture; Development; Infrastructure; Insurance; Planning
  • Opportunities for governments
    • Local governments; Provincial and federal governments
  • Proposed guiding principles for collaboration and awareness-building
    • Integrate low carbon resilience principles and initiatives into planning and policies; Consider pilot projects and transitional strategies; Educate and engage the public; Integrate across all orders of government; Develop a shared language; Consider carbon budgeting tools; Consider water budgeting tools

Key Messages

Professionals, including the members of ACTPAC, are key agents of change.How they engage with climate change issues, and the best practices they design and implement, will be crucial to rapid and effective transformational change as we begin actively planning for solutions to deal with climate risks.

Professionals often encounter decision-making challenges in the context of client, public, and jurisdictional relationships, adding additional layers of complexity to the challenges of responding to climate changes. Professional relationships and practices in this context can also be compromised by varying levels of common understanding and uncertainty in perceptions of responsibility.

Many professionals are already responding to the combined questions and pressures arising from climate change impacts with changes in their practices, and are discussing and developing resources that will be helpful now and in the future. It is therefore important that professionals who are well versed in climate change responses find ways to communicate with others in their practice areas, and professional associations are increasingly playing a key role in this regard.

Professionals within key practice areas responding to climate change through new approaches have the collective potential to achieve widespread transformation and improve climate resilience throughout multiple sectors. If we do not work with the early adopters and innovators on achieving this goal, however, failure to update best practices and professional approaches in a timely manner may result in increased vulnerability, missed opportunities, and exacerbation of future risks.

Furthermore, policy- and decision-makers could benefit from consultation with professionals during the development of climate change-related policy and regulation to ensure the practicality and applicability of new approaches, given professionals’ in-depth expertise and implementation experience.

Climate change will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, impact public perceptions regarding ‘normal’ life, and put current and future populations at risk of water, food, and health insecurity. We have the ability to manage these risks if we collaborate on transformational approaches to improving the systems we live and operate within, while investing in low carbon resilience.

It is clear from the results of this process that many professionals are already embarking on new approaches to climate change challenges; however, if they are to respond effectively to the substantive changes anticipated in a world that seems increasingly likely to experience over 2°C of warming by the end of the century, continuous improvement in training, communication, codes and standards, sustainability principles and best practices will be needed.

This report has been produced with support from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia.

ACT (the Adaptation to Climate Change Team), based at Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy, is dedicated to developing and delivering a unique combination of research, outreach and policy innovation designed to benefit Canadian decision-makers, sectors and communities as they work to respond to the challenges posed by climate change.

This briefing paper was developed by the following ACT experts (in alphabetical order by first name):

  • Bob Sandford, senior ACT water adviser and author; EPCOR Chair for Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health
  • Deborah Harford, Executive Director, ACT, SFU; Climate Solutions Fellow, Centre for Dialogue, SFU
  • Edward Nichol, senior ACT researcher; graduate, York University Faculty of Environmental Studies
  • Jon O’Riordan, senior ACT policy adviser and author; former BC Deputy Minister of Sustainable Resource Management

Editing of the ACTPAC’s comments and development of the format and content of this briefing paper was undertaken by Halena Seiferling, senior ACT researcher and graduate of SFU’s School of Public Policy.

Key insights for this briefing paper came from participants at the September 9th, 2016 ACT workshop “Climate Risk: Getting to Action”with BC thought leaders (for more details and key contributors see page 1 of the full text).

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