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Expect heat waves, flooding: report

Aug 21 2012

Victorians will have to endure heat waves in the summer and more storms and winter flooding in coming decades, according to a just-completed risk assessment of climate change.

"The risk assessment really does represent the best available research in the region," said Victoria director of sustainability Roy Brooke, who noted a wide group of experts was involved, including Pacific Climate Impact Consortium, the University of Victoria, the province and VIHA Centre for Disease Control. "So it's a very rigorous assessment."

The assessment looked at the impact of climate change and the risks involved.

"What we know will happen now is it's going to become hotter - wetter in winter, drier in summer - stormier and that we'll have higher seas."

Based on current projections, Victoria's greatest risks from climate change projected to 2050 are:

? Heat waves. This is considered by local authorities to be the most significant public-health risk, as most of Victoria's buildings are not designed for severalday stretches with temperatures over 30 degrees and Victoria's population of older, more vulnerable adults is projected to rise.

? While small, localized flooding is already a yearly event in the region, larger floods that pose a risk to public health and result in property damage are expected. That will mean more downed trees, power outages, road closures and insurance losses. Some buildings and infrastructure may be at risk from sea-level rise and extreme weather.

? Some species already suffering from climate change are at further risk. Mountain ash and Lawson cypress are in rapid decline and birch and cherry trees are less likely to survive when replanted.

A community-wide climate-change adaptation plan is now being developed.

Brooke said some steps are already being taken, including working with VIHA and the Centre for Disease Control to examine the possibility of opening cooling centres - public facilities where people can go to cool off, to help mitigate the potential risk to seniors and other vulnerable populations.

"We're also looking at the threshold at which heat in Victoria becomes a risk for vulnerable populations."

Mayor Dean Fortin says climate change is an issue that can't be ignored.

"We've identified the risks and now we need to know how we can mitigate those and how to try to ensure we can reduce the extent of those risks," Fortin said.

"Too often, environmental initiatives have been perceived as a 'nice to do.' I think this study really brings home it's a 'must do.' We must pay attention to what impacts climate change is going to have and we must on behalf of our citizens do what we can to reduce our risk."

Warmer temperatures

? Increase of 1.0 to 2.3C by 2050s (from 1961-1990 baseline)

? Increase in hot days (over 30C)

? Humidity increase

Wetter winters, drier summers

? Up to 14% increase in winter precipitation

? Up to 32% decrease in summer rainfall

Sea-level rise

? An estimated sea level rise of 45 cm by 2050, most visible during winter high tides.

? By 2100, the extreme high estimate of sea level rise for Victoria is 0.89 - 0.94m.

? Increase in the frequency and intensity of storm events by as much as 15%

? With the increase of intensity and frequency of winter storms, in conjunction with high winter tides, we will also see an increase in storm surges, waves that are pushed onshore from high winds.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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