Deconstructing our shared vision of a climate resilient Canada

Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) provides a framework to move the country toward a climate-resilient future. The strategy lays out a critical foundation for Canada’s adaptation efforts but experts agree that this is only the first step, and that the success of the strategy will be measured by how we implement and carry out the adaptation plan. To better understand the strategy and its potential impact, the University of Waterloo’s Climate Institute hosted a webinar that brought together several of Canada’s leading adaptation experts who participated in its development.

In a virtual panel format, our experts shared thought provoking reflections and raised critical questions about the NAS and what is needed to meet its goals and support adaptation measures in Canada.

Ryan Ness, Adaptation Research Director of the Canadian Climate Institute, moderated the discussion, bringing his expertise as a member of the NAS’ advisory table on resilient national built-environments. Panelists included Sarah Burch, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo, Executive Director of the Waterloo Climate Institute and co-chair of the Strong and Resilient Economy Advisory Table for the NAS; Joanna Eyquem, Managing Director, Climate-Resilient Infrastructure, of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, and advisory committee member for the Resilient Natural and Built Infrastructure Advisory Table for the NAS; Sherilee Harper, Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and co-chair of the Government of Canada's Health and Wellbeing Advisory Table for the NAS; and Graeme Reed, Strategic Advisor with the Assembly of First Nations and a co-chair of the Thriving Natural Environment Advisory Table for the NAS. 

Our panelists brought a range of expertise to the conversation, highlighting different perspectives on the potential impact of the strategy and its effectiveness in response to the following overarching discussion questions:

  1. Does the economy need to change incrementally to respond to climate change or is there a need for a complete transformation? 
  2. Does adaptation advance Canada’s other priorities? Is it an avenue for improving health and wellbeing, and making advances in social equity and justice?
  3. Are our institutions set up to address the problems that we are identifying? 
  4. Where can multiple objectives be achieved within our existing systems and institutional frameworks, and when does realizing societal gain require unpacking the role that those systems have? 

Panelist, Sarah Burch, stressed the importance of a systemic approach to develop plans that respond to local realities and context-specific challenges, where we implement adaptation measures through shared contributions from all levels of government, Indigenous groups, public organizations, and the private sector– including consideration of the role of small businesses.

From the infrastructure and disaster planning lens, our expert Joanna Eyquem, commented on the increased profile of natural infrastructure and the recent recognition of extreme heat as a natural hazard in Canada. Joanna emphasized that the success of climate adaptation strategies will rely on their implementation and measurement of sector-specific targets, as well as engagement from the finance sector.

Our health expert, Sherilee Harper, spoke about the growing urgency of the health crisis and the need to also address the root causes of vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Sherilee noted that health and wellbeing still needs to be made a central focus in climate change discussions, which requires us to consider how to couple social and environmental policies and actions.

From his experience as the co-chair of the thriving natural environment advisory table, Graeme Reed identified that it is important to recognize that climate change is just one driver of the loss of our natural environments. Graeme suggested that approaches that attempt to address climate change in isolation of other threats to natural environments, like unsustainable land use changes, industrial pollution and natural resource development, will ultimately fail to achieve the transformational change needed.  

Our main takeaways:

  1. The goal of the NAS is to look beyond what the federal government can do, and to understand what all levels of government and sectors must contribute, recognizing each group’s shared capacities and goals to implement adaptation strategies. 
  2. Adaptation strategies will be maladaptive if the root causes of vulnerability to climate impacts are not addressed, including colonization, poverty, food and water security issues, inequality, injustice etc.
  3. We need to move forward on adaptation in a way that acknowledges climate change as being interconnected to many other problems (i.e., public health, decolonization, social instability, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss). We need to ask the question: Do adaptation strategies help us advance these other major priorities?   
  4.  Recognizing the many interconnections between adaptation and mitigation efforts, adaptation planning should be done alongside mitigation, instead of in a conventional siloed approach.

“Can we be thoughtful and systematic in pursuing very urgent short term adaptation actions that help us to pull back the veil on the other challenges we are facing, like poverty, health, truth and reconciliation, in order to actively ensure that adaptation to climate change provides a path forward on those priorities” said Sarah Burch in her closing remarks.

The webinar was hosted virtually by the Waterloo Climate Institute on April 27th at 2:00pm (EST).

For a full recap of the webinar, please enjoy the live-stream recording: 

Remote video URL