Vancouver storm damages climate change ‘wake-up call’

Damage to Vancouver’s scenic seawall in a storm last week could be a sign of things to come as sea levels continue to rise due to climate change.

“We know we are vulnerable,” Ian Stewart of the Vancouver Park Board told CTV National News. “We are looking at…long-term solutions.”

In a severe storm on Jan. 7, high winds and extreme tides battered Stanley Park’s popular seawall, turning sections into rubble. Littered with toppled and broken chunks of concrete and debris, much of it remains dangerous and off-limits to visitors, depriving the city of part of what is believed to be the longest uninterrupted waterfront path in the world.

Experts say beach towns like Vancouver are increasingly vulnerable as climate change drives up sea levels.

“Our coastal infrastructure is designed assuming the sea is stable,” John Clague, professor of earth sciences at Simon Fraser University, told CTV National News. “When you start raising that surface, it starts to cause problems.”

Clague specializes in geohazards such as tsunamis, earthquakes and floods. While extreme flooding in Vancouver was rare, Clague says the city can expect it to become more frequent and more damaging in the future.

“As the climate warms, those water levels are going to rise and they’re going to impact that coastal infrastructure,” he explained. Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of kilometers of coastline could be affected.

In 2021, the world’s oceans reached record temperatures for the sixth consecutive year. According to a report commissioned by the government of British Columbia, sea levels in parts of the province could rise by half a meter by 2050. Although there are various estimates as to how fast sea ​​levels will rise, this is widely seen as inevitable and coastal cities like Vancouver are urged to prepare for potential impacts.

“It should be a bit of a wake-up call to people that this is sort of the new normal,” Clague said of last week’s storm damage in British Columbia.

As for the iconic Stanley Park Seawall, the Vancouver Park Board says plans are already underway to make it stronger and more resilient.

“We are exploring all solutions to climate change and sea level rise,” said park development manager Ian Stewart.

The Vancouver Park Board estimates it will be weeks before the seawall is repaired and fully reopened to visitors.