Low carbon and resilient communities

The climate is changing, and BC communities are already experiencing impacts. Examples of most common impacts in BC communities are flooding, drought and wildfire.[1] Addressing the impacts of a changing climate (adaptation) is one part of climate action – reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (mitigation) is the other. According to the BC Auditor General, “we need both of these responses to create a climate-resilient province.”[2]

Planning for adaptation and mitigation have often been completed separately. However, emerging practice and recent, national, multi-disciplinary research has found that “strategically aligning climate adaptation and emissions reduction can enhance the effectiveness of both strategies, avoid risks, and generate economic, ecological, and social benefits.”[3] This is, as Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team has framed it, low carbon resilience (LCR): the integration and realization of the co-benefits of emissions reduction and climate adaptation by working together with interdisciplinary strategies and actions.

Thinking low carbon resilience: integrating mitigation and adaptation

When local governments plan, make decisions, and act with an LCR lens they actively seek opportunities to align mitigation and adaptation priorities. They also take advantage of the potential co-benefits associated with strategically integrating mitigation and adaptation. For example, in preparing development permit areas and guidelines, a local government can encourage planting of shade trees near buildings that help reduce energy use and emissions related to mechanical cooling in the summer months. The guidelines may also specify planting locations and hardy tree species that would survive anticipated climate conditions such as extended periods of dry hot weather and more severe storm conditions. The guidelines may be developed through coordinated effort between land use planners, development engineers, sustainability managers, and parks staff with expertise in vegetation and urban forestry.

In undertaking LCR, local governments follow typical processes for both mitigating emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. In general, the steps consist of:

  • Describing baseline conditions
  • Evaluating risks and forecasting future conditions
  • Generating and evaluating potential solutions
  • Implementing solutions and monitoring outcomes
  • Engaging stakeholders, which would typically run concurrently with the above four steps.

In each of the steps, opportunities for integration between mitigating emissions and adaptation are identified and incorporated into workplans. These may include identifying potential climate scenarios as part of adaptation planning, and then integrating that work with emission forecasting undertaken as part of mitigation planning. A conceptual model below provides a high-level summary of the various integration opportunities.

LCR Workflow
LCR Workflow [4]

LCR approaches include actions that local government staff and elected officials are already familiar with.

  • Programs and policies to expand the urban tree canopy provide an opportunity to lower emissions, add a carbon sink, and provide shade where local hot-temperature days are projected to increase. This, in turn, supports a more inviting walking environment and public health benefits during heat events.
  • Supporting local food production (agricultural land policies, farmers markets) provides an opportunity for residents to purchase food that has not been trucked long distances and learn about local food production capacity and issues.
  • Building retrofits allow local governments to lower heating/cooling and lighting costs while decreasing corporate emissions and potentially incorporate adaptive measures to mitigate potential climate impacts.
  • Green infrastructure allows local governments to reduce demand on stormwater systems and lower costs and emissions associated with potential stormwater expansion/maintenance, and accommodate expected heavy rainfall events and floods.

Why take the LCR approach?

The LCR approach has several benefits that are timely as local governments consider the urgent need to take climate action. Integrating adaptation and mitigation through LCR can reduce administrative and financial burdens, take advantage of co-benefits, and provide an opportunity to realize transformative and systemic change. An LCR approach can also:

  • Expand access to funding and financial resources
  • Increase return on investment in adaptation and mitigation initiatives and infrastructure expenditures
  • Accelerate implementation of both adaptation and mitigation initiatives
  • With cross-evaluation, help to avoid risks and unintended consequences (compared with doing adaptation and mitigation separately)

LCR is steadily becoming a key topic and valued approach for professionals who work with local governments on matters related to emissions and adaptation. Four national professional associations and ICLEI Canada published a joint statement on the importance of advancing integrated climate action in the form of LCR. The four associations included the Canadian Institute of Planners, Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and Canadian Water and Wastewater Association.


Using an LCR lens in community land use planning

Local governments might use an LCR approach when undertaking long range planning exercises such as preparing or updating an official community plan (OCP). The purpose of incorporating LCR into an OCP process is to derive co-benefits from considering mitigation and adaption in an integrated way by, for example, reducing emissions and life cycle costs while promoting biodiversity and public safety.

Using an LCR approach may involve designating development permit areas and developing guidelines that take into account the alignment of adaptation and mitigation actions for the purposes of:

  • protection of the natural environment (ecosystems and biological diversity)
  • protection of development from hazardous conditions
  • protection of farming
  • form and character of development
  • energy conservation
  • water conservation
  • reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

Bylaws that regulate development in and near environmentally sensitive areas, for example, through setbacks from the high-water marks, watercourses, and bank edges, or development restrictions within riparian corridors and wetlands, may also benefit from an LCR approach that considers how mitigation and adaptation actions could be aligned.

Learn more about incorporating LCR in community planning

Using an LCR lens for site level stormwater management planning

Climate change projections indicate that BC can expect more extreme storm events and greater risk of flooding. At the site level, an example of using an LCR lens is incorporating rain gardens. A rain garden, a type of green infrastructure, is a small naturalized area that is designed to promote infiltration and slow rainfall entry into conventional stormwater infrastructure or natural water bodies. Research related to Metro Vancouver’s North Shore municipalities suggests that, after lifecycle analysis, rain gardens produce 30 to 90% fewer emissions than conventional stormwater management approaches based on constructing culverts, pipes, and concrete structures. They may also result in reduced infrastructure costs. The City of North Vancouver has installed 50 rain gardens as part of its water management strategy, and in this case, savings were estimated at 42% over grey (piped) infrastructure. Integrated mitigation and adaptation co-benefits of rain gardens include avoiding or delaying the need to enlarge or expand piped infrastructure resulting in potential emissions and cost savings.[5]

Learn more about the North Shore case study in rain gardens.

A rain garden in North Vancouver, part of a re-design on Lonsdale Avenue
A rain garden in North Vancouver, part of a re-design on Lonsdale Avenue [6]