British Columbia

Canada's sea levels are rising — and that's got British Columbians in coastal cities concerned

Canada’s sea levels are rising at a dramatic rate, according to a new climate change report leaked this week, and that has B.C.’s coastal cities worried.

‘To be frank, we are not equipped at all,’ says retired fisherman and regional director

Waves pounding White Rock during a storm in 2016. John Clague says rising sea levels combined with storms and higher tides create a 'perfect moment' for the coast to see damage. (Bill Hawke)

Canada's sea levels are rising at a dramatic rate, according to new climate change report leaked this week, and that has B.C.'s coastal cities worried.

The report, commissioned by the Environment and Climate Change Department, warns that the country's oceans are going up between one millimetre and 4.5 millimetres each year.

"The effects of sea level rise — what you see, as sea levels rise — depends on what your coastline is doing," said Greg Flato, one of the authors of the new government report who also teaches at the University of Victoria. 

The projected relative sea-level change along Canadian coastlines at the end of the century. (Canada’s Changing Climate Report)

On B.C.'s North Coast, for example, without a reduction in global warming, the water is predicted to rise by 50 centimetres over the next eight decades.

"[A few millimetres per year] may not seem like a lot to many people," said John Clague, an earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University. 

"But if it's accompanied by strong storms, you really have an exacerbated effect."

Lack of resources

As glaciers melt and the temperature of the ocean heats up, the water occupies more space and that's why sea levels rise.

That leads to damage along the coast, as low-lying areas previously out of harm's way are flooded.

While some municipalities like Delta and Richmond have been preparing for rising water levels, Clague argues much more action needs to be taken across all levels of government.

"We don't really see resources being made available to deal with the problem," he said.

"The costs are high and municipalities as a rule, even rich ones, don't have the resources to deal with this problem alone. It's going to require multi-levels of government."

Cities like Richmond are preparing for rising water levels to get worse but all municipalities need more support from governments, Clague says. (Anne Penman/CBC)

Des Nobels, a retired fisherman and director with the North Coast Regional District, lives in Dodge Cove across the harbour from Prince Rupert.

He's worried that coastal cities across the province are unprepared to deal with the impacts of climate change in the coming decades.

"To be frank, we are not equipped at all," Nobels said. "Communities and local governments are beginning to have to grapple with how do we plan into the future for these events."

Coastal cities are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. (Bob Anderson )

He's urging swifter action and placing responsibility squarely on the government leaders.

"It's a complex issue and most people are very concerned with their day to day activities — but on the part of leadership, there is an opportunity here to move things in the direction they should be going," Nobels said.

"Let's prepare something, so that people are not left standing in the water on their own."

With files from Daybreak North and On The Island