Comparative research seeks to help Nova Scotia on coastal climate adaptation strategies

October 12, 2023

As a result of climate change, coastal communities are increasingly impacted by sea level rise, erosion, coastal flooding, and more frequent and intense storms. In many cases, responses to these coastal concerns are too slow, urging us to explore adaptation strategies, and how to successfully integrate them into coastal communities.

Dr. Glen Smith, a research fellow at the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University in England, is working to better understand the dynamic impacts of climate change adaptation (CCA) strategies at the coast and the governance of these systems.

Glen recently completed a research visit to Dalhousie University, an opportunity supported by the Ocean Frontier Institute’s (OFI) Visiting Fellowship program. In collaboration with Professors Patricia Manuel and Bertrum MacDonald at Dalhousie, Glen compared CCA strategies in England to what is being done here in Nova Scotia to explore and exchange best practices.

Dr. Glen Smith, Research Fellow at the Flood Hazard Centre at Middle University in England. Photo: Contributed

Integrating key lessons from case studies in England

For over two years, Glen has collaborated with Dalhousie and OFI on marine spatial planning strategies, observing “the significant overlap between Canada and England when it comes to challenges in coastal adaptation planning, and the role of communities in decision-making processes.”

As a comparative foundation, Glen looked to integrate key lessons from a recent case study in West Sussex and the East Suffolk coast, England, which he co-led as part of the SOLARIS project. These parts of England are facing increased rates of erosion, more frequent and intense storms, and increased pressures from sea-level rise – cofounding factors that greatly contribute to the risk of flooding. He highlighted that this “is an increasing reality for parts of Nova Scotia,” and that the case study focused on investigating “what not to build at a coastline” as well as the importance of “nature-based solutions, engineered sea-defences, wetland restoration, and community involvement in decision-making processes.”

Advancing climate change adaptation in Nova Scotia

In 2019, the Nova Scotian Government passed the Coastal Protection Act, which seeks to protect the province’s 13,300 kilometres of coastline that are vulnerable to climate change. This Act has the potential to severely limit coastal developments, however, the regulations necessary for its implementation have not yet been finalised. One point of contention is the potential impact on existing development plans at the coast.

While the need for coastal adaptation strategies in Nova Scotia increases, some municipalities are working to raise these issues proactively. One example is Lunenburg, who “have produced excellent one-pagers for the public on safety distances for near shoreline developments, among other initiatives for instance,” says Glen.

Coastal climate adaptation requires sensitivity to social complexities

There exists a highly complex and interconnected relationship between people and coastal ecosystems. “Well-integrated planning at the land-sea interface is at the heart of coastal climate adaptation, in addition to public participation in decision-making processes.”

Creating open discussion on coastal concerns is crucial for enhancing awareness and public engagement with planning strategies. “The planning process itself must create opportunities for public participation and incorporate reasonable time periods for the public to respond to proposed developments on long-term planning visions,” Glen explains. His research highlights flaws in coastal planning processes in England, and a reluctance of local authorities to “think the unthinkable” by restricting high risk developments.

Coastal adaptation also relies on preserving habitats that provide a natural defence against storm surges and coastal flooding, such as wetlands and grasslands. Many of these ecosystems hold significant value for farming, which implies the need for “difficult conversations and knowledge awareness about giving up agricultural land to allow wetlands to flourish.”

“You have to figure out what people care about. Climate change is gaining a bigger foothold in the public conscience, and that is a good entry point for engaging with the public on these topics”, Glen stresses.