The timing was uncanny.
Just weeks after Hospitality NL posted a job ad for a new climate change awareness coordinator position, a massive blizzard ripped through the southeast Avalon, causing what could be millions of dollars’ worth of damage to the seawall in Bonavista, a major summer tourism destination.
The Jan. 17 storm forced an eight-day state of emergency in St. John’s and also damaged boats and a breakwater in Conception Bay South. Though the blizzard hasn’t been directly linked to climate change, Craig Foley, Hospitality NL’s CEO, says that with more frequent and more intense storms on the way as the climate changes, the storm’s damage is yet another signal that something needs to be done.
“If climate change is going to impact our shoreline, coastal erosion, change our seasonality, we need to be aware of that from an investment perspective,” he says. “We need to be aware of that as we build tourism products and we need to be able to adapt … and mitigate the impact.”
Hospitality NL is the industry association for the province’s tourism sector and Foley says the climate change awareness coordinator position was created with the aim of providing a launchpad for larger discussions and perhaps ultimately working with government on all levels to create a plan to deal with whatever the changing weather may bring.
Warmer, wetter and stormier
A 2018 report looking at anticipated impacts of climate change says the island of Newfoundland should brace for an average annual temperature increase between two and five degrees by 2050, as well as more intense precipitation and fewer days of frost.
Labrador will be hit even harder, with winter temperatures in Nain set to rise by 7.3 degrees, on average.
Foley says whoever lands the job will be working with tourism operators across the province to educate them about the anticipated changes and help them identify where their own property or operations could be at risk.
The person will also be doing a lot of knowledge-gathering, Foley says, asking operators and municipalities what they’re seeing and what might need to be done.
Worsening weather in Bonavista
John Norman, Bonavista’s mayor and Bonavista Living’s chief operating officer, says his community is experiencing massive changes in weather patterns.
“In the past ten years, Bonavista has seen more severe storms than was documented in the previous 300 years combined,” Norman says. In the last seven years, Bonavista has had five major power outages because of storms, he says. “Storms that with our modern technology and modern infrastructure take out power far more regularly than power was ever lost in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s in Bonavista, when infrastructure was quite delicate.”
There have also been multiple hurricanes, three major ice storms in the past few years, as well as a discernible rise in sea level, he says. “This is concerning.”
During the Jan. 17 storm, the town’s 30-or-so-year-old seawall failed in six places. In two of those, 10 to 12 feet of coast was slammed into the water by the pounding waves. A number of homes are now at risk, he says, and the erosion is creeping up to a section of town road, beneath which are key water and sewer lines.
The seawall needs to be replaced as soon as possible, he says, especially before hurricane season comes hurtling through the town this fall.
‘It’s not going to get any better’
Beyond that immediate need for help, he says there needs to be a long-term plan. He’s glad to hear that HNL could be helping to bring awareness about the ramifications of climate change across the province, and hopes there will ultimately be a government-backed plan which includes swiftly-accessible relief funding, not just for tourism operators, but for municipalities like his.
Right now, he says costs are being foisted on municipal governments who already struggle with small budgets.
“We need a fund. Not based on an announcement by a particular party that’s in power in a particular year, we need an in-perpetuity fund,” he says. “I hate to be pessimistic, but it’s not going to get any better.”
Pointing to countries like Iceland, whose government has a climate change plan that includes improving infrastructure, better weather detection and emergency relief, he says there are plenty of examples to follow.
“Let’s plan now, let’s try to [set] aside some funds now,” he says.